50 families own much of the country and no one is bothered


Marlen V. Ronquillo

THAT 50 families in the country had a cumulative net worth of $74 billion and account for 24 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) was the stale news of two weeks ago. The news sailed through the national consciousness as if it were an expected occurrence, without stirring a single conscience, without a commentary on the tragic impact on the society of such skewed wealth concentration. As if it were a pre-ordained thing and completely acceptable.

Silence as the hymn to social darwinism
What was to Pope Francis the single most important issue of our time was not even an item of interest to a predominantly Catholic nation, with 80 or 70 percent of its population of the economic and social condition that fit well into the constituencies described in the Sermon on the Mount. No shepherd to the flock spoke against it. No CBCP circular was released for that Sunday’s homily.

Meek, indeed, and uncomplaining. And I am referring to the Church hierarchy.

No one bothered to ask this question. Is a society of a wealthy few and of the struggling multitudes perfectly acceptable? The great divide appears to have evolved from its 20th-century definition as a source of class conflicts and violent upheavals into a 21st century version as “just one of those things.” One of those things that would bother no one and one that would not cause the most judicious people to lose sleep.

What happened? How can we explain the indifference or timidity of the 21st century? We can look at three developments.

First, the weakening of trade unions and peasant groups
In the 20th century, the call of two or three labor federation leaders would be enough to jam the Metro Manila streets with protesters. Under the scorching heat of the noonday sun, workers with their red banners and clenched fists would protest against low wages, the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few chosen families and political authoritarianism even without rally permits .

That was the time the unionized workers accounted for 15 percent of the work force and dues-paying union members knew the meaning of the word solidarity. Even the workers identified with labor centers identified with the powers that be joined the more militant labor groups in the protests for workers’ rights, and against economic inequality and reckless capitalism.

The peasant organizations, from the moderate ones founded by peasant leaders close to the Jesuits to the left-wing peasant movements, were active in the protest against the unjust economic structure and the neglect of farmers and agriculture.

At the advent of the 21st century, the number of unionized workers with active CBAs dropped to less than one million and the peasant groups lost their recruiting power. The average age of the Filipino farmer is a very old 57 years and this partly explains the thinning ranks of farmers among the politically active protesters.

Civil society shifted narrative
The so-called civil society has shifted the narrative of evil to make it as if only politicians are to blame.

In the current accounting on who should be blamed for much of the social and economic evils that take place in the country, the so-called civil society and their most famous media bloviators and articulators have identified the permanent villain – politicians.

The Napoles pork barrel scam has given a powerful peg to the claim. The drip-drip of reportage on the scams and schemes the penny-ante political operators and major corrupt players have been brazenly carrying out have reinforced this thesis on politicians owning up much of the evil in the country.

The politician-as-evil narrative has gained traction and the general cluelessness on how a society with an economy owned by the Top 1 percent distorts everything in favor of the Top 1 percent—and cripples the mobility and dreams of those below—has reinforced the flawed thesis that the evil in our world has to be mostly blamed on politicians big and small.

There is suspicion that these so-called civil society bloviators are merely colluding with the Top 1 percent or are under their payroll. Because if you score the assertion that politicians are to blame for the evils in our society, this would fall flat for the lack of empirical evidence.

Govt an abettor of the Great Divide
The PPP, the vehicle of the massive infrastructure build-up of government with a more than P1 trillion fund, is a ”for-the-conglomerates-only“ undertaking. The financial resources, the construction capabilities, the technical knowhow required to get into the bidding prequalification excludes even the largest construction firms not affiliated with the conglomerates, which are in turn owned and controlled by the by the richest Filipinos. Look at the 50 families in the Forbes list of the wealthiest Filipinos and you will see the owners of the conglomerates in the PPP.

Again, while the PPP will upgrade the country’s fraying infrastructure, it will also have the effect of boosting the riches of the wealthiest Filipinos.

Even the proposed tax reform program, while marketed as a boom to the ordinary wage earners, will also have the effect of cutting the current corporate tax level.

The first semester profit report of the top Philippine conglomerates showed humungous after-tax profit levels. That alone demolishes the argument for a corporate tax cut.

Yet, it is a core part of the tax reform package. In fact, it is the central theme of the proposed tax reform. Only our kind of fiscal journalism refuses to highlight the great anomaly.

So, don’t wonder why such a criminal concentration of wealth in the hands of the very few is a nothingburger in this sad country of ours.


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