Monthly Archives: July 2016

LIFE AND DEBT: A Reflection

by Mary Ann F Daclan, Mindanao State University at Marawi, PH

The film “Life and Debt” documents the points of view of Jamaican workers, farmers, government and policy officials who directly experience the realities of globalization from where they are situated. Stephanie Black adeptly directs the film depicting Life_Debt_a spectrum of Jamaica’s rich culture set in beguiling sea, sand and sun and the saddening realities of a debt-laden country. The film covers the impact economic globalization has on a developing country. It profoundly dissects the “mechanism of debt” that consequently debilitates the people’s livelihood. The film’s scenario is very much akin to what also transpired in another developing country – the Philippines. Europeans colonized Jamaica (by Great Britain) and Philippines (by Spain). Both countries gained independence. Beset by financial difficulties, both countries serially loaned heaps of US dollars from International Monetary Fund and World Bank. The debts’ impacts to common Jamaican people are very similar among many Filipinos.

Being a natural born citizen of the Philippines, a Filipino at heart, I can verily empathize with the debt-ridden Jamaicans. In Life and Debt, Dr. Michael Witter, an economics professor lectured his class that “essentially what the IMF would like us to do is to devaluate our currency, to make our dollar cheaper.” Since Jamaica, as well as the Philippines, heavily depends on imported goods like food, fuel, books, and medicines, the costs go up to the citizens. “In effect,” Dr. Witter said, “foreigners control the economy in form of debt.” This affects every common citizen’s consumption of the most basic human needs. So instead of buying new books, we Filipinos illegally photocopy the original books in the library. Our vehicles emit toxic carbon on the very air we breathe for reasons involving expensive imported fuels. We let our children drink the cheaper powdered milk because we cannot afford imported fresh milk. We still take medicines that have long been banned in first world countries because our laws have no fangs to prevent their entry to the country.

Similarly, I remember in the 80’s, as a high school student at a public school, my Social Studies teacher would tell us that every Filipino is indebted outside of the country. Mr. Polintan said that even those who are still in the womb already have debts in dollars. He said that every Filipino may not be able to fully pay the debt in his or her lifetime. Later, as I learned about the complexities of society through sociology courses, I realized the truths behind the words of my elementary teacher. In 2015, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reported that the Philippines’ foreign debt totals to over 75 billion in US dollars. Based on the population, each Filipino has an approximate of over a thousand US dollars debt. As a Filipino, I can feel the burden of my country’s debts as I grew up amid landless farmers in our province.

Like the Jamaicans, landless farmers labor for those who have farmlands. Still lagged behind, those with farms hitherto rely on nature’s rain so they can plant. Absence of irrigation, lack of capital to finance rice farming, and dire poverty pushed my family to put on lease my mother’s two-hectare rice field inheritance. My mother entered an informal transaction to an entrepreneurial neighbor in an indefinite term. For Dr. Witter, “The whole idea is to set conditions that the government could not meet.” The common end among the Jamaicans and us would be the oppressive conditions by the “haves.” Consequently, we joined our landless neighbors. Thereafter, my mother’s farming activities evolved around farm labor for wages in cash or in kind. As young as I was then, as I witnessed my mother and my neighbors’ labors, I thought of how they were paid less for what they have tediously labored for.

When we sell “in kind” remuneration to have cash, the buyers’ price was extremely low. The reason for buying cheap included difficulty in transportation via the Agusan river and the low price for local produce. For instance, we export our natural resources – processed sinter ore and steel; then we import the expensive byproduct – cars. Upon reflection, at the very strand of this dynamics lurks the superordinate-subordinate relationship between “haves” and “have-nots.” #AnnDACLAN