Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why Are We Poor?

Image result for poor filipino
Filipino children grow in numbers like rabbits. thanks
but no thanks to the activist stance of the Roman
Catholic church on pressuring the threatened
 government not to promote artificial birth
control methods. Birth control pills, condoms,
others were given free during the authori-
tarian rule of then President Ferdinand Marcos.


By Antonio C. Abaya

But, to get back to the original question, why are we poor?

Sionil Jose says that �we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings, this in spite of those massive religious rallies of El Shaddai, those neo-gothic churches of the Iglesia ni Cristo sprouting all over the country, in spite of nearly 400 years of Catholic evangelization...�

�We are poor because we are not moral. Can this immorality as evidenced by widespread corruption be quantified? Yes, about P20 billion a year is lost, according to NGO estimates.

�We are poor because we have no sense of history, and therefore, no sense of nation. The nationalism that was preached to my generation by Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo Ta�ada was phony...

�We are poor because our elite from way back had no sense of nation � they collaborated with whoever ruled � the Spaniards, the Japanese, the Americans and, in recent times, Marcos. Our elite imbibed the values of the colonizer...�

Here I disagree with Sionil Jose. To explain an economic phenomenon like poverty, one must look for economic reasons, not moral or political or ideological ones. To put it simply and bluntly, we are poor because our economy did not and does not generate enough jobs for those who need and want to work. Why our economy did not do so and does not do so can best be explained by six economic reasons:

One. In the mid-1950s, our minimum wage law came into effect. When American firms started to move their manufacturing activities to the Far East in the 1960s, they put up most of their factories in Taiwan and Hong Kong, not in the Philippines, even though most Filipino workers could understand some English (most Chinese then could not), and even though Filipino managers were familiar with American business practices (while most Chinese then were not).

The compelling reason for choosing Taiwan and Hong Kong over the Philippines was: wages then were lower there, and there was no minimum wage law there either. So even though the Philippines enjoyed the second highest standard of living in Asia next to Japan up to the late 1960s, we began to lose that lead to Taiwan and Hong Kong in the 1970s.

Two. In the 1970s, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore deliberately geared their economies to the export of manufactured goods. In the 1980s, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia followed their lead. The growth of export industries created jobs, jobs, jobs, which in turn stimulated the growth of manufacturing industries for the domestic markets, which created more jobs, jobs, jobs. This propelled Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia to overtake us in the 1980s.

The Philippines did not seriously pursue an export-oriented strategy until the 1990s, under President Ramos, but by that time the global marketplace had become over-crowded with the entry of the People�s Republic of China. In the 1970s, President Marcos tried to join the export race, but this was opposed by communist high priests Renato Constantino Sr., Edberto Villegas, Walden Bello and Horacio Morales and their acolyte Conrado de Quiroz, and was deliberately sabotaged by KMU communist labor militants.

In 1965, when East Asia was exporting only commodities, the resource-rich Philippines� total exports amounted to $769 million, while resource-poor South Korea and Taiwan exported only $175 million and $446 million, respectively.

In 2001, after 30 years of manufacturing-for-export, South Korea�s and Taiwan�s exports reached $159 billion and $122 billion, respectively, while the late-coming Philippines� totaled only $37 billion.

So in those 36 years, South Korea�s and Taiwan�s exports grew 908-fold and 276-fold, while ours grew only 48-fold. I leave it to others to calculate how many million jobs we lost by default for not pursuing more vigorously a manufacturing-for-export strategy. Three. Having been left behind by the export bus, we also missed the tourism bus. In 1991, the Philippines and Indonesia drew in the same number of foreign tourists: one million. In 2004, or 13 years later, the Philippines is still struggling to attract 2.5 million, while Indonesia is expected to draw in six million, despite the Bali bombing in October 2002. This year, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia are expected to attract 10 to 12 million tourists. Again, I leave it to others to calculate how many million jobs we have lost by default for being such an unattractive place to visit.

Several reasons account for our poor image, the most prominent being: political instability due to coup attempts by Gringo Honasan, kidnappings by the Abu Sayyaf, terrorism by Muslim secessionists, endless insurgency by the NPA. Take your pick.

Four. Having failed to develop a wide manufacturing base during the export boom of the �70s and �80s, the Philippines under President Ramos foolishly embraced free trade and globalization, even earlier and more enthusiastically than much more highly developed Taiwan and South Korea, opening the economy to the products of more industrialized countries, thus sealing the fate of our struggling domestic producers. No wonder an average of 3,500 Filipinos leave these shores every day for jobs abroad that they cannot find here.

Five. As ideologically committed as President Ramos was to free trade and globalization, President Arroyo maintains a bias against manufacturing, preferring to concentrate on agriculture, telecommunications and tourism (kuno). She does not buy the rule-of-thumb that I tried to sell to her: that a hectare of agricultural land, planted to rice or corn, cannot sustain one family for one year; while that hectare of agricultural land, if converted to a manufacturing zone, can sustain hundreds of families. And I thought my logic was unassailable.


Instead, President Arroyo goes for gimmicks like giving away P6 billion worth of free food every month to the 20 poorest families in each barangay, and selling railroad right-of-way to the squatters who occupy it.

Six. Even as the economy has failed to generate sufficient jobs in the last 36 years because of reasons outlined above, the Roman Catholic Church continues to actively oppose any and all artificial methods of birth control. I suggest a social welfare program, to be called �Iwan sa Simbahan,� in which malnourished children from the squatter colonies are left in Catholic Churches for the self-righteous bishops to feed. 

There we have it. How to Become a Poor Country in Six Easy Lessons. Our contribution to the stock of human knowledge. 

The title is that of a talk delivered by Filipino novelist F. Sionil Jose before a gathering at the University of the Philippines in Diliman on Nov. 23, 2004, which someone forwarded to me for my comments.
Like me, Sionil Jose calls for a revolution. Like me, he says that �revolution need not even have to be bloody. How many lives were lost at Edsa 1? Not even 20. So Cory goes around telling the world that she had restored democracy in the Philippines. Sure enough, we have elections, free speech, free assembly but these are the empty shells of democratic institutions because the real essence of democracy does not exist here. And that real essence is in the stomach.

�True to her oligarchic class, she declared a revolutionary government without doing anything revolutionary; instead, she turned Edsa 1 into a restoration of the old oligarchy. So today, we are reaping the results of her negligence, ignorance and folly.�

And like me, Sionil Jose rejects the communist revolution: �If the communists win, and I don�t think they ever will, they will rule just as badly because they are Filipinos unable to go beyond barnacled habits of mind, hostage as they always are to friends and family and to towering egos. The same egos aborted the revolution in 1896, the Edsa revolution in 1986, and now we see the same egos wrecking (sic) havoc on the Communist Party. We see these egos eroding our already rotten political system...�

So who will lead Sionil Jose�s revolution? �Certainly, not the masa, but one from the masa who understands them, who will not betray them the way our leaders betrayed the masa. Estrada is the most shameful example of that leadership that betrayed.�

I realize that my sentiments are not ideologically correct, and I do not apologize for that, but I do not believe in idealizing and romanticizing the squealing masa, as doctrinaire communists do, and as the trapo manipulators of showbiz icons cynically do

If there is going to be a revolution � violent or nonviolent, bloody or bloodless � in this country in the next 12 months, it is likely to be led and fleshed out by the middle class.

This should hardly surprise the communists. Most of those who led their revolutions were middle-class intellectuals, not proles: Lenin (lawyer), Stalin (seminarian), Leon Trotsky (journalist), Mao Zedong (librarian), Fidel Castro (medical doctor), Che Guevara (medical doctor), Joma Sison (university professor).

The exception who proved the rule, the only communist leader whom I ever truly admired, and after whom I nicknamed my only son, was Ho Chi Minh, who was an authentic proletarian.

Even the �counterrevolutionary� communist leaders who decommunized the Soviet Union were, not surprisingly, also from the middle class: Boris Yeltsin (construction engineer) and Mikhail Gorbachev (lawyer). 

Ironically, the revolutionary communist leader who reintroduced profit capitalism in China was a real prole: Deng Xiaoping, who did odd menial jobs to support his studies in France. But those who succeeded Deng � Jiang Zemin and almost all the members of the present politburo who are revolutionizing China � was/are engineers.

The moral of the story, even from the history of the communist movements, is that it is the middle class that is the real vanguard of the revolution, any revolution, including the revolution of Sionil Jose. The proletariat or masa merely supply most of the warm bodies as well as most of the dead ones.

This may sound crass and cynical, but it is the unvarnished truth. It is the middle class who have the education and the leisure time to contemplate and brood on the human condition, and the moral fortitude to act on their beliefs. 

Most of the masa are too caught up in the daily struggle for survival to afford the means and the time for critical thought, hence they become easy prey for manipulators of all stripes, from communist agitators, to trapo organizers of vacuous politicians, to the pied pipers of the mass consumption society enticing them with endless hours of singing, dancing and laughing.

Written Dec. 14, 2004 For the Manila Standard, December 16 issue

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