It is quite revealing that Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III would, one moment, confidently credit himself with the Philippines’ purportedly robust economic numbers then, on another, be left scratching his dome as to the reasons why the “positive” nature of these so-called indicators are not translating to jobs and smiles for the majority of Filipinos. Indeed, the Inquirer reports today that the President is “baffled” by the galloping unemployment recently revealed in a Social Weather Stations (SWS) “survey” which showed that joblessness increased by a whopping 27.5 percent last year.
The distress this has caused President BS Aquino is seemingly such that he had called a rare full Cabinet meeting in which he grilled his lieutenants on the matter.
See, that is the whole trouble with being quick to establish causality between a bunch of nebulous statistics and the fortunes and well-being of the average Pinoy schmoe. Causality is a slippery eel. Unless you’ve got a PhD in the fuzzy “science” of Economics, you will be routinely hard-pressed to make even the foggiest semblance of a deterministic link between macro economic stats and the amount and quality of food that gets put on the dinner table of the average man-on-the-street. Usually wherever a lack of scientifically-examinable evidence of causality can be found, God gets pulled into the picture.
Aquino “prayed for God’s guidance” at the start of the meeting, Malacañang said.
At press time, the Cabinet was still discussing the action plan as well as the “strategic framework of human development and poverty reduction,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a text message he sent to members of the media.
The action plan for poverty reduction is indispensable to the Aquino administration’s goal of “inclusive growth.” Poverty incidence in the country stood at 25.2 percent in 2012.
Funny that President BS Aquino is only now fretting about the elephantine problem that is Philippine joblessness. Manila Times columnist Ben Kritz wrote in his May 2013 article The Impractical Elitism of an Incorrect Perspective on Reform how “the fundamental problem of the country — an overall lack of prosperity, and an inequitable distribution of such prosperity as is actually present — has not changed (and will not change in the foreseeable future),” and that “if any progress is to be made, the effort towards it must begin with a clearly-defined, practicable strategy appropriate to the present social and political context.”
Furthermore (and, again, this is Kritz writing way back in mid-2013)…
In the past few months, the characterization of the Philippines by the rest of the world’s media has shifted from being a promising emerging economy to a country whose flashy new castle is built on a foundation of sand; for all the positive indications of a healthy stock market, growing GDP, and improving credit ratings, poverty, unemployment, and the income gap not only persist, but are increasing. Just this week, we learned that perhaps as many as four million families — 20 million people, according to the official definition of “average family” — regularly go hungry. These are immediate problems, for which there are more immediate solutions than the abstractions of casual political theory. The work that needs to be done now requires pragmatism, compromise, and a short-term focus. But if that work is done, and done correctly, the necessity — and more importantly, the national ambition — for remolding Philippine society in true first-world fashion will arise.
The trouble with President BS Aquino is that he is an avowed ignorer of his perceived critics — which is probably why he missed this gem half a year ago and is now “quizzing” his henchmen on what their anti-poverty “strategy” might be.
As we have for so long pointed out, no amount of money thrown into a society that woefully lacks the cutting-edge imagination needed to make productive use of any resource it lays its hands on will yield fruit any more than seeds sowed on a slab of rock will take root and grow into edible material. If we stop to recall that, half a century ago, the Philippines was a posterchild of natural abundance and a showcase of infrastructural wonder thanks to the hard work of its colonial masters we will be hard-pressed to explain how any more capital tossed to Filipinos to feast on will translate to sustainable progress. Indeed, owing to the renowned Reverse-Midas-Touch that has characterised Filipinos’ enterprising sensibilities, much of the lushness of Las Islas Felipinas has long been unceremoniously scraped off her now barren skin and Uncle Sam’s and King Philip’s carefully-crafted infrastructure replaced with Pinoy-engineered lemons.
Much of the Philippine economy’s star quality trumpeted by both local and foreign media in the last couple of years is really all just an outcome of cosmetic flashery. The reality of the substance underlying this stardom is far more stark. The Philippines is no more than a consumer market. Filipinos simply spend their money and spend their days finding ever more creative ways to convince themselves how much they deserve to spend their money on the latest trinket or gadget.
In that kind of a market, what sorts of industries is the Philippines likely to attract? Most likely this: industries that will further grease the pipeline that channels cheap manufactured goods from highly-capitalised economies to the living rooms of increasingly impoverished Filipinos. Filipinos, in turn, will increasingly fund these purchases with the same old labour-intensive solutions — working overseas and working for the factories and retail outlets that manufacture and sell them these trinkets.
If we begin with our simple definition of poverty; its being…
A habitual entering into commitments one is inherently unable to honour;
…we will quite easily see that unemployment is really not a complicated issue either. The trouble with the Philippine labour force is that its fortunes are dependent on sources of employment that are beyond the abilities of their compatriots and government to influence. Given this situation, the absolute dumbness of continuing to churn out barrels of warm bodies in embarrassingly large quantities every year is highlighted. The ingredients fit the poverty equation perfectly:
(1) Churning out vast numbers of future workers every year is the commitment.
(2) An inherent inability to employ these workers in the future is the failure to honour the above commitment.
El horror de los resultados: The mind-numbingly crushing poverty we see today in the Philippines.
So you see, unemployment is really a simple issue. What is really baffling here, Mr President, is why it takes an entire Cabinet to figure that out.
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