THINK ON THESE: Reducing poverty: Is it possible?

“We were dirt poor. I had to work since the age of five, to help my mother feed my three siblings and me. Many days, I was lucky to have one full meal. On days when we had no food, I would drink lots of water just to fill my stomach. But my mind and spirit were never hungry.”

The statement came from the mouth of Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, one of the world’s famous boxers. He said those words before the Oxford Union in Great Britain some years ago.

Pacquiao has joined a group of famous people who have been invited to speak at the Oxford Union. To name a few of them: American presidents Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, and Jimmy Carter; British statesman Sir Winston Churchill; Nobel peace prize laureates the Dalai Lama and Mother Teresa; and British singer Elton John.

“The poverty of our century is unlike that of any other,” says English poet and novelist John Berger. “It is not, as poverty was before, the result of natural scarcity, but of a set of priorities imposed upon the rest of the world by the rich. Consequently, the modern poor are not pitied, but written off as trash. The twentieth-century consumer economy has produced the first culture for which a beggar is a reminder of nothing.”

The National Statistical Coordination Board describes poor as “those whose incomes fall below the threshold determined by the government, or those who cannot afford to provide in a sustained manner for their minimum basic needs for food, health, education, housing and other social amenities in life.”

It must be recalled that in 2021 the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC), the government’s coordinating agency against poverty, signed a milestone Memorandum of Agreements (MOA) with 19 local government units (LGUs) in Mindanao as part of a nationwide bid to take down poverty by 14 per cent in 2022.

“It is high time to cut down poverty if we are to lessen its impact on the lives of our people during the pandemic,” said then NAPC secretary Noel K. Felongco.

Mindanao is host to 23 provinces listed among the country’s poorest provinces in terms of poverty incidence among population. Government security forces tagged poverty in the island as a stimulus to insurgency.

The NAPC said LGUs hold the key to ensuring that poverty-reduction prioritizes land tillers and fisher folk. It said LGUs are in the best position to reduce poverty simply by channeling their resources to programs aimed at uplifting the lives of people.

Now, a news report from Philippine News Agency (PNA) said the government is implementing several measures to reduce poverty incidence among Filipinos to 9 percent by 2028.

This was announced by National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Secretary Arsenio Balisacan after the release of a recent Social Weather Stations self-rated poverty survey, which showed that almost half of Filipino families consider themselves living in poverty.

“We note that the SWS September survey was conducted after a series of typhoons hit the country, which also affected food prices and directly impacted families who lacked the means to cope with the increase in prices,” Balisacan said.

The PNA news item said the Marcos administration remains focused on its priority to reduce poverty incidence by the time President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. steps down.

Most parents say that education is one of the ways to beat poverty. But not always, as Pacquiao has proven it. “It is a matter of record that I only had traditional formal schooling until Secondary School,” he said in his speech. “It was only recently that I reached University level through the alternative education program.”

Like most Filipinos, Pacquiao learned about life the hard way. “I read anything I could get my hands on. I even read in the newspaper that my lunch or dinner came wrapped in. I read signs everywhere, even on moving vehicles. I learned measurements and weights by constantly reading the rates and tariffs at the warehouses where I worked as a stevedore, a docker in your parlance.

“At night, when I could not sleep because of the cold, I would read the labels on the carton boxes that served as my bed on the street pavement. The movements of the clouds, the tint of the horizon, and the clarity of the stars taught me when morning was about to come.”

But what Pacquiao had in those days was perseverance, which he still has today. “For me, the morning did come. Warm, bright, and simply amazing – a lesson in what can be achieved if you have determination. If you ignore the odds against you, and as you are taught here at this magnificent institution, never, ever quit.

“Think of David and Goliath,” he continued. “Look at me. I am not very big and I never had five smooth stones to throw at any obstacles, but determination is a power tool. I won a lot of fights.”

Pacquiao believed that his life would be an inspiration to average Filipinos “to fight, to rise above adversity, to conquer and defy, and to embrace life and all its difficulties.”

Miracles happened in the past. It is still happening now. “Miracles do happen,” he said. “Dreams do come true. Being poor does not mean one must die poor. Hard work and persistence will set you free from the shackles of poverty. But it is faith that will take you to the very top.”

Meanwhile, former American Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton believed that we could overcome the scourge of poverty if, as a global family of nations, we commit to invest in people.

“Giving all men, women, and children the tools of opportunity – education, health care, employment, legal rights and political freedoms – does not just serve humanitarian purposes. It is the key to economic, social and political progress,” she explained. “When individuals flourish, families flourish. And when families flourish, communities and nations will flourish as well.”

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