The political consciousness of the poor


Wataru Kusaka, in “Moral Antagonism in Philippine Society,” thinks that the inability of the country to rise from its long colonial hangover comes from the prevalence of biases against the masses. The poor are seen as worthy of blame for their situation. The masses are told that they have no right to resent the comfortable lives enjoyed by hardworking citizens. Yet, in making such a myopic judgment against the marginalized, we have gained nothing but lost the transformative strength of true political reform.

In a society in which the civic sphere is dominated by a “cultured” class that often labels the masses as “others,” social and political institutions will remain impotent in terms of delivering to disadvantaged citizens what they deserve from the basic structure. People judge that the masses need discipline, but most of the time many of us forget that the poor actually have no real options in life to begin with.

Deep structural injustices are a result of a moral divide in Philippine society. This type of moral antagonism is a consequence of the reality of political exclusion that deprives a sector in society the opportunity to become part of the decision-making processes in the state. It is not an overstatement to say that massive corruption does not only point to the acute weakness of our electoral culture; it also reveals the failure of our institutions to safeguard the basic freedoms of our people.

The division of Philippine society into “we/they” results in the persistent impoverishment of the people’s lives. Most professionals often mock the poor for the latter’s perceived lack of discipline. In fact, many among us wrongly believe that only the educated class possesses the power of reason because we simply say that the poor have nothing but endless complaints about their being victims of oppression and abuse. If we truly want to promote justice in a serious way, then it is our political obligation to object to this condescending attitude.

We forget that the collective unity of the marginalized sector is important in order to being about a just sociopolitical order. Such a form of group solidarity appears to be the moral grounding of the worthy causes of the poor. We can cite the case of Kadamay as a particular example. The civic sphere characteristically derides the group’s intrusion into the status quo. People will say that the demand for decent housing by the homeless cannot be legally or even morally legitimate. The dismissal of Kadamay’s brand of solidarity is easy to do because we unnecessarily accuse the poor of being lazy and unreasonable.

Political theory teaches us that to be effective in changing society, all power must be diffused into channels that primarily serve the interests of the public and not just the self-serving motives of the ruling few. Iris Marion Young rightly argues that “a democratic decision is only legitimate if all those affected by it are included in the process of discussion and decision making.” Indeed, deliberative forms of public consultation are important in a democracy because without these, citizens will be deprived of their right to express an opinion on crucial issues that will affect their lives.

The basic point is that social justice is a shared responsibility. Inclusive democracy is rooted in the recognition that many of our fellowmen have suffered because they have been pushed to the margins of society. The political consciousness of the poor may not be that sophisticated, but their passion for change has inflamed countless revolutions in the history of humankind. Thus, any decent individual out there who holds even a tiny fragment of moral imagination should be able to realize that it is unconscionable to blame the poor for their difficult situation because the urgency of any meaningful reform is actually the greater burden of individuals who have benefited so much from society than those who have not.

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Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.

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