Manipulating the poor



There were demonstrations outside a meeting venue last Friday, both against and in favor of coal-fired power for Palawan. Pretty unusual you would think that ordinary people would demonstrate in favor of coal-fired power—that there would be demonstrations against coal-fired power would not raise any eyebrows. However, according to reports from Palawan and from the Clean Energy for Palawan Facebook site, the promoters of coal-fired power plants in Palawan had paid quite a lot of people a claimed P500 each to join the demonstration, given them a ride in an air-conditioned bus, and a free lunch . . .

Clearly, the value of the opinions of those who had been paid to attend is zero. What matters here though is the way in which public opinion can be manipulated by such a base method as paying attendance fees to people who are in need of money, in order to further an unpopular business venture. How sad it is that many Filipinos are in the position to sacrifice any beliefs that they may have in exchange for a relatively small allowance.

According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), the poverty incidence for the first semester of 2012 is at 27.9 percent, and this does not include the homeless who were not surveyed due to their having no permanent place of abode, and of which according to Ibon there are about 2.6 million in Metro Manila alone. The official NSCB number is therefore an understatement; there are more than 27.9 percent of the population below the poverty line, and as we know from previous writings on the topic, the percentage has not altered over the past seven years since 2006.

Interestingly though, the number of people living below the international poverty line of $ 1.25 a day around the world has been reduced by nearly 50 percent in the period from 1990 to 2010 under the Millenium Development Goals initiative.

The “poverty line” is different depending where you are looking; in the United States it is $63 for a family of four. In developing middle-income countries, it is $4/day. The Philippines uses a yardstick of P7,821/month for a family of five, or about $ 1.25/day, inappropriate perhaps for its lower middle-income status.

Is it really any surprise that in such a socioeconomic setting that people are prepared to take a “tip” of P500 to turn up and demonstrate for a cause for which they have no real interest. For that matter, is it any surprise that people are eager to be paid to vote, or not to vote as the case may be—and in this case get a “tip” of anything up to P2,000 per voter? It should be no surprise. People need money and it is difficult to get. If, however, you are in the fortunate position of having money, like those elite who contributed over 75 percent of the nation’s growth, then in such a setting you have a phenomenal amount of power over all those poor people who need money, but can’t get hold of it due to the lack of an effective social security system and the lack of decent work opportunities.

To use such power to manipulate in order to serve the desire to grow business interests which are already financially very healthy, and against which there is real popular opposition is immoral. To take the “tip” offered to turn up to a demonstration or to vote, when you don’t know where the next meal is coming from, is also immoral but is also a simple human survival instinct—it is wrong in that it breaks a moral rule, but a utilitarian may excuse it as it can produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number.

Great inequality in society is the most fertile ground for “corruption” and brings results which motivate sustaining those inequalities. Public opinion can and is manipulated for the profit of the elite. If it were a more egalitarian society, then there would be less corruption.

A final thought. According to The Economist magazine, a 1-percent increase in incomes in the most unequal countries produces a 0.6-percent reduction in poverty; in the most equal countries, it yields a 4.3-percent cut. In 2012, Forbes Asia announced that the collective wealth of the 40 richest Filipino families grew $13 billion during the period 2010-2011, to $47.4 billion—an increase of 37.9 percent. By this reckoning, even taking the Philippines as a most unequal country, had this percentage increase been better distributed then poverty should have reduced by about 22.74 percent . . . oops!

Mike can be contacted at


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