Courtesy Reuters

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THE PHILIPPINES?

A Diplomat, after a seven-year tour of duty in the Philippines, once christened the islands an "enchanting archipelago." Whether he was merely being polite, or had succumbed to government pitchmen, or had himself become enchanted by the lush tropical beauty of the islands, he should also have seen a country wracked by afflictions, some common to all countries engaged in the desperate race to develop, some peculiar to the Philippines.

Purveyors of the rosy picture continue to roll out endless statistics and charts to depict a growing economy, a country on the move. A portion of this view may even be accepted, considering that the Philippines, with all its imperfections, is only 21 years old as a free republic. The trouble is that there is one vital natural resource that has not been properly developed: the people.

Beneath the outpourings of self-serving government data, hidden underneath the trappings of the good life in the big cities, there remains a depressed and dispirited people. Against the yardstick not of statistics but of the quality of life, the Filipino people as a whole are a melancholy-if patient- mass. Their daily diet is monotonous (rice, fish, vegetables), their clothes are threadbare and their homes primitive and crowded. What could they hope to build on a daily per capita income of just over 25 cents? In sum, the blessings of liberty have not included liberation from poverty.

Foreign gadgetry and other luxury goods continue to flood the cities, and more people travel, despite current government restrictions. But this only serves to dramatize the great disparities and chronic inequities of Filipino society. Indeed, the Philippines is a land of traumatic contrasts. Here is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor. Gleaming suburbia clashes with the squalor of slums. Here is a land where freedom and its blessings are a reality for a minority and an illusion for the many. Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an

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