I did not understand poverty until I was four years old and saw how the poor in the Philippines live. I did not understand then why I could not share my wardrobe and my food with the barefoot children who crowded the streets. I did not understand how in the same city there could be big, sprawling houses and homes cobbled together from scrap wood and cardboard.
I remember asking my father where the “in-between” houses were, the modest but comfortable homes like the three-bedroom ranch we lived in back in the States. He explained to me that the middle class in the Philippines is very small and that most people have either more than they need or not enough.
While things have progressed since then and the middle class is on the rise, there is still a vast disparity between the rich and the poor. While some might blame the rich, the situation is far more complex than that. A lack of opportunities has kept people impoverished for generations, and a lack of education makes it harder for them to accumulate wealth. These are things the Philippines is working on, but the situation is still far from ideal.
What angers me the most is how many people equate success with power and with value, as if the life of someone with money is worth more. Every day there is another story of someone in the Philippines gunned down or stabbed. Dead children are being pulled out of the water, vigilantes are controlling the streets, and no one breathes a word.
What few are willing to talk about is how this is another mark of the disparity between the rich and the poor. Most (if not all) of the people who have become casualties in this ill-conceived war are those from less affluent communities. Drug use and criminal activities are human vices which know no class, but only the poorer classes are viewed as expendable by the government and so they are the ones who suffer.
Maybe I still do not understand poverty. I certainly do not understand how it can be treated as a crime. I do not understand why the underprivileged are also undervalued. I do not understand why people are turning up dead but even more I do not understand how there is not a greater outcry over what is happening.
We are better than this. We must be better than this. We must speak out against this injustice before our country is torn apart.