The rich-poor story

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Saturday, March 9, 2013

A WEEK ago, I read on the same day about the new Forbes Magazine’s list of the richest men in the Philippines and the news about the launch of a book entitled “Boses ng Pagbabago” (Voices of Change). I read about rich men and poor men (and women) in just a few minutes.

The country’s private business is led, as usual, by Henry Sy, the magnate. And the news story talks of increases in net worth in Sy’s business from $9.1 billion in 2012 to $13.2 billion in 2013.

Many of the successful businessmen have earned their fortunes through family ties. But many, also, are “self-made”, like new dollar billionaire Andrew Gotianun of Filinvest Land, Inc. (FLI), a family corporation owned by Cebuanos.


The book “Pagbabago” talks about impaired and poor men and women whom government helped because these citizens showed willingness to help themselves.

When young, visually-impaired 56-year-old Bec was tutored by SPED-trained teachers. She then earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Central Philippine University in Iloilo City. Today Bec prepares Braille materials for visually-impaired students in public schools.

Bert, 54, of Sierra Bullones, Bohol was a simple farmer who asked for help from government agencies to train in farming techniques.

Training with the Agrarian Reform office, he chose the development of fertilizer aspect. In particular, he specialized on the use of fertilizers from animal manure, instead of those based on chemicals. Animal manure as fertilizer is more effective and cheaper. Bert grew into a successful farmer actively advocating organic farming in Bohol.

But there are those who don’t believe in themselves. They start poor and stay poor, and are unable to recognize the fact that life’s problems are not solved by the government alone or by rich men who give contributions to the poor on certain occasions.

One is poor when he doesn’t look ahead and beyond, nor do something about it, say books on business about self-made persons.

This reminds me of the stories a househelp, Susan, from Balamban told me. She didn’t dream of a better time, and she didn’t push to succeed somewhere. Today, her family still lives selling fruits in the roadside, squatting in Lahug hills. She’s now herself married with children to feed back in Balamban and on the Lahug hills.

She has memories of only three school years in Barrio Kou in Balamban, starting with the long walk to school at dawn to reach school and be on time for the flag ceremony at 7:30 a.m.

The kids used dahon sa pandan as umbrellas during the rainy season as they walked miles to school with the lucky ones showing off slippers and using them for shoes, some others walking barefoot. They had sacks (sako) for school bags. Banana leaves were used to wrap their bawon.

They played along the way, like when there were rivers to cross, even if they’d reach school wet from the waist down. And they were also afraid of talks about kidnappers of children, part of the stories intended to discipline them, Susan said.

She reached only Grade III with attention shifting to home when the parents decided to come to Cebu city, squat in a sitio in Lahug and sell fruits, to earn. The couple promised to send money to the children, “pero wa diay tu.” said Susan.

So she played parents to two girls and three boys—like did the rounds of collecting vegetables, gabi and camote, for food for her siblings, “pangaplag og lagut-mon” every day. She even did “panguma” or clearing a spot where to plant rice or make kaingin.

She’s married now and has ended up on the Lahug hills with siblings and relatives as neighbors, almost all of them selling fruits in sidewalks. She’s trying to feed three children, with her husband doing a bit of construction work here and there.

A successful business (or life) is the result of intensity and persistence, a look beyond the present into the future. The “Pagbabago” book says development begins with possibilities in the head, the dreamers believing in themselves.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 10, 2013.


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