When I first came to the Philippines in 1969 as a Columban missionary from Ireland I felt welcomed and accepted by the Filipino people. They are an intelligent, friendly and a proud people that suffer poverty today as a consequence of conquest by colonial powers that subjugated them politically and economically.
This is the great injustice and historical wrong that has made this a nation of "perpetual poverty” where 1 percent of the population rules the rest. To this day, some 14O elite families and thousands of their cronies and relatives dominate Congress and all aspects of government and economic life.
One hundred million and more Filipinos are ruled by these few dynastic families. There is little hope of freedom. Many of them have roots in the Spanish and American colonial periods. To this day, their political power and corporate presence in the economic life of the Philippines is unbroken and almost unchallenged. They cleverly set up celebrities, sports stars, popular singers and movie actors to front for them and rule as the puppet masters supreme.
They have set-up monopolies and by cheating and corruption they have accumulated vast land holdings and corporate monopolies and political power. These have brought the ruling class untold wealth and political, military and police power to these mega rich elite.
There are exceptions of course. Some powerful families do try to bring about more social justice. But they are few.
Some say only violent revolution will change it. Others say it will take sustained people power non-violent mass action to challenge and change this system. Yet both are fraught with dangers of causing economic collapse with the fall of the oligarchy.
In the meantime we can do our best to help people to help themselves survive and have a better life. The mission of Preda Fair Trade is to show another way to do business that will lessen poverty and give some evidence that goodness and honesty can bring social justice and prosperity. All business should be fair and just, many are but few work directly with the oppressed people.
This trade practice is based on honesty, justice and sharing. It is trade that finds customers of conscience who are willing to pay fair prices for the products made under fair conditions respectful of human dignity. It is a relationship to bring human, emotional, and economic development to the poorest communities. It is a sustainable way towards poverty reduction and its eventual elimination. Amazingly, China has the biggest, wealthiest middle class in the world surpassing the United States. Did they do it by creating millions of jobs and paying fair wages?
After all people are poor because they lack land, education, job opportunity, fair wages and community organization and the rule of just law. But they are also poor because of greed, oppression, exploitation by powerful people and groups. Ruled by families without fairness, the inequality in the Philippines has grown intolerable. Change is unlikely. The dynasties will not pass a law abolishing their own existence.
In the Preda Fair Trade projects, we have tried to bring the positive values to the trading partnership with hundreds of producers so that their lives will change for the better and for their children.
Not only have hundreds of craft workers prospered over the years by good, honest fair trading and honest business but the farmers producing mangos, pineapples and other fruits have also tasted the fruit of their encounter with Preda Fair Trade criteria and practice. Bringing justice into a very unjust world is the goal and purpose of Preda Development Fair Trade.
Development fair trade gives the indigenous Aeta people of Zambales community projects such as water supply, thousands of mango saplings, mangos and coffee seedlings to improve the value of their ancestral lands and secure their rights to it and oppose loggers and mining companies and land grabbers. Small mango farmers in Mindanao also benefit.
They all get training to form associations, to know their rights. They learn organic production and get more income from Preda profit sharing through bonus payments to the small farmers.
The Aeta indigenous farmers association with Preda Fair Trade have succeeded in reaching and meeting the chemical-free organic standards for their mango and have truly earned the certification of being organic for mango puree.
Critics said the poor could never meet the stringent bio standards of the EU and the German organic certification group Naturland and their Asian partner ACT but they have despite 14.5 kilos of documentation needed. Yet the organic certification guarantees them a steady market and high price for their certified organic mangos.
Pope Francis is the prophet of the poor and protector of the environment and he has stepped onto the stage of history with such a voice to lift up the poor and protect the earth. Fairness and justice is what the millions of poor need above all.
“Let us not be afraid to say it: we want change, real change, structural change,” Pope Francis told the cheering crowds in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, referring to the “unjust globalization of the economic system that has imposed the mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature.” He said,“This system is by now intolerable: farm workers find it intolerable, laborers find it intolerable, communities find it intolerable, and people find it intolerable. The earth itself our sister, Mother Earth, as Saint Francis, would say also finds it intolerable” Pope Francis said.
And we too should find it intolerable and counter this unjust exploitation with Fair Trade and work for justice in the world. The more people that live a just life and buy fair trade products, the quicker we will end dire poverty and all can live happier, healthier, lives.
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By Fr. Shay Cullen