ONLY modest reductions in poverty have been made since the economic and political collapse of the mid-1980s. Without doubt, severe regional disparities remain and the gap between the rich and the poor of this country continues to widen.
While 75 percent poor Filipinos live in rural areas, the urban poor have contributed to the rising share of total poor population since 1971. Manila, once the bustling center of post-war business activity, is no longer the promised land it used to be. Migrating to the city is no longer a guarantee of a better life.
By World Bank calculations, urban poverty stood at around 23 percent and rural poverty at 53 percent in 1991. The numbers are far worse today. Most of our poor have little education and are engaged in the agriculture, fishery and forestry sectors and anemic government support have driven our farmers and fisher folk to the brink of poverty.
Compared with the rest of East Asia, government performance on poverty reduction has been downright disappointing, because the Philippines has not been able to sustain growth long enough to better the living conditions of the poor.
Stranger even is the fact that poverty declines remained modest even during the times of rapid economic growth as government policies discriminated against labor, subsidized capital-intensive production and gave low priority to agriculture and exports. This resulted in growth that was narrowly based and inequitable—trapping many Filipinos in low-paying jobs while capitalists made money out of labor’s misery.
The rich get richer while the poor stay poor—and multiply. If you look closely, the rich in this country bear the same face with politicians and government executives. People who run big business are—more often than not—related to someone in government. “Kamag-anak Inc.” never really left the building. The same evils hounding our society back in the 70s remain with us today.
There is no quick fix and panacea for everything that bedevils this nation. But getting rid of crooks in government and in big business is definitely a good place to start.