The political mudslinging that is being amplified with gusto by headline news is good for the rating wars of media. It may be a whole class of unavoidable news they have to report. However, if the intent is the beguilement of the public to desensitize same to the real problems of the country, media is being stonyhearted in their business. They are pushing consumerism to its limits, and If they do not care about the limits, maybe, it is time to remind them that not being subtle with their greediness is damaging to the pedagogy of future generations. If the intent is to brainwash, they are being pernicious. If they are aware, as the populace is aware, that none of the presidentiables being paraded today for rumination possess any near semblance of a solution to problems and still push the antics of these personalities as headlines, then they are being treasonous.
What is the problem of the Philippines?
Experts and non-experts are almost unanimous in asserting it is about poverty. The oligarchs who have homes either in Los Angeles, Scottsdale, New York, London, Paris, Monaco, Casablanca, Marrakesh, or any of the favorites of our rich and famous and, who see the Philippines only as a place to make money, may not personally feel the problem, but still agree it affects their businesses. There is no need to tell the hoi polloi it affects them for they live it in varying degrees, even if all of them may have grown inured to the breadth and depth of the problem because it is the 24/7 sights and sounds they encounter.
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If we were a group of ten boy scouts on a hike, two to three out of ten are slowing down the hike to a snail’s pace (using statistics of poverty incidence). The reality is that five to six of the ten are admitting to themselves they could not keep up with the hike. One of a hundred (1%) has gone forward seemingly uncaring of the other ninety-nine, but the one percenters will have to stop, sooner or later, for they will realize that there is no point to the hike if they arrived without the rest. We are more like a school of fish in one aquarium, where the water could only be unpolluted and healthy if the weak, or sick, fish are kept to the possible minimum. Rich or poor, all of us are adversely impacted by widespread poverty.
Attempts of Governments to Solve Poverty Have Failed.
Poverty is very much a multi-dimensional problem, and if a candidate for 2016 starts talking only of dole-outs like the expanded Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT), please don’t touch that guy with a ten-foot pole; run away. He is afflicted either with a contagious strain of bacteria, that corrodes the mind called Corruption, or with a virus called Laziness or Sloth. He wants an easy way out of the problem, but will not solve anything in the long run.
Gloria M Arroyo (GMA) tried to experiment with CCT, as it seemed to be working in Argentina according to Sec Dinky Soliman, but it was supposed to be temporary. BS Aquino (PNoy), who attacks GMA at every turn, hired Dinky, who was the proponent of CCT to GMA, but who led the Hyatt 10 against GMA — the enemy of his enemy has to be his ally. PNoy is a haciendero and is of the lineage of the Aquino/Cojuangco clans who seemingly are notable for rewarding those very loyal to them with a hacienda and those who betray them with a 3’x6′ land in some nice memorial park. It may be, even indirectly, why there is a Hacienda Binay.
Could Dinky be outdone by Binay when it comes to loyalty? To PNoy, Dinky must be a very loyal person because she was disloyal to GMA. An ordinary person would immediately be cautious of Dinky because she already demonstrated her capacity to betray a boss. But, PNoy is no ordinary person that is why he could be a President of the Philippines; the only person who could think that if you are anti-BBL (Bangsamoro Basic Law), then you must be pro-war. (Aren’t we glad we don’t think as linear as PNoy does, otherwise we can’t be as sarcastic as now?) Thus, CCT became no longer an experiment, but expanded several times, it became a main feature of PNoy’s administration. What we don’t know is if there is now a Hacienda Dinky?!
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), from which PNoy borrows money to finance the CCT, has found out that 30 to 40 pesos for every 100 pesos of CCT money is not reaching the intended beneficiaries. This is very frustrating news, but something is wrong with us; we are not shocked. (Personally, I didn’t need ADB to tell me there is corruption with CCT. My part-time housemaid, who is enrolled in the program because of her special child, signs a voucher each time that she should be receiving Php3500 per month, but in actuality only gets Php1000. To my irritation, she continually refuses to complain. So, imagine all the other million of beneficiaries in the country afraid of losing a miserable1000, but foregoing 2500) Stolid and uncaring, we should not be shocked if one day the Philippines goes the way Greece went; this is simply not the way to borrow money.
But, this attitude of the people is understandable. If the government does not have any shame that they could not account to-date the millions and millions of dollars which came from the many donor countries following the Haiyan/Yolanda disaster in 2013, what is another case of criminal negligence as far as CCT is concerned? The UN rapporteur has just lambasted the PNoy government for its lack of progress in the rehabilitation of the Yolanda ravaged areas, and yet media has opted to put this in the inside pages.
To be fair with Joseph Estrada (Erap), if we could digress a bit, he had a deep ambition of leaving a legacy in which he would be known as the one who eliminated the problem of squatters. He had some success on this while Mayor of San Juan by not only relocating squatters, but providing them also with reasonably decent low cost housing. Moving into the national level, he realized it was not a municipal size problem, but a gargantuan one. He also realized he did not have the same flexibility as he had as a Mayor, budgetary-wise — he didn’t have a Sec Butch Abad then to scheme a Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) or Priority Development Assistance Find (PDAF) for him.
Not only that, Erap had an aversion to borrowing — to his credit, not a single sovereign guarantee was issued during his term — unlike today when they are not very transparent how projects, like the PPPs, are being, or going to be, financed. If government is issuing sovereign guarantees to loans and is the one exposed to all the risks, what is the use of involving the private sector that does not have any share of the risk? The government may as well undertake the projects on its own. Why involve an extra profit taker when the government could have all the profit, if there was a profit, or any kind of benefits, to derive? This is probably why the oligarchs did not like Erap at all; because they could not position themselves to milk the government. (But, Erap may have, by now, learnt a lesson. The City of Manila today is thinking of borrowing big to finance three proposed projects.)
But, it seemed Erap was serious about his ‘Erap Para sa Mahirap’. Precisely why Erap thought that if he could get financing via the expansion of the gambling and gaming industry, then his wide scale housing project for the poor would be a go — he didn’t need to beg Congress for money. Unfortunately, before it could take off, the turf war between gambling lords, Chavit Singson and Atong Ang, became unmanageable, and out of the mess it was exposed that Erap was taking bribes from gambling lords. In a way, Erap was telling the truth that he didn’t steal a single centavo from government coffers for indeed the monies that Chavit and Atong were talking of were not of government, but we suppose that a bribe is still a bribe, and it was the Waterloo of Erap.
What is apparent is that PNoy, by continuously playing with DAP, or by any label by which said go now, is committing crimes bigger than Erap’s, but that is for another topic. The relevant lessons are as follows:
1. Governments are one in conceding that Poverty is of top priority. Dole-outs seem to be the favourite approach to addressing this as it does not need any major rethinking in the bureaucracy, and seems to be the least disruptive on the other functions of government. But, that in effect contradicts any statement pronouncing poverty is of top priority. All measures against poverty can therefore be said to have been half-hearted all this time.
2. Dole-outs are very susceptible to corruption.
3. The problem needs a champion at the top level, as seen in the case of Erap. But, the full weight of the bureaucracy is also needed to support the champion.
4. The full weight of the bureaucracy may be present, as in the case of PNoy, but if a program is only implemented because there is propaganda value to be extracted from it, then the program becomes a very, very costly propaganda campaign and does not solve any problem.
5. The mere fact that we are talking of Erap, GMA, and PNoy hints that this is an inter-generational problem. Any envisioned solution should transcend the term limits of political leaders.
6. This is not about throwing a bread to those in the basement. It is about providing a ladder so that they could step-by-step join the middle class. That sounds simple, but it really needs a lot of rethinking and hard work. It is only a very large middle class (a real middle class, and not the kind seen in window dressed statistics) that could support a working democracy and a robust economy.
The Need for a Comprehensive Approach
Economists are slowly coming to a consensus that the trickle-down model is not working. Trickle down has been the favourite model of economies for decades, and this is the reasons why governments have been geared towards giving big businesses incentives, tax breaks, and the infrastructure to support efficiency in business. But, with 70 to 90 percent of wealth (depending on what statistics is being referred to) now concentrated in the hands of the Top One Percent, and no consensus on how to solve the great inequality, economists have been tweaking the trickle down model, and have been on look out for new models that could totally replace the current.
But, let us look at some examples to get a good appreciation on what is going on.
1. Having the discipline to regularly save a portion of one’s earnings in the bank used to be one way of ensuring one’s future. There was a time when interest rates allowed savings to grow exponentially. Today, interest rates just about compensates for inflation rates; so, in terms of absolute numbers, a savings fund may look like it is growing, but in real value, it is not. Yet, when one borrows from the bank, the interest rates on loans are punishing, which means that the systems today are only allowing the upward movement of money towards the top. Yet, an agency in UN has been pushing banks to get even those in the CDE economic class to all have bank accounts. So, some have asked: isn’t this just putting more money at the disposal of the Top One Percent? Wala na silang pinatawad?
2. Cannibalization in the stock market is now a common thing. Listed companies are buying their own shares in order to boost their share prices. So, for beginners or ordinary salary men, the stock market is not the place to be. How then could an ordinary bloke who depends only on his salary even think of growing his money when the stock exchanges and banks are not helping any?
3. Cannibalization is also happening in the construction industry. They claim, for example, that in Metro Manila the boom was the result of the rise of the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. But, this is deceiving. A closer look shows that it is not the BPO employees buying the condominium units, for how could they afford them. It is the rich buying a couple of dozen units so they could rent out the units to the growing number of BPO guys, but, in the process, creating a bubble that makes owning property more inaccessible to ordinary folks. But, the end is not in sight as land banking has become the favorite pastime of the rich.
With a few examples, we can see that in solving poverty, what is needed is an overhaul of systems, structures, organizations, and more importantly, of mindsets. So, why is media leading us into discussing whether the TSONA is better than the SONA, or if a foundling could be a natural born (She was not born Caesarian, was she? So, she must have been natural is the joke going around)? Aren’t we being led wayward to a direction with no destination by media?
And, here we are already jumping the gun because we are assuming people are employed. Solving unemployment and underemployment may have to be the first step to solving poverty. But, that means, we have to talk of the manufacturing and agricultural sectors which are the biggest generators of employment. That would lead us to discussing foreign direct investments (FDIs), the high cost of energy, the pokey internet connections, traffic, infrastructure, mass transport system, etc., etc.
So, when will the candidates start talking about these things? We know why they can’t talk about these; it is because they are not clear about their philosophies. If they don’t have a philosophy, they can’t have a vision. If they don’t have a vision, how can they know what the priorities are? If they don’t know which comes first, how can they formulate policies? If they don’t know which is which, why are they campaigning to get elected?
I am no expert; so please don’t ask me for solutions. But, I thought there was a paper that seems to be a product of input from experts. That paper was the speech of Bongbong Marcos he gave in front of the Asia CEO Talks Forum. I was pilloried (refer to the combox and GRP Facebook page of my last article here) by some for even suggesting that Bongbong was a philosopher. That is okay, I have no problem with that for I understand where the anger is coming from. But, boy, I thought, aren’t they missing something. So, here is my suggestion:
1. Please go back to the speech of Bongbong. If you are so repulse by a Marcos, then think of it as a speech not of Bongbong. The link to that speech can be found at the end of my article.
2. Study it, reword it, plagiarize it, absorb it. In other words, steal the ideas therein. If you are so repulsed by a Marcos, isn’t this one way of getting back at them?
3. Write your candidates and make “kulit” so the candidates will own the ideas — there are 25 ways to Sunday, so they must have different ways of doing it (Now, your revenge on Marcos has taken its course.) If your candidates don’t like the ideas, ask for alternatives. Be makulit.
You never know, you might have just elevated the quality of debate for Election 2016 and fought back at the direction media is taking us. Is this fair enough? Let GRP know via the combox. Thanks!
[Photo courtesy NickyLoh.com.]
GRP Featured Comment hall-of-famer. Former executive of the Far East Regional Office of a US-based multinational company living out of a suitcase covering the market from Tokyo to Mumbai to Melbourne, and all the countries within that triangle. Got tired after logging 300k air miles per year. Now, I just have a little trading biz on specialty chemicals.