In my column marking the start of 2018, I spoke of my one wish for the year, and that is for human dignity to be recognized as the defining template for governance.
As we usher in 2019, it appears that recognizing and upholding the inherent dignity of every person would require an even greater effort, a re-dedication on the part of those who live by the Christian doctrine that man was created and shaped in the likeness of God, and, by his very existence, has an inherent worth or value that must be respected.
Dignity as the foundation of economic governance should translate into policies where citizens share in economic growth, where policies bring relief instead of additional burdens.
When we work to ensure that the benefits of a thriving economy are felt by all, we are giving primacy to human dignity.
Last year, however, the burden of oppressive price increases was felt by all economic classes, but more deeply by the poor.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported last month that inflation reached an “almost five-year high” of 9.5 percent among poor families in October, 2018. This explains the pessimism recorded by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) in its fourth quarter survey, with the mood of both consumers and businessmen weighed down by higher prices, low income, unemployment, a weak peso, and higher interest rates. The bearish mood has not been seen since the first quarter of 2010, says the BSP, and is expected to persist until the early part of 2019.
It is also a grave disservice to the public when it has been established that the sharp spike in the price of rice, a major contributor to the high inflation rate, was due to the systemic inefficiency of the National Food Authority (NFA) and the bullheaded refusal of the leadership to accede to proposals to flood the market with rice at the onset. When the leadership’s trust and satisfaction numbers plummeted as a result of the rice crisis, it finally relented and asked Congress to approve with due haste the Rice Tariffication Act. Had the leadership been pro-active, food inflation would have been manageable. New excise taxes imposed by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, a tax alleviation measure transformed into a revenue raising program, also confounded the country’s inflation woes.
While the poor and the middle class groaned under the weight of soaring prices, the Executive and Congress seemed more preoccupied with fighting a turf war over pork rather than finding ways to mitigate the impact of price increases. The turf war rages until now with neither side showing signs of relenting.
And as we were poised to take a holiday breather from the toxic politics and the gloomy consumer sentiment, the country was jolted by the assassination of party-list Congressman Rodel Batocabe. It was a brazen act, shocking the highest levels of government and politics who roundly deplored the culture of impunity and violence, and the breakdown of the rule of law. The Bicol solon is not the only prominent personality to be assassinated last year. Former local officials, human rights lawyers, priests, and journalists have met their death in the hands of assassins.
Make no mistake. These high-profile acts of violence deserve condemnation and swift justice. But one must also remember the thousands of nameless ones – the poor and powerless – who suffered the same fate in the government’s war on drugs. Whether they were felled by masked killers in some dark alley or shot in police operations, their deaths also deserve condemnation and swift justice.
It needs to be reiterated that the rule of law is the best guarantee of equal protection for all citizens. When the supposed protectors of the people ignore the rule of law, human dignity is devalued.
While it may pass the notice of the casual observer, dignity has been the essence of our evolving national narrative. Even the recent act of school bullying, where the choice of “bugbog o dignidad” was offered to the victim, illustrates how a person’s very dignity could be reduced to insignificance by a single act of violence. A party-list group, Sulong Dignidad, framed the issue succinctly: “‘Bugbog o Dignidad’ should never be a choice. Having dignity means having an environment free from fear or violence.”
Whether in schools, our homes, our offices, or in the corridors of power, we must always work to uphold a person’s dignity.