Sep 10, 2014-
Pope Francis was recently asked by a reporter, as he flew back from South Korea to Rome, to comment on the US bombing of Isis forces in Iraq. The Pope gave a careful answer: “It is permissible to resist evil… but bombing isn’t the only response.” The discussion stopped there, though we would love to know what alternatives the Pope had in mind. How do we resist evil on such a scale in a non-violent manner?
The deadening of hope in poor people is also a great evil. In a real sense, a person dies when his hope for a better life for himself or herself and their families dies. I believe this is happening among many survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” especially the fishermen of the Leyte Gulf. They are 20 per cent of the workers in the communities near the water. How do we help these fishermen regain hope in a better life through democratic and nonviolent action?
I sit on the beach of Barangay 89-90, Tacloban City, listening to a Canadian reporter interview one of the local fishermen. He is married and has one child, a girl. After Yolanda, the Holy Spirit sisters gave him a fishing boat, a motor and a net. He is healthy and fishes every day, in this season of crabs.
The fisherman lost his house on the beach and nearly his life in Yolanda, when he stayed to watch over it after he had taken his wife and child to a safe evacuation center. The storm surge that night crushed his house and sent him flying far out to sea. In his estimate, he swam for an hour until he reached dry land. He was injured, cut in his head and leg, but he was safe.
However, everything he and his wife had saved for their house and their child’s education was gone. Still he is lucky: In his barangay, 400 people died and 80 are still missing out of 1,000 families. He has his family, his health, a boat and nets, and yet all through the interview he sits with the stony face of a very sad man staring at the Samar hills across the water. He earns 240 pesos (US$5.50) a day on average. On a good day, he catches two kilos of crabs which he sells on the beach for 120 pesos per kilo. He pays 65 pesos for gasoline, so his net earning per day is 175 pesos. The minimum wage is a little higher, 260 pesos. He has 175 pesos for the expenses for school, medical problems, and food.
His net earning is not enough, but prospects are, as he well knows, that he will earn less in the future. Fish stocks in the Leyte Gulf were down even before Yolanda, wasted by dynamite and cyanide fishing and the use of ruinous, oversized nets by the trawlers of the well-off. These trawling boats are banned by law from coastal waters. But the owners are immune from prosecution because of their political influence and their links with the police and military, government officials told me.
Yolanda, too, damaged the corals and sea floor. On the other hand, there are few efforts commensurate in any way to the great loss of marine life, to increase the present numbers of fish and crabs. There are few efforts to try artificial reefs and other fish-aggregating techniques. There is no plan for a wise, controlled use of the Leyte Gulf, so that a portion is left unfished for a while in order to recoup the fishing population. There is little policing and prosecution, as has been said.
Our fisherman is aware of all this as he looks out to the sea. He may have heard that in his community, 40 per cent of all children aged 0-7 years are malnourished, according to studies done by the Holy Spirit sisters, and 15 children are severely malnourished; they will die unless some cure is extended. He may wonder about his daughter’s health.
There is enough reason to make him and his wife and his fellow fishermen and their wives very anxious about the future. The slogan “build back better” is rarely mentioned now. What non-violent way to a better world do the fishermen have?
Poor people—unskilled workers, factory workers and peasants—have always had only one non-violent road to change. They have to organise fisher cooperatives, peasant associations, labor unions, urban poor groups and tribal bodies that are mass-based, democratic and non-violent. If these groupings are strong enough in a nation and the national economic situation is critical enough, great changes can be made in the rights and benefits of poor and near-poor people, and great political power can be amassed by the poor.
An example of this took place in the 1930s in the United States under the Democratic Party and President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Over 30 per cent of all workers were out of work and hundreds of thousands of families lost their farms and homes in the Great Depression. It seems to have been a situation not totally different from the situation in the Yolanda-ravaged areas, where unemployment rates must also be close to 30 per cent. Of the 12,008 businesses that operated in Tacloban in pre-Yolanda days, only 2,900 are open today, leaving thousands out of work. The coconut industry is gone for six to seven years while new palms grow.
Unions and farmer organisations grew and rallied behind Roosevelt, and when he had the great mass of lower-, middle-income, and poor people behind him, he guided the legislative processes that brought about social security funds for the handicapped, the impoverished children, and the out-of-work employees. He set up public works programs, and he empowered labor unions. His country was far better off at the end of the 1930s for poor people than it was at the beginning, and those reforms continued until the 1980s.
These reforms must be renewed each generation. We need a political party that cares for the poor, and we need young people to help organise them.
- Denis Murphy
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates
Published: 11-09-2014 09:17