“I Am Owed This” and False Claims of Fairness

There are a lot of things we learn from parents and grandparents. The things that we learn from them are not just brought about by what they say, but how they teach by example. You will forget words. But somehow the things that stick with you when you grow old are those things that are unspoken: their actions.

One of the enduring things we can learn from them is the sense of industry. That there is a sense of dignity that is inherent in working and earning your keep. And that as much as possible, you rise in accordance to your own merits and your actual performance.

A Legacy of Hard Work and Industry
Remedios Habacon finished only 5th grade. Despite several personal setbacks of being widowed twice, in 1936 and in 1943, the horrific experiences of the WWII and being bestowed a rank of private within the guerilla, she took to raising her only daughter almost singlehandedly. This was done by slowly building an RTW clothing store that enabled her daughter to graduate college. Remedios, who was also called Meding by most people, started off by selling meat products in the public market, and by going to mountainous towns to entice customers to buy meat on small-scale credit. She soon had enough money to put up a humble clothing store that would span 40 years, several small lands and houses and a bakery. Meding didn’t stop working until a complication arising from diabetes claimed her. She was admitted to the hospital sometime after Christmas 1993. She died a few weeks later. She lived a full life. She was in her early 80’s when God said that she needed to rest. Remedios Habacon was my grandmother.

Similarly, my Mom has yet to stop teaching. Countless times we have urged her to retire but she is still as energetic as if she were only 40 years old. (My mom still walks faster than me. In a five-minute walk, i’d be panting after the first minute. She, on the other hand is is still vibrant, unfazed and strangely fresh-looking.) Teaching is a vocation and comes with a sense of dedication. My Dad worked in between semesters in Mapua to support his college education. When my parents produced 8 eight children, it was more of a blessing that my Dad continued to get promoted. He really only stopped working when he retired. My parents, after having produced eight children, have never wavered in their objective that we learn to live honest lives, that we continue to pursue work and to always have a sense of dignity in being able to contribute to society even in small yet honorable ways.

But alas, we are forgetful of the lessons our forebears often teach us. I am of a progressive mind. However, there are things that remain timeless and that we should always be cognizant of the values of certain traditions.

False Sense of Entitlement
We, Filipinos are a forgetful lot. It is seems that we are growing into a culture of freeloaders: the “libre” mentality, our fascination for shows like Wowowee that harbor a culture of dole-outs. We put on pretense that we are poor when what we really mean is we want to get ahead without working for it. The notion of “sipag at tiyaga” is now obscure to us, especially to the younger generation. Instead, we seem to have misplaced our priorities: our underdog mentality has spawned into a warped attitude of righteous indignation over things that should be rightfully earned. Our “victim complex” should not even be remotely laudable. There is no honor in constantly saying “woe is me” when you are not doing anything to alleviate yourself out of the quagmire of your situation. The “paawa” effect has become a mechanism for us to wallow in self-pity, to generate wanted sympathies without taking matters in our hands or by working hard for our progress.

Erroneous Claims in the Name of Social Justice : Our Notion of Poverty and Real Poverty
Take the example of the squatter problem in the country. Our laws when it comes to the squatter problem is actually generous when you consider that these people actually broke the law by illegally building a shanty on land that is not theirs. The relocation program for illegal tenants allows people to start over despite that. The people are against the relocation because they do not like the place they are being transferred to. How can beggars be choosers? They violated the law in the first place. Otherwise, the government is providing them a house to renew their lives. Still, they are unappeased because they feel that the relocation inhibits their preferred livelihood options. What i am saying is that: c’mon people, that is the consequence you take for breaking the law. This is not about poverty and social justice anymore. How about the landowners who may have honestly worked for the land? What justice do they get for their hard work?

A large of majority of truly poor Filipinos are not from urban areas. 80% of poor families come from rural provinces (1). Six out of the top ten poorest provinces in the country come from Mindanao (2). The poorest comes from agriculture sector at 52.48%, according to a 2006 FIES report (3) Fisherman and farmers are the poorest in the country with 49.9% share and a 44% share respectively. (4) This means that the poorest people in the country work. This is true poverty. They do not bum around asking for dole-outs. They till the land despite the decreasing levels of agricultural productivity. They are the ones needing more social justice than urban informal settlers who have every opportunity to get a job at the services sector, only if they work hard towards it. That’s why supporting poverty alleviation programs for indigenous fishermen and farmers should be fiercely advocated. Continuous agricultural labor force upskilling and cross-skilling are necessary. A PEP research study recommended that “human capital development program(s) must be instituted as simulation results (of the study) point out that education and skill are the best ally against poverty.” (5)

A Collective Problem and A Collective Responsibility
Some of us take the message of proper entitlement with a slight indifference. That it is their problem, not ours. I once replied to a family member when he alluded that other people not contributing to paying taxes should not be my problem. I had to disagree. It is the same attitude of indifference that we Filipinos take. Our silo mentality brings about underlying selfishness and it means we are not willing to take initiative to be part of a larger team.

Paying taxes is a socialized program similar to Social Security. Thus, the progressive tax table. It also ensures that (apart from contributing your keep based on income) that the entire system does not collapse even if others are not paying taxes. In essence, taxpayers bear the burden of paying for those not paying or contributing to equalize collection. So as a taxpayer, carrying that burden for others becomes our collective problem. I have no beef really with some people who are unable to pay taxes if the reasons are fundamentally valid. However, it’s unfair, if not outright abusive, how people can demand return for not contributing. As much as it is naive to think that it is not collective responsibility.

An article from the website “Theory of The State” implies the nature of taxation as discriminatory to people who earn more and work hard for their keep. (6)

Taxation is not an isolated social phenomenon – it is actually inseparable from a much more profound and influential social phenomenon – the State. What determines the entire nature of taxation is that taxation represents a major, if not a single, source of state revenues in modern society. Taxation is not very pleasant as it is, but its main problem and deficiency is characterized by an associated generation of certain negative and even disastrous societal consequences, every one of which worth special separate consideration. Additional problem with taxation is that not only it stimulates all those negative consequences, but also that all those consequences in their turn are further on promoting higher taxation. We are actually trapped by an endless circle of negative cause-and-effect relationships such as:

1. Expropriation of income and property, which is the most uncivilized angle of taxation.

2. State domination in society – when more taxes means more State, more state involvement and more state dictate in society up to a dangerous point on the edge of democracy and dictatorship

3. Social parasitism or living on unearned income owing to a forcible expropriation of income and property.

4. Social idealism or inadequate and false apprehension of social realities, which is based upon a variety of societal factors, high taxation being only one of them.

5. Exchange of private investments for the state consumption

6. Tax discrimination coming from progressive taxation, when those who work harder and more – also pay heavily, while those who work less or do not work at all are receiving money from the State.

“The Dangers of A Sense of Entitlement”
I once read an article that made painful sense to our false human notion of entitlement. It was quite straightforward such that it is necessary to quote Dr. Beverly Smallwood’s advice (7):

Don’t go to pity parties or get bitter every time you don’t get what you think you deserve. That’s a recipe for misery.

Stay out of the endless pursuit of “justice”. Don’t destroy yourself by an obsession with evening the score.

Get out of the victim role!
“Chronic victims” are a pain to others and themselves. I’m not talking about people who have been legitimately victimized, yet they work hard to deal with it and move on. Chronic victims are chronic blamers and complainers.

When you hear yourself bemoaning your life, habitually blaming others for your troubles, it’s time to do a “response-ability” check. In what ways do YOU have the ability to improve the situation by responding differently?

The world doesn’t owe you. You owe the world!
“The world owes me” is a false premise. We have so many life-giving, life-enhancing resources and opportunities at our disposal. These are gifts. They deserve our gratitude, not our indifference.

What better way to show our gratitude than to give back? I believe that we are each called and personally equipped to make a difference in this world.

Rather than complaining, let’s live the words of Mohandas Gandhi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”


Reference Sources:

1. Rural Poverty in the Philippines. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Available from IFAD’s Rural Poverty Portal : http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org/web/guest/country/home/tags/philippines

2. Ten Poorest Provinces in 2000, 2003 and 2006. National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB). Available from NSCB’s Philippine Poverty Statistics : http://www.nscb.gov.ph/poverty/2006_05mar08/table_14.asp

3. Poverty in the Philippines: Causes, Constraints and Opportunities. Asian Development Bank, 2009. Accessed from: http://www.adb.org/Documents/Books/Poverty-Philippines-Causes-Constraints-Opportunities/Poverty-Philippines-Causes-Constraints-Opportunities.pdf

4. Poverty Incidence Among Basic Sectors in 2000, 2003 and 2006. National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB). Available from NSCB’s Philippine Poverty Statistics : http://www.nscb.gov.ph/poverty/2006pov_asof%2025jun09/Final%20-%20presentation%20on%20the%202006%20basic%20sectors,%2025jun09.pdf (see slide 17)

5. Corong EL, Cororaton CB. Agricultural Sector Policies and Poverty In The Philippines: A CGE Analysis. Poverty and Economic Policy (PEP) Research Network. June 2005. Available from: http://www.pep-net.org/fileadmin/medias/pdf/files_events/4th_colombo/corong-2-pa.pdf

6. A Few Words On The Nature of Taxation. Theory of the State website. Accessed from the internet: http://state.110mb.com/taxation.htm

7. Smallwood B. The Dangers of a Sense of Entitlement. Accessed from the internet: http://www.hodu.com/entitlement.shtml

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