The Problem of Poverty in Metro Manila, Philippines
WCIU Journal: Community and Societal Development Topic
April 30, 2019
by Kumar Aryal
Also see related articles:
• Ralph Winter’s article, “Poverty and the Christian Mission,” and his
Reflection on Dependency and Replicability” in the Community and Societal Development topic of this journal.
• “Shalom: The Goal of the Kingdom and of International Development” in the 2009 WCIU Press edited volume of WCIU student, faculty, and alumni writings, The Goal of International Development: God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven. Download a free PDF of this book here.
Why does poverty remain one of the critical problems in Metro Manila, Philippines, and what can evangelical believers do about it?
Background of the Study
Poverty is one of the major problems the world is facing today. It has been one of the persistent challenges in the Philippines. Economic growth in the Philippines has also been less pro-poor (not being able to provide sustainable jobs for low-income groups), and less inclusive (not being able to reduce social and environmental disparities). Another plausible reason behind the persistence of poverty could be the population growth rate in the Philippines, which is the highest in Southeast Asia (Poverty Analysis Summary, 1).
For many, poverty is mainly economic, material, political, social, and mental issues. But, for evangelical Christians, poverty should additionally be seen as a spiritual issue. In a holistic development framework, there are four kinds of poverty: economic, psychological, social, and spiritual; which requires four corresponding kinds of development: economic, psychological, social, and spiritual. This research argues that since the four kinds of poverty are interrelated with each other, the four kinds of development should be integrated as well. Thus, holistic development is the economic, psychological, social, and spiritual development of the poor which results in shalom.
For this research I selected Metro Manila as a case study because, in spite of the visible presence of evangelical Christian churches, and faith-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs), poverty remains a critical problem in this megacity. Poverty is growing in major cities around the world at an alarming rate, but more so in Metro Manila (Wanak 2008, 228). It is alarming that about one-fifth of the population in the Philippines is still living under the poverty line.
The central issue addressed in this research is the effectiveness of the response of evangelical Christian churches, NGOs, and INGOs to the problem of poverty in metro Manila, Philippines. Although evangelical Christians, who supposedly embrace the holistic saving love of Jesus for all humanity, are visible in responding to poverty in the Philippines, how much impact are they making in the holistic development of the poor? Why does poverty remain one of the critical problems in Metro Manila, Philippines while evangelical Christian response to poverty over the years has been tangible?
The thesis of this article is that when economic, psychological, social, and spiritual poverty is addressed in an integrated manner, poor people will experience shalom which is the goal of holistic development.
Four Types of Poverty and Development
It is important to understand poverty in all its meanings, because people’s response to poverty is usually determined by how they understand the term (Myers 2011, 14). Evangelical Christians are visible in responding to poverty in the Philippines, with much of their poverty alleviation efforts focused on the economic and spiritual development of the poor. From interviews with evangelical pastors in the Manila Metro area, it is apparent that very few evangelical Christian leaders realize the psychological needs and none of them realize the social needs of the poor. It is presumed that their programs and services to respond to poverty focus primarily on the economic and spiritual aspects of poverty. But psychological and social poverty are equally important areas where the poor need development, and these affect the economic and spiritual development of the poor.
This is the most common understanding of poverty. Poverty is a situation where a person is not able to afford the very basic necessities for survival. Dirty slums, beggars on the streets, babies with swollen tummies, barren fields, no electricity, no running water, and no toilets are visible signs of poverty. But there may be other forms of poverty that are not seen right away. Economic poverty usually affects the psychological, social, and spiritual aspects of a person.
When people experience a state of incompleteness before God, with feelings of neediness, incompleteness, and dependency, they often become overwhelmed. Meeting spiritual needs is a priority for evangelical Christians. In the book, The Church and Poverty in Asia, Ruth Callanta writes:
Secular development addresses the material, but not the spiritual, dimension of individuals. Consequently, the values necessary for wholeness (right priorities, right decisions, and right actions resulting from obedience to the will of God) were not developed. This conspicuous absence of Christian values has resulted in a situation where, despite resources being poured into development projects, the poor remained poor, both in body and spirit (Callanta 2008, 150).
A mindset in people who tend to believe that they are poor and that they will remain poor is a form of psychological poverty. This indicates a person’s need for a correct understanding of their identity as an image bearer of God, the correct view of their God-given abilities, and the correct view of God’s resources. Violeta Villaroman-Bautista argues that holistic development of the poor requires more than just meeting their physical needs. She highlights the need for evangelical Christians in the Philippines to respond to the psychological needs of the poor. She writes,
“The programs that target the care and development of the person, of relationships, of families – those we refer to as psychological programs – are important components of community work. They serve as intervening variables that enhance or contribute to the stabilization of social development programs” (Wanak 2008, 206).
This form of poverty is also understood as relational poverty, displaying a deep lack of the connectedness with others that people need for their well-being. Bryant Myers proposes that poverty is primarily relational and that its cause is predominantly spiritual.
The poor are poor largely because they live in networks of relationships that do not work for their well-being. Their relationships with others are often oppressive and disempowering as a result of the non-poor “playing god” in the lives of the poor. Their relationship within themselves is diminished and debilitated as a result of the grind of poverty and the feeling of permanent powerlessness. Their relationship with those they call “others” is experienced as exclusion. Their relation with their environment is increasingly less productive because poverty leaves no room for caring for the environment. Their relationship with the God who created them and sustains their life is distorted by an inadequate knowledge of who God is and what God wishes for all humankind (Myers 2011, 15).
The focus of the majority of the evangelical Christian churches, NGOs, and INGOs has typically been on meeting the physical needs of the poor and sharing the Gospel. They have given great effort in responding to the physical and spiritual development of the poor, but my research shows very few are intentional in working on the social and psychological development of the poor. Evangelical Christian response to poverty needs to be intentional in all four areas of development: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual, in order to achieve the goal of holistic development of the poor.
Causes of Poverty
There is a need for an intentional response to the root causes of poverty in addition to responding to its visible symptoms.
Poverty Caused by Population Growth
Fast-paced population growth is arguably one of the reasons behind the persistence of poverty in the Philippines over the years. If present growth continues until 2020, the population will have almost doubled over the span of 30 years. While the population has been growing, the resources and government capability has not grown in the same ratio. Population growth would not be a problem if the resources and systems were in place to sustain it. But, in the context of the Philippines, lack of resources and unjust political system make it difficult for the poor to get out of their situation. Since the population growth rate is usually high in poor communities, poor people are having a hard time getting out of the poverty cycle.
Poverty Caused by Recurring Natural Disasters
One of the factors to consider regarding the problem of poverty in the Philippines is the reality of recurring natural disasters. Some of the examples are: the 7.7 magnitude earthquake that hit Baguio city in 1990, the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991, mudslides in Southern Leyte in 2003, flooding and mudslides in Quezon province in 2004, mudslides in southern Leyte in 2005, and typhoon “Reming” that hit Bicol in 2006 (Wanak 2008, 197). According to the Citizens’ Disaster Response Center (CDRC), “the Philippines topped the list of countries most frequently hit by natural disasters in 2011.” Since most of those who get affected by natural disasters are the poor people, it forces them into a poverty cycle. The majority of the slum dwellers in Metro Manila come from various provinces as a result being affected by such frequent natural disasters.
Although natural disasters are beyond human control, there are preventive measures that can be taken by by the government and evangelical Christian leaders mentioned. Since recurring natural disasters are one of the causes of persistent poverty, the response must focus on disaster risk reduction awareness prior to calamity and rehabilitation of the poor after calamity. It helps in the empowerment and the sustainable development of the poor.
Poverty Caused by Lack of Education
Poverty and education are inextricably linked. People need education in order to get out of poverty. People living in poverty may stop going to school so they can work, which leaves them without literacy and numeracy skills they need to further their careers. Their children, in turn, are in a similar situation years later, with little income and few options but to leave school and work (ChildFund 2018).
Currently, 6.2 million primary-school aged children are not in school. Many of them are forced out of school so they could work and support their family. There are several factors that affect their education, such as: lack of school supplies, lack of teachers, lack of food, and natural disasters. All of these hindering factors are either a cause or a result of poverty (Save Children Philippines 2018).
To understand how evangelicals are heling the poor through education, several focus groups were interviewed. One focus group included young people who were participating in Christ’s Commission Fellowship’s Alternative Learning Systems class. It is a 10-month program to help the young people get back to school or to prepare them to go to college for further studies. These young people come from poor families, many of whom left school because their parents could not afford to buy school supplies. Some local churches provide tutoring services and school supplies,
In addition to the lack of general education, lack of financial literacy is another key factor that contributes to the persistence of poverty. “Only 25 percent of Filipino adults are financially literate, a Standard & Poor’s (S&P) Ratings Services survey found, highlighting the challenges facing the goal of boosting access to financial services” (Manila Times 2015). As a result of one faith-based NGO’s programs and services (Sparrow Music) programs and services young people have begun to realize the need to save and spend only when necessary. Some of them said, “Save for emergencies, buy necessary things only, spend wisely, and share with others who don’t have.” Those were valuable lessons in terms of handling money. It is presumed that they will apply those lessons when they actually have money with them.
Poverty Caused by Corruption:
Aside from population growth, recurring natural disasters, and lack of education, corruption contributes to persistent poverty in the Philippines. In fact, “Corruption has been described as ‘chronic’ in the Philippines” (Asian Development Bank 2009, 1164). Political dynasties that are dominant in the local government positions are usually associated with corruption (Asian Development Bank 2009, 96). All of the evangelical Christian leaders interviewed and some of the poor people themselves refer to corrupt and unjust political system as one of the key reasons behind persistent poverty.
Thus, there is a great need for evangelical Christians to partner with the government in both national and local levels to deal with the roots of a corrupt and unjust political system and help transform those corrupt and broken systems. However, based on the findings of this research, evangelical Christians have a very minimal partnership with the government in terms of their poverty alleviation efforts. Instead, evangelical groups usually go directly to the poor to avoid a long government process and to avoid letting government officials pocket the money that should go to the poor. As the Asian Development Bank report says, they are “directly involved in poverty alleviation in various ways, including soup kitchens, rice distribution, medical and funeral assistance, livelihood programs, and microfinance” (Asian Development Bank 2009, 77). Those are valid reasons for direct involvement; but there is a need for transformation in the government system and evangelical Christians can play a vital role in that transformation.
Recommendations for Evangelical Groups
Work with Government
A distrust of the governmental efficiency could be a reason why evangelical Christians in the Philippines have been responding to poverty largely through their local churches, NGOs, and INGOs alone. Since the evangelical Christian churches, NGOs and International NGOs interviewed work very closely with the poor, there is a need for them to partner with the government agencies. Such partnership helps in complementing the programs and services of the government. In his keynote address in the 2007 Lausanne Philippine Congress, David Lim challenged evangelical Christians to transform their churches into “center(s) for community transformation.” He then added that the center should contribute to the national transformation and thereby show to the world the loving character of God.
The researcher recommends that evangelical Christian churches, NGOs, and INGOs work in partnership with various branches of the government. So that government officials will be able to witness Christian love in words and in actions. As a result, government officials and the various branches of the government they serve will experience transformation.
Need for Collaboration
Neither the national government nor any individual organization will be able to solve the problem of poverty in the Philippines alone (Ababa 2011, 8). It will take a collaborative effort of the government sector, private sector, religious sector, and other international parties involved to make significant progress in poverty alleviation. Since there are thousands of local evangelical Christian churches and hundreds of NGOs and International NGOs that are responding to poverty in the Philippines, they can play a key role in the holistic development of the poor and help alleviate poverty.
Thirty percent of the evangelical Christian leaders mentioned during the interview that there is a need for collaboration among Christians in responding to poverty. Local churches are concerned that many NGOs and International NGOs are not partnering with a local church when they do their projects and provide services. In some cases, the NGOs themselves are competing with each other to respond to the poor rather than collaborating with each other. In other instances, local churches are responding to poverty on their own without joining hands with NGOs. With proper collaboration, beneficiaries of NGOs an be easily channeled to a local church in terms of their continual spiritual growth and fellowship. Likewise, beneficiaries and members of the local churches will be able to volunteer in NGO efforts in their community.
Coordination consumes both time and resources, but it is necessary in order to be able to craft well-designed and efficiently implemented programs” (Asian Development Bank 2009, 67). It is easy to do a feeding program once a week, give away used clothes once a month, and organize a Christmas party once a year for the poor in their communities. But, to do intentional holistic ministry among the poor requires much intentionality, effort, and manpower. Therefore, the researcher recommends a better coordination among evangelical Christian churches, NGOs, and International NGOs in order to have a better response to poverty in Metro Manila.
Avoid Creating Dependency
It has been evident in this research that most of the evangelical churches and organizations interviewed are giving aid as their response to the problem of poverty in the Philippines. Aid is something that is given when there is an immediate need. It is often necessary in the Philippines since there are natural disasters almost every year. However, aid is not supposed to be a long-term response to poverty because it creates dependency on the side of the poor.
Instead of giving aid to the poor year after year, evangelical Christians should think of helping the poor become self-sustainable over the years. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert give an important reminder to the evangelical Christians in terms of empowering the poor, which is to avoid paternalism. They say, “Do not do things for people that they can do for themselves” (Fikkert and Corbett 2012, 109). Thus, the researcher recommends that evangelical Christians have an intentional response to the psychological development of the poor. A lot of times poor people need more than material things; they need new ideas and moral support.
This research has explored how evangelical Christians are responding to the problem of poverty in the Philippines and what kind of impact it is making in the holistic development of the poor. It has used a holistic development framework to define poverty, development, and shalom which is the goal of holistic development. In the holistic development framework, there are four kinds of poverty: economic, psychological, social, and spiritual. These require four kinds of development: economic, psychological, social, and spiritual. The research has argued that since the four kinds of poverty are interrelated with each other, the four kinds of development should be integrated as well. When economic, psychological, social, and spiritual poverty is addressed in an integrated manner, poor people will experience shalom which is the goal of holistic development.
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