For someone whose heart is in the right place, Erap Estrada is a bit on the “ditz” side of things.  Erap may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, affiliating himself with the masa whom he loves and who adores him, but there’s the audacity of the man to build on an agenda of vindication.  In an Inquirer.net report, it is only Erap who favors the legalization of jueteng:

  • Erap wants to legalize jueteng, but does not tolerate it.
  • Erap favors the use of jueteng as a form of alternative employment for the poor.

So much for empowerment?

One of the reasons why Erap was deposed three years into his term is precisely that: jueteng kickbacks, money laundering, and charges of plunder.  Since vendetta seems to be an agenda in the Erap presidential bid as it stands, it seems that a driving force behind his campaign is to vindicate his name, to restore himself to the Presidency, and to give credence to the Presidential Seal he continues to wear on his wristband.  Yet beyond that is the thinking that a cause among causes of poverty can actually lift people out of it.

Improving the lives of the poor is all about empowerment.  When the poor use their money to gamble – money best spent on food and medicine and shelter – there’s the “evil” in gambling.  An “alternative form of employment for the poor?”  How empowering, indeed, to leave the poor in something that cannot be sustained, and does not sustain?  Where’s the empowerment in something that, in many cases, ruined people’s lives, starved many children, deprived many of them of an education, all for twenty pesos laid on a couple of numbers?

Upholding the rights of the poor and improving their lives means to give them the opportunities and avenues needed for them to succeed.  Empowerment is not about keeping the poor poor, and sustaining the things that keep them poor, but uplifting them from those squalid conditions and giving them a shot at life that’s within our common sense of dignity and decency.  Legalizing jueteng does nothing for the poor who continue to bet on it to find a shimmer of hope in their lives.  What about urban farms, collective cooperatives, a national industry, opening up green factories and industries on the outskirts of villages and provinces where produce is left to rot when not transported?  What about community gardens where the poor can grow their own food to consume and to sell?

Surely we have better choices than Erap’s number; and in many ways, better choices than Erap.