Our millionaires are no longer happy

By Herbert Vego

IF you are a 65-year-old retiree with one million US dollars stashed away, would you be okay until the end of your earthly journey?

Why not? At today’s exchange rate of ₱56 to $1, that translates to fifty-six million (₱56,000,000) pesos!

But if all you have is one million in pesos – whether in the bank or under the pillow — God save you from living longer. You would be wishing you had less money with stronger buying power.

If you are the sole breadwinner in the family with an above-average income of ₱30,000 per month or ₱360,000 by the end of the year, you could spend as much due to inflation. Therefore, you are getting no richer.

I lament inflation, looking back to the year 1967 when I was earning only six pesos per day in my first job as mail sorter at the Manila International Airport post office.  Other senior citizens today would confirm, ₱6 per day in that year was enough to make both ends meet.

Obviously, in those days one would think a million pesos would last a lifetime.

Today, at the new minimum wage rate of ₱610/day, I can’t imagine how a bread winner could “maintain” a wife and two kids. But take time to realize that while he would make more than a million pesos in five years, he might wonder, “Where has all that money gone?”

Indeed, he would not have that much because he would have spent most if not all of it, or even buried himself in deep debt due to hospitalization or other unforeseen circumstances.

In other words, if lose your job and be handed one million pesos in cash today with no more check to expect, you would have to find ways and means to survive beyond three or four more years.

On the other hand, if you had that much in 1960, you would think you had saved enough for a lifetime. I should know because I was 10 years old then.

In the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s, the minimum wage was P120 a month or P1,440 in one year. Thus, one would think he would need only ₱144,000 to spend and live comfortably for a lifetime.

A millionaire in that decade was considered very rich, presumed to have much more than enough moola to last a lifetime. Wrong.

You see, inflation was slow in the 1950s when 10 centavos was all it took to buy a bottle of eight-ounce soft drink.  In 1962, its retail price rose to 15 centavos.

Simply put, today’s one peso is weaker than one centavo in the 1950s.  I remember that one centavo could buy a piece of wrapped candy. It takes two pesos to buy one candy today.

It is ironic that while we Filipinos today have much more money now than we had half a century ago, we are poorer in terms of buying power. Today, if your wallet contains a thousand pesos, it could melt in a single visit to a mall. But the same amount could feed a family for six months or more in the 1950s. The minimum wage in that decade was ₱120 a month.

The declaration of martial law by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 signaled the start of fast devaluation of the peso. As a ghostwriter for a newspaper columnist in that era, I raged against the sudden spikes in the foreign exchange rates. The price of one US dollar had jumped from ₱7 to ₱11.

To this day, our only key to beat inflation is to increase income. As to how, kanya-kanyang diskarte na ‘yan.



TODAY and every last Monday of August, we commemorate the National Heroes Day. It reminds us of the Cry of Pugad Lawin, a revolt that kicked off the 1896 Philippine Revolution against Spanish rule.  It was the start of the long struggle toward our country’s independence.

It was not until after centuries of rule by Spain, the United States, and Japan that the Philippines finally achieved full independence in 1946. This victory ended a protracted conflict that pitted our small nation against major world powers.

But are we truly independent when we are not free from abusive Filipino leaders?

Banwa, binagbinaga.