The Culture of Poverty
The Lazy Filipino?. . . Not.
The Ridiculous Idea that Filipinos are Lazy
by Godofredo U. Stuart Jr.

A few days ago, still bleary-eyed from sleep, even before the first cup of coffee, I went straight to the Mac to send an e-mail to my sister Angie. Before I knew it, I was angrily pounding away at the keys, reacting to an Inquirer. net article she put on her site the night before—A culture of Poverty? —where the author, Cielito F. Habito, censured the Filipino for laziness. . . indolence. . . at the same time, writing of a 'culture of poverty—poor people devoid of aspirations and initiatives, and thereby, unable to extricate themselves out of poverty.

I read Mr. Habito's article with mixed feelings—disappointment, anger, disdain. Why do field research in the country's poorest areas? There are many such cul-de-sacs of poverty, places deep in the boondocks, so removed from work opportunities, forgotten by government, relying only on seasonal harvests, or the occasional pakyaw work. When hope runs dry, some search for home and survival in riles (railroad) communities or the squatter culture of the big cities. But for many, there is nowhere to go. Some just sit around, smoking, drinking, . . . the textbook picture of seeming indolence.

But before you reach these cul-de-sacs of poverty, it is not indolence that you see. If you don't wear blinders, if you take time to look at the shoulders and sidewalks that line the highways, watch the activity of people doing street commerce, if you have the time to enter the side streets of small town Philippines and watch, or better, if you have time to talk to them and listen to their stories—it is not laziness you will see, but something singularly Pinoy, the incredible and creative ways they manage to survive from day to day. They know it is a life without handouts, surviving on their own through the recurring bumps of hard times and needs, births, illnesses and deaths, hocking their lives away to occasionally celebrate some days of their lives.

To say the poor Filipinos are devoid of aspiration and initiative is blatantly wrong. No, no, no. Poor Filipinos aspire, dream. There are over 10 million of them scattered in foreign lands—an economic diaspora— suffering separation to attain their dreams and aspirations. Yes, there is a culture of poverty—but do not blame it on the poor. Rather, poverty, for the most part, is a consequence of the abject failures of government and its culture of corruption and greed; and in its wake, the poor suffer, deprived of education, healthcare, and opportunities to acquire things that could contribute dignity to their lives.

Mr. Habito draws on history that more than a century ago Rizal wrote "On the Indolence of the Filipino," attributing the malady to climate and the shackling impositions of Spanish rule and abuses of the church. But the Spaniards are long gone and the Filipinos have gotten used to tolling in the heat. What remains is corruption. And, in the poverty that he finds in the poorest areas of his field research, he blames—you guessed it—indolence as its cause.

To say poor people are poor because they are lazy is wrong. And, to generalize and say na tamad ang Pilipino is an insult to the masa.

And this was my rant —filled with Images from my years in Tiaong, from the hundreds of stories i have listened to.


itong culture of poverty. . . or tamad ang pilipino
i use to think that. . . seeing all the istambays by the roadside.
whiling the day away.
but living so close to the poor, iyong really marginalized,
watching them, talking to them, listening to them,
hindi tamad ang pinoy.
sure we have istambays and juan tamads.
so does america, with people surviving on medicaid,
many waiting for monthly checks and food stamps, rather than work,
people who'd rather deal drugs to earn in a day
what they would earn in a month toiling away in an 8 to 5 job.
how can we say tamad ang pilipino.
there's fluggin', what, 12 million OFWs, suffering separation and, often, abuse.
sa probinsiya, iyong hindi makaalis they suffer working for pittances.
fifty to seventy pesos a day, wiping chicken shit off eggs or sewing bra straps.
young girls filling plastic bags with local snacks, a peso for 20 or 30 bags.
2000 a month, working sa palengke, 6 am to 7 pm or more.
this woman next door sa old house, cleaning the church, past 20 years,
so proud she has been able to put her kids through school, making less than 150 a day.
ang daming padyak men collecting recyclable trash.
balut, puto, taho vendors.
young kids, nagkakalkal nag basura, for plastic bottles,
bakal at bote, para may pang baon kinabukasan.
or to help buy rice for the next day,
for rice and salt, rice and toyo. yes, sometimes, that's all there is to eat.
ikea-on-foot, men walking up and down the shoulders of the national highway,
bent over, with furniture on their backs—book shelves, tukador—.and dami nito sa tiaong.
vendors on railroad crossings and bus stops.
countless utusans, suffering daily indignities—iba pang istorya iyan.
maiiyak ka sa stories.
and the fucking women, ang sisipag.
sure, pag naghanap ka nang tamad, may makikita ka.
pero napakaraming masipag, off the fucking radar.
isang kahig isang tuka.
uneducated marginalized poor filipinos na nagmamalaki,
and who'll tell you: marangal naman ito, kaysa magnakaw.
they have invented incredible ways on how to survive.

so, blame the failures of government, education, colonialism,
and the imagined juan tamad embedded in our DNA.

but to generalize and say na tamad ang pilipino is an insult to the masa.
but. . . they don't really care, they're too busy trying to survive.

by Dr. Godofredo U. Stuart Jr.                                                                                                      Niovember  2014
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