AS corporations declare their third quarter earnings this current reporting season, those that report earnings of just a few billion pesos do so without any enthusiasm. Under the boom times of Mr. Aquino, a few billion pesos in net is unremarkable, embarrassing even. The corporations that earn big cite so many reasons for their success. but the binding narrative is this: there has never been an administration that friendly – and that supportive – to business and capital.
That Mr. Aquino, as a leader, “is all-business” is something that can be taken literally and he seems proud and unapologetic of that governing philosophy.
For the first time, and this is one of Aquino’s major legacy to the country, a few Filipino dollar billionaires now form part of the global elite categorized as “those-who-can-buy-a-small-country rich.” Meaning those whose wealth is enough to acquire small and insignificant countries. Before Mr. Aquino exits office in 2016, the number of Filipino billionaires rich enough to buy small countries will surely have doubled.
To borrow from a Chinese leader: It is glorious to be superrich. And to have Mr. Aquino as president.
Better, the good times for the super wealthy will roll on. The rich are assured of continuity, at least up to 2016. The OECD, the organization of 30 or so developed economies, just said that the Philippines is on the track to sustained high growth levels as the fundamentals are firmly in place. The OECD forecasts are reliable – a deep bench of forecasters look at multiple benchmarks before the institution releases its studies on growing and laggard economies.
With the giant PPP projects getting their momentum and off rolling, the opportunity for the oligarchy to make more money under the Aquino administration is guaranteed. They are not only the dominant players in the PPP projects – they are, in fact, the only players there. The PPP is designed to limit those that can bid and win awards, and it is for those companies and consortiums that can offer tenders for projects in the billion dollar level.
(FYI, the controversial Hillmarcs Construction honcho tried to join a consortium formed to bid out for the PPP projects. His would-be-partners said no. He was either too small for the PPP or too controversial, or both.)
The robust growth marches in lockstep with the surge in the massive wealth accumulation by a chosen few and this has been the grandest story of the Aquino administration. Better, the massive accumulation of wealth is done guilt-free. That most income gains go to capital and very little goes to labor does not trouble the rich, or stirs their conscience. Popular culture and the media have identified the villains behind every scourge, behind every failing in the country – the penny ante politicians.
Pause a bit and do some calculations. The sums allegedly pocketed by Johnny, Jinggoy and Bong from the pork barrel scam are not even a fraction of what a single oligarch can gain from one state-granted concession. The babying of the rich is mind-boggling. Even during emergencies, such as the present when the power supply is deemed critical, the state offers perks to those who will acquire heavy-duty generators for their own use, and directly, for their own enrichment.
Yet, the oligarchs are deified and the politicians are vilified. Behind every great wealth is a tweaked and skewed government rule or concession. But the public does not know this and media do not take pains to explain this. With the reward of access – and on being first-name basis with the tycoons – journalists fall under the spell of those who hold great wealth and become part of the deification-of-the-rich process. And the Aquino administration has created a class of super villains, the politicians, who get the blame for every evil and wrong thing in this country.
Indeed, most politicians are crooks, but theirs is a penny-ante scam and nowhere near the exploitation of the superrich of the loopholes in government incentive and tax structures and the literal exploitation of the national patrimony.
But, sadly, no one seems to discern this.
So the country, under Mr. Aquino, marches on to robust growth rates and the further entrenchment in massive wealth of the 0.01 percent. The problem is we have no public intellectuals such as Piketty and Saez who can document the great divide that is taking place under the boom times of Mr. Aquino. Occasionally, we have politicians such as Senator Poe who raises questions on the great divide or Mr. Binay who is bold enough to mention the “I” – inequality – word. But this is not done on a sustained basis and the media generally ignore what Pope Francis has described as the greatest challenge of modern times.
Mr. Aquino will finish his term in 2016 with this defining legacy – the superrich getting massively richer – the Great Gatsby, Gilded Age story of the 21st century.
But those below, those aboard rickety boats, will not be lifted by the boom times of the yacht owners.
Mr. Aquino will end his term with at least 11 million families self-rating their status as poor. Unemployment will be between 6.5 to 7 per cent but with most service workers paid slave wages. For millions, employment is a token thing – better than being a bum or a desperate jobless pounding the streets.
The underemployment will be worse, placed at anywhere between 20 percent to 32 percent.
For those in the 99 percent, Mr. Aquino will end his term, (with apologies to T.S Eliot) not with a bang, but with a whimper.