Today we all acknowledge that there is a material and public component to our human dignity.

The practical uses of equality

In our time, the public sphere of our common life has many concerns. And we agree that the most urgent of these is the issue of social justice – of the more equitable sharing of prosperity.

There are many reasons that compel us to attempt this- self-interest included- because the few who are rich can never be secure in their possessions, living in midst of so many who are por. Then, also, Christian charity admonishes us not to harden our hearts, nor shut our hands, for as long as there is among us poor man . . . .

But beyond Christian charity there is a very practical reason we should do all we can to redress the imbalance between rich and poor in national society. And this is that a measure of social equality is good both for political openness and for economic development that sustains itself.

The public use of wealth

This is why I’m highly pleased that the BBC has taken up Pope John Paul I’s suggestion that those responsible for our country’s public life, those who control its economy, those engaged in education and science and other influential forces in society bind themselves in a social contract to work to benefit ever greater numbers of their fellow-citizens.

Until now we have relied on “trickle-down” mechanisms- from large Government projects and national businesses- to ease mass poverty. But development has not trikled down, because there are few channels through which growth can flow downward.

Little financing is available for the poor. And their production systems are limited by their technology, their skills and their lack of access to markets.

A direct attack on poverty

The only way to wipe out Philippine poverty is to make a direct attack on it. All agencies of Government must take on a pro-poor bias. They must begin to stress the well-being of the majority among us who are without the means to lead decent and useful lives.

I mean to initiate programs and projects that address directly the concerns of specific groups of the poor- marginal farmers, coastal fishermen, upland cultivators, disempowered women out-of-school youths and urban squatters.

The government shall intervene not just to generate job opportunities and skills training. To enhance each Filipino family’s capability to provide for the basic necessities: to be nourished, to be sheltered, to be productive.

It is because of this that I have shown grave concern over rising prices of prime commodities and the lack of job opportunities for those eager to work. We shall go far feeding undernourished schoolchildren in the poorest communities; and we shall help poor people organize to protect their human and political rights for their own sake.

A bias for the poorest regions

We shall also see to it that they have increasing access to land, credit and technology.

We shall be encouraging towns and barangays to establish Community Action programs which Government and private sector can support with funds and expertise.

Government shall be setting measurable standards for gauging its its success in easing poverty year after year- in terms of increased literacy, lower infant mortality, rising per-capita incomes and so forth.

All these plans can be realized- and realized speedily- if the more influential sectors of our society heed our call for unity. They are in the best position to set the example for the great majority of our people.

I urge them now to speak well of each other instead of finding fault. Let us rally together in support of national leadership instead of magnifying alleged quarrels and bickerings. Let us forge a stronger feeling of nationhood ahead of pursuing partisan politics and narrower interests.

Part of our task must be to compel the comfortable to fulfill their civic responsibilities.

In this work, both business and organized labor must help. Countervailing pressure must be raised against the interest-group determined to keep things as they are. Popular opinion must generate a national consensus for reform, the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference can be a tremendous force- because it adds the quality of compassion to the dynamism of individual enterprise.

The rock of responsibility

In the final analysis, human societies seek economic growth not just because it enables human beings to accumulate material goods. Economic growth is important because it allows greater human freedom.

Economic growth will mean nothing unless it leads us to a humane society. We cannot accept private enterprise that is based on exploitation and inequality. We cannot accept development that tolerates the persistence of poverty in national society.

As john Paul II remind us, what counts in the end is the transcendent dignity of the person: what we must seek to build is a national community founded on the rock of mutual responsibility