By Fr. Shay Cullen
The year 2023 is upon us and while many wish there will be a positive change for most Filipinos, sadly it will not be so as the rich continue to grow immensely richer and the poor poorer, according to a poverty survey of more than 15 million Filipinos carried out by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). The strong resilience of the Filipino character will continue to help them endure the growing hardship. As the cost of survival increases, poverty grows.
This is validated by the most recent survey carried out by the government itself. According to the survey in 2022, there were over 5.6 million Filipino families living in dire poverty. Considering the size of the average Filipino family of six persons, this translates to at least 33 million Filipinos living in perennial poverty with little hope for a brighter, better 2023. This they say is almost 30 percent of the 111 million total Philippine Population. This is to say that three out of every 10 Filipinos are poor and hungry.
The wealthy that are about .01 percent of the population control 46 percent of the total wealth of the Philippines, some analysts say. One cannot be sure since much wealth of the elite is hidden here and abroad and assets are understated and tax payments are close to zero. The middle-class business people and the workers pay the taxes.
However, in 2020 the Philippine government was able to get a loan of US$600 million from the World Bank to help the poor during the pandemic. Iit was to be spent on the Conditional Cash Transfer or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the Four P’s that would ease hunger. There is hardly any evidence that the poor benefited much due to creative accounting or none at all. The money was also earmarked to help the DSWD to go digital and address poverty more effectively.
This serious inequality in the Philippines has roots in history due to the historical political system inherited from the Spanish and the American colonial era when smart families serving the powerful people that then ruled won favor with the authorities. They were related to each other through marriage- a medieval strategy to consolidate power- and they gained political positions which they converted to family groups. They in turn (with heroic exceptions) bought, bribed and bullied their way into positions of political power over the past generations.
This group of smart political families used their positions in congress and local governments to enrich themselves by giving themselves public land and permits for logging, media control, plantations, mining, fishing and more. They formed business monopolies and above all continued to cleverly and brilliantly interlock and cooperate with each other so as to maneuver and manipulate the common Filipino.
The majority of ordinary, kind, ever-trusting but un-reflective Filipinos support a political system that keeps them in poverty while supplying cheap labor for the industries of the elite and multinational partners.
The rich and politically powerful dynastic families with their relatives, cronies and partnerships, together with local and multinational corporations, have a tight grip on the economy which they strive to grow for their own benefit drawing on the labor of the poor underpaid Filipinos. The rich continue to grow richer and the poor poorer.
That’s why an estimated 1.83 million Filipinos fled abroad in 2021 in search of higher wages even if it meant the loss of family life, love of their children and an end to their hope that their own beautiful country would overcome the injustice, inequality and oppression.
This number of overseas workers was more than in 2020 when it was 1.77 million. They joined the known (more or less)11 million Filipinos that live abroad, serving other masters. They earn a better living, are highly respected and they fulfill their goals. They exercise their skills and knowledge and hard labor sadly benefiting other nations and not their own. However, they work for their families and benefit the economy by sending home their hard-earned money.
The total amount sent home from April to September 2021 was a staggering 151.33 billion pesos in cash sent by transfer agencies and brought in person and in kind, helping to keep the Philippine economy afloat during the pandemic. Yet it helps their families just survive, not get out of poverty, in a nation ruled by the few over the many.
The rule by oligarchy suits the Filipino, it seems. They return dominant dynastic families to power again and again in elections with few exceptions and unwittingly almost unknowingly keep themselves in the chains of poverty. The rich dynastic families and their cronies control land, industries, the financial sector, transport, manufacturing, ports, food importation and distribution and energy generation and apparently the minds and hearts of most Filipinos.
One might say that the ordinary, politically unaware, and unreflective Filipino continues to believe every promise politicians make no matter how outlandish, false and always unfulfilled. They still have foolish hopes, believe the empty promises and sell their votes to the vote-buying candidate, thereby approving a political system that keeps them in the chains of poverty and whose ruling members laugh all the way to the bank.
The political apparatus of controlling social media, the flow of information is doctored and the corruption is cleverly covered up. In the end, billions of pesos are siphoned off into the pockets of corrupt officials. The system is protected by the guardians that are trained to believe that opposition is subversion and must be crushed.
National development of renewable power plants will not happen while such corruption continues among some local and national officials. For example, the transition from the Philippine dependency on fossil fuels to the freedom of low-cost renewables (35 percent is the goal by 2025) is almost impossible because of corrupt practices. Every piece of marginalized land to be transferred has to have an estimated twenty signatures. Each signature is delayed until an acceptable pay-off under the table is agreed. Land transfer takes about three years of such negotiations. Any citizen or non-citizen applying for permits, clearances, passports, documents will understand this.
There is always hope for the future. The Filipino is never without it, no matter how unrealistic. It must be hope based on social education, public awareness about one’s rights to good governance and action to achieve it by peaceful means. This is a bleak assessment for 2023 but it is better to know and accept the truth than to live in a fantasy.