The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines on Monday lamented that despite the government’s assertion of economic gain, poverty has remained, which he said degrades and dehumanizes millions of Filipino people.
CBCP president and Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan Socrates Villegas made the observation in his pastoral exhortation as he called on the Filipino faithful to reflect on poverty this Lenten Season which starts on March 5, Ash Wednesday.
“As we begin this Lenten Season in the Year of the Laity, we invite you, our brothers and sisters, to reflect on poverty, particularly the types that contradict God’s Kingdom as well as those other types that promote and establish the Kingdom,” he said.
In the past few years, the poverty rate of the country has hovered at over 20% according to the National Statistical Coordinating Board or NSCB. This means that one in every five Filipinos are in households earning less than the level of income needed for a family to meet its minimum food and non-food requirements.
While the poverty rate has gone down from its peak of 29.7% in the early 90s, Villegas said that to have such a huge segment of the population living in such abject poverty is an “unacceptable scandal.”
In its survey on poverty for the last quarter of 2013, the Social Weather Stations reported that 55% of respondents actually consider themselves poor, up from 50% the previous quarter.
The CBCP president said that there are many forms of poverty. “Those that degrade and dehumanize, we are to reject and work against. Those that paradoxically humanize and sanctify, we are to embrace and through them, by God’s grace, be transformed. We encounter such opposing forms of poverty on three dimensions of human existence: material, moral, and spiritual. Allow us now to describe them in a framework that may help us all observe this season of grace more generously and fruitfully.”
He said poverty continues to undermine and threaten our existence.
“The appalling poverty rate is aggravated by the exclusion of many Filipinos from opportunities for economic advancement,” he said.
The Archbishop also observed that shelter is another basic right to which people are denied when poverty strikes.
“The Subdivision and Housing Developers’ Association has estimated that the housing shortfall between 2001 to 2011 has reached 3.93 million units. The estimates of informal settlers alone run from anywhere between 1 to 3 million households, not counting those rendered homeless by recent natural and man-made calamities.”
The prelate expressed regret that moral poverty confronts the Filipino people every day because of wide corruption in the government.
“We face today a crisis of truth and the pervading cancer of corruption. We must seek the truth and we must restore integrity.” More recently, on the pork barrel issue, we renewed the call for vigilance and self-critique.
“Our protests should not just emanate from the bad feeling that we have been personally or communally transgressed, violated or duped. It should come rather from the realization that God has been offended and we have become less holy as a people because of this.… We are not just victims of a corrupt system. We have all, in one way or another, contributed to this worsening social cancer—through our indifferent silence or through our cooperation when we were benefiting from the sweet cake of graft and corruption,” he said.
The Archbishop appealed to the people to exercise moral poverty and denounce injustice and all forms of radical inequality.