The Oxfam report and the epic fail of our public intellectuals


Marlen V. Ronquillo

THOUGH it came late—and at a time when the Spanish conquista was waning across the globe—the Propaganda Movement led by Jose Rizal put forward the collection of ideas on how to deal with the long and oppressive Spanish rule. Wielding a busy pen that matched his amazing intellect, Jose Rizal was the ideal face of a public intellectual, though no such term existed during his time.

Rizal was a novelist, poet, letter writer and pamphleteer, a cosmopolitan and a patriot. His tireless travels were not for sightseeing and self-glorification. Rather, they were part of his search for ideas and enlightenment on how to end tyranny, on how even the great empires can be resisted by a vanquished people moving as one. That the pen and the printing press were available at that precise time provided the technology that helped popularize the grand ideals of the movement.

It was the Rizal-led Propaganda Movement that sowed the seeds for the formation of the Katipunan and the organized rebellion against Spain. It was the public intellectuals that inspired Ka Andres to organize and to rebel.

The bond that really tied Rizal and Bonifacio was the endless quest for ideas that would both free and build a new nation.

Every epoch, every society needs public intellectuals and the historical antecedents are cited here for a purpose—the absence of relevant public intellectuals at this precise juncture of our history, with a society divided by the most extreme inequality in recent times, a crippling inequality that needs to be exposed, to be followed by the necessary prescriptions on how to rein it in.

What is the ultimate proof of that intellectual vacuum? The report from the antipoverty group Oxfam dominated global headlines in one news cycle, without producing a pipsqueak from our so-called public intellectuals? Ok, why was that a serious transgression of their mandate? Why was that an epic fail? It is not optional for our public intellectuals to choose whether they will take a stand on that issue or not.

The Oxfam report, which said that eight super-wealthy men own exactly what 3.6 billion people, or half of the global population, call their total material possessions, was meant as a clarion all for public intellectuals in nations with Great Divides, to document and expose that great divide in their very own societies.

In fact, the Oxfam report issued an urgent call for the reordering of opportunities to prevent the possibility of chaos and upheavals. A call that clearly got shrugs from our public intellectuals.

The Great Divide, which Pope Francis called the “greatest issue of our time “fell on the deaf ears of our local intelligentsia, an epic fail.

Oxfam the global agitator got receptive audiences from public intellectuals elsewhere but not from own, who, in an ideal world, should be at the forefront of the effort to spread out opportunities across all sectors and in the efforts to help mainstream those living on the margins, ‘yung nasa laylayan.

What is at the root of the stunning silence, the great indifference? It could be any of these.

. Many live in a bubble.

. Many are stricken with the usual rich-worship.

. Some high-profile ones are apologists for the rich.

. Many want to understand inequality but are paid not to understand it.

Whatever the reason for their indifference is, the public intellectual in all four categories feel that there are simply no incentives for venturing into the tough task of studying the Great Divide in-depth because of what would follow after giving words and figures to interpret the Great Divide—the imperative task of finding solutions after the sad discovery that we are, indeed, a society in which a few superrich own more than half of the country.

Hard work and no incentives? Our public intellectuals will simply not work under those conditions.

What have been the obvious results of the laziness and indifference?

First and foremost, we don’t have data that comes close to the specificity of the Oxfam report. What is the total worth of the Top 40 Filipinos on the wealth list of Forbes or Bloomberg’s tracker on the global dollar billionaires?

Then, what is the total worth of the 54 million Filipinos on the bottom half? How much of the yearly income gains is vacuumed up by the superrich? Is there even a middle class that is positioned in between the Top 1 percent and the bottom half?

We in the bottom quintile know we are the wretched of the earth. But how wretched are we, defined by the worth of the very few in the super-wealthy list, is something not clear to us.

The convulsions and the chaos that the Oxfam said would result from the Great Divide would least happen in a context that does not even realize its true state of deprivation. We are that country precisely because of our lazy and indifferent public intellectuals.

As part of their scam, the country’s public intellectuals have cleverly shifted the attention away from the real malaise—the great inequality—by naming a resident evil in the country. That evil is political corruption. Outside of the discerning few, this is society’s gospel of truth on what is at the root of our poverty and underdevelopment.

The P10 billion pork barrel—loose change compared with the giveaways to the rich from the state and granted on an official basis—was ingrained in our consciousness as the exemplar of evil, no thanks to the endless harangue from public intellectuals who are pandered to by the superrich through grants and sponsorships.

It is all a scam, this supposed crusade against top-level official corruption. Yes, corruption is evil, but nowhere near the horrific impact of Social Darwinism and upward redistribution that the State itself sponsors and nurtures.

Not one among the so-called intellectuals in this sad country lost a night’s sleep over the Oxfam report.


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  1. In the RP too the 40 richest and politically powerful families control 90% of the economy, so seems we are back to the era of neo-monarchial rule by divine right, by that I mean the richest are the gods of this world, maybe until the wretched starving masses rise in revolt to guillotine these neo-kings, queens plus aristocracy all over again. So goes the cycle of human history.

    However this time the elites are taking precaution against future uprising of the lower castes, the “Georgia Guidestones” in the US sums up their sinister new world order plan “to keep the human population below 500 million,” with genocidal technology we have today, the resulting surviving slave population is a number they can control.

  2. Driggs Matabaran on

    Inequality persist not only in our country but also in others. This is a global reality. Corruption is worse in developing country like the Philippines compared to advance economies. This is probably because more people in developed countries are more sensible in choosing their political leadership which they think can seriously craft policies that will address inequality. Leaders who will not buy votes to be in power. The rich, mostly business tycoons became so as they use their talent and skills, resources and connections in managing their enterprise – whatever way they can to accumulate wealth. They are operating within the existing economic system that rewards enterprising individuals. Some public intellectuals may have seen it, the question is does political leaders and policy makers listen to these intellectuals more than the influential business tycoons?