Why are Filipinos habitually and inherently impoverished?

Let us yet again (there is certainly no way we can do this enough) revisit my brilliant definition, of poverty:

Poverty is a habitual entering into commitments one is inherently unable to honour.

philippine_povertyIn embracing the above definition, we begin to see poverty for what it really is — not an ideological construct of emo activists but a basic resource management issue. Poverty is a symptom rather than the root cause of a society’s most fundamental problem: a lack of inherent ability to convert low-value input into high-value output coupled with a pathetic dependence on the low-value input component of this equation for livelihood.

Despite the Philippines being host to abundant natural resources, and now, an enormous supply of people, the society as a whole lacks a collective ability to apply this enormous number of people to the task of turning these resources into any sort of valuable economic output of consequence. Instead, natural resources are harvested raw and sold raw — mineral ore, logs, overseas foreign workers. Overseas, these then get turned into iPhones, karaoke machines, those shirts with the Philippine islands embroidered onto their left breasts, Honda Civics, Havaianas, and Starbucks tumblers after which they are shipped back to the Philippines to be purchased using OFW cash.

The Philippines, in short, is a perfect self-perpetuating poverty equation.

Anemia, a physiological condition marked by an impoverishment of the substance of one’s blood, does not necessarily mean a deficit in essential minerals needed for production of key blood components. It could be a symptom of a body’s inability to process said minerals even when these minerals are present in abundance within said body. It’s like being desperately thirsty while stuck in a little boat in the middle of the sea. You’re toast because your system is unable to metabolise sea water.

Indeed, the Philippines, a resource-rich island nation, suffers from that famous curse of the naturally-endowed. The lush forests and abundant minerals that had for so long hung low enough to be picked by any Filipino schmoe sitting squat on a banig have proven toxic to the Filipino system just as sea water eventually kills a marooned shipwreck survivor.

Poverty is not the problem. It is a symptom.

Thus the Philippines remains impoverished. And it will remain so until it addresses the root cause of its impoverishment: its consistent and chronic inability to process what resources it has on its own backyard.

Is there hope?

That depends. Any discussion on “solving” Philippine-style poverty should begin with an honest regard for questions derived from key components of my definition:

(1) Why is poverty deeply-entrenched in the Philippines?

(2) Why is poverty hopelessly chronic in the Philippines?

To answer Question 1 requires an effort to understand Filipinos’ habitual behaviours that exacerbate and deepen their impoverishment. To anwer Question 2 requires an effort to understand Filipinos’ inherent lack of collective ability to prosper.

Habit and inherent ability are functions of character. That’s good news because if there is anything one is an expert on it is one’s own character. Presumably. That means to “solve” poverty the starting point is pretty obvious. One simply starts with understanding one’s own character. In the case of Philippine-style poverty this means starting with the key aspect of the national character — its culture.

What is it about Filipino culture that predisposes Filipinos to latch on to bad habits and suffer from a deficit of ability?

These are the hard questions that every Filipino needs to face.


Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

Leave a Reply

98 Comments on "Why are Filipinos habitually and inherently impoverished?"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

One, and only one, observation is the lack of initiative. In my family, the current generation took the initiative and worked their way out of poverty. This tells me that the opportunity exists for others.

Bitter Ocampo

You used the word INHERENT. It denotes PERMANENCE, INSEPARABILITY and ESSENCE. When you use this word to discuss poverty in the Philippines parang wala na talagang pag asa.

“Inherent lack of collective ability to prosper.” = Magpakailanman tayong magiging DUKHA.

what is happening here is beginning to happen everywhere else,anything profitable gets shipped somewhere else. Go on the highway from cdo to balingoan any night between 11Pm and 6AM and you will see truck after truck after 50FT. truck loaded to capacity of trees just cut down and on there way somewhere else.The Filipino gets EXACTLY ZILCH out of it,nothing,squat,nada,zero!!!!! The theft of the countries resources,the fiefdoms masqueradings as LGU’s,Corporations paying peanuts to employees,and thieving politicians and kids having kids are OR more like it RUINED a tropical paradise.The flooding will get worse for lack of the trees and people… Read more »
Paul Farol
One habit that keeps Pinoy’s poor, which you’ve pointed out in so many ways, is the habit of entering into commitments that they know they cannot keep. A lot of pinoys love getting things on credit, from the palista sa sari-sari store to those who max out credit cards. Moreover, they then to splurge on stuff which are actually additional expenses — cellphones, for instance. And I guess I’ve already told you about this, and it bears repeating again… Some Chinese relatives of mine got rich (or at least kept themselves from becoming poor) by maintaining a few simple habits:… Read more »

Produce a social science study that proves this.

Thomas Jefferson
Poverty doesn’t just happen as a natural phenomenon. It is caused by factors that are continuing to the present day. Can poverty be defeated if not reduced? It can. Genuine state leadership, correct policy development and strong political will can make the difference. BS Aquino must have “geniuses” surrounding him who do not understand anything but beautification propaganda, manipulated surveys, straight path hypocrisy, control by subtle dictatorship of institutions and destructive palliatives. Political hail I, me, myself will not serve the general welfare. Mendicancy programs and OFW remittances is not the solution. A holistic approach is required. Jobs generation, livelihood… Read more »

One of the attitudes that makes us stay poor is the attitude that we can milk other people, especially our rich relatives. That security, and the fact that these people won’t be able to say no and coddle them because their Catholic conscience says so. That needs to go away as well.


The people I see every day seem satisfied with their lot in life. They complain now and then and make comments like “you don’t know what it’s like to be poor” but don’t put forth the effort required to change things. Yes, the government creates huge obstacles and that needs to change as well, however, looking at the larger picture; The government you have is the government you deserve.


philippines recently found to be in top 10 happiest countries. one of grp’s idol countries: south korea, 2nd in the world in suicide rate. i guess for grp bein dead and rich is better than poor and happy. ok!

Johnny Saint
benign0, So…back to the POVERTY issue… (Hopefully we can do this without interjections of the Filipino’s role in the Divine Comedy Sketch 😉 ) I mentioned this before in the discussion thread following ChinoF’s post: Poverty is NOT THE ROOT CAUSE of our country’s problems. The growing population of the Philippines, and our failure to manage it, as well as the growing number of Filipino poor are SYMPTOMS of a wider, endemic problem of inefficiency and misgovernance coupled with persistent sociopolitical instability and conflict. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) reports (December 2009) that while “poverty incidence has been gradually declining… Read more »
Hyden Toro
Can you see the Filipino politicians love the people to be in poverty? This is to take hold on their votes. Poor people will swallow anything, just to get out of poverty. On election day. These politicians are making, many promises to these poverty stricken people, to improve their dismal conditions. Erap Estrada was even seen distributing: tuyo, rice, noodles, etc…in slum areas to earn votes. Villar, the multi millionaire, told people, he grew up poverty stricken in Tondo, Manila. Not only the mindsets of Filipinos have to change. We have to wake up the awareness of people to this… Read more »
Good article for the answer to the question is right there on the simple statements mentioned. Reality though is that NOT EVERYONE prefer to choose that option and some are CLOSED of every “clean” means to succeed(prosper) in this country. I really see poverty both as a problem and a symptom even with your given definition. The very word that is poverty has many dimensions that should not be merely defined as “a habitual entering into commitments one is inherently unable to honour.” The UN defined poverty as: “Fundamentally, poverty is a denial of choices and opportunities, a violation of… Read more »
Johnny Saint
There is a phenomenon the ADB points out, based on the Philippine experience, that contributes to making poverty self-perpetuating. Unequal distribution of assets (and opportunity) in the Philippines has created policies that concentrate the wealth with a small percentage of the population. These are designed to protect vested interests and obstruct growth for the rest of society. Poverty and inequality fuel social discontent and disorder. This in turn increases sociopolitical instability. Furthermore, people tend to be more distrustful when communities are unequal. Trust is important for sustained collective action and fostering social capital. Trust and civic cooperation are necessary for… Read more »

The issue has less to do with “habit” than with government corruption leading to significant amounts lost.


Enormous amount of people.

The poorest people are found in the rural areas the so called “rural poor”. Past administrations failed to unlock our rural potential such as the modernization of the agriculture sector and agro-industrialization. Now, with the current trend, in term of resource management, the government failed to allocate equal amount of resources to the different sectors. consequently, resulted to inequality and poverty. Actually, what we really need is a true land reform and national industrialization to ensure that the profit from these resources will be used for the development of the country. Since the country is being ran by oligarchs and… Read more »
theoretical lang sa akin. baka mali rin ako hindi naman ako historian. sa akin naman, each problem has a root cause. may pinagmulan yan. medyo malayo ang reference point ko dahil para sa akin, ito ay nagsimula sa pananakop ng mga kastila. ninakaw ang mga kalupaan ng mga katutubo natin. ginawa silang mga trabahador ng mga kastila sa sariling lupa nila. ito ang simula ng kapitalismo. kunin ang mga likas na yaman, ibigay sa espanya. and this continues for 300 or so years. nawlan na ng lupa ang mga kababayan natin. TODAY: walang socialism, mahina ang land reformations ngayon. ang… Read more »

t is on how they think. They have capital, human capital. They just do not want to use it. Either they lost hope, or just not motivated. They also cannot delay their gratification. When they have a little money, they will buy cigarettes, booze, a karaoke system, a picnic. Instead of investing in a business, they spend it for their instant gratification. Also, many people do not like to read. I think if they will just read and read and read and feed their minds, they themselves will help themselves rise out of poverty.