Is Poverty Inevitable or a Choice?

Street vendors in Manila

The idea for this post came to me after reading this article on “Rappler”

When I talk about poverty I don’t quite mean that living a spartan and minimalistic life is bad. On the contrary, I am the number one advocate of a simple life, as I value reading, meditating, spending time alone in nature and finding a higher purpose in life much more than I value things (that many poor Filipinos actually value a lot) like cars, the latest electronic gadgets and so on.

If I were not married I could perfectly live without a car and I would be happy with a 15 square-meter apartment (by a lake or anywhere else close to nature).

On the other hand I would not like at all being a squatter in a place like Tondo or living under a bridge in Manila and I don’t like getting into debt.

So, although I am an advocate of a simple life, I truly believe that extreme poverty sucks and, unfortunately there are many Filipinos who live in extremely difficult economical situations and I have seen plenty of squatters, not only in Manila but also in Bulacan, on the riverbank of the Calumpit River.

As the “Rappler” article says, sometimes poverty is beyond one’s choice: if I were born in a family of squatters in the Philippines, and had poor health and no higher education, I could do very little about it and I couldn’t even move abroad, as Filipinos who live in Italy are people who already had some connections here, some family support or at least some savings.

Filipinos who come here are not the super-destitute, most of them have higher education, good health and speak English fluently and, as I’ve said, usually they have connections here, as here in Rome we have big Filipino families where each one is somehow related to someone else in town or somewhere else in the country.

So, as the “Rappler” article says there are Filipinos who, due to their circumstances and family upbringing, could hardly escape poverty and they could never even make it to another country to change their circumstances.

The flip side of the coin is that I know Filipinos who have been living in my country for 20-30 years and yet they are dead broke and mired in utang or debt, as I have already said in some of my posts.

I understand that these days the Italian economy is in recession and the cost of living is too high and so even the most hardworking and self-disciplined person may struggle to make ends meet.

But it was not this way 10-15 years ago, the economy was still doing pretty well and there was much room for saving up, and yet most Filipinos whom I know were already stuck in debt 15-20 years ago and they still are.

Is their poverty the result of a choice?

Honestly speaking the condition of many O.F.W. shows that, although there are extreme circumstances that keep millions of Filipinos stuck in extreme poverty, there are thousands of others who have had plenty of chances to break free from poverty (and, most of all, utang) and yet they have mismanaged their chances and they live in a foreign country almost as if they had never left the Philippines.

So, is poverty inevitable or a choice?

For millions of super-destitute Filipinos who are not much in the position to change their circumstances it is evidently not a choice but, based on my observation of the life of many O.F.W. here, there are thousands of Pinoy who choose to be poor because they have moved their bodies here but they haven’t parted with the bahala-na si Batman mentality.