POPE Francis, our pastor, has said so many important, life-changing things in his papacy. But this one stands out:
“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in this world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.
“Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.”
Now, let us, look at three depressing realities in the Philippine context.
Mr. Aquino’s four years in office has created a virtual paradise for the super rich. A new category of wealthy people, the who-can-buy-a-small-country rich, has emerged under Mr. Aquino’s administration. The head count of the global rich has now to reckon with super wealthy Filipinos. The total is 40 or so families.
More than 11 million families self-rate themselves as living in dire poverty. It could have been more had not shame, guilt and embarrassment over being poor prevented others from admitting their hapless state.
Meanwhile, the supposedly “bloated” cash transfer program has a budget of only P65 billion for the current year. I do not know how politicians and journalists calculate and have arrived at the conclusion the allocation is “bloated.” But from every angle this is the hard truth: A P65 billion cash transfer program to ease poverty is a blip, a dot, a drop in the P2.6 trillion national budget for this year.
The size of an allocation is measured against its share of the total budget. So a P65 billion fund in a total budget of P2.6 trillion reflects the fecklessness – not seriousness – of Mr. Aquino’s centerpiece anti-poverty program. The P65 billion is, by any stretch, an underwhelming anti-poverty budget.
With these depressing realities, what should a true Christian/Catholic leader do?
He should order the rearrangement of the prevailing economic system and strive for more wealth and income redistribution. He should read Isaiah – feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless – and Mathew/Sermon on the Mount for guidance on economic policies.
Doing so is not only just. It is also pragmatic. While economic growth can be had even in a very unequal society, growth would be more robust and more sweet in an egalitarian society.
A true Catholic leader would not shirk at using the “R” word, or redistribution, as a pillar of his economic policies.
Is Mr. Aquino doing all of these? No.
Mr. Aquino is a growth-at-all-cost type of leader. He is committed to the discredited tenet that a rising tide lifts all boats. In short, he believes that growth, once achieved on a sustained basis, would trickle-down into the people at the very bottom of the income and wealth distribution strata. But this has been the story of his past four years as president. The near-to-seven percent average growth has created a new class of super wealthy Filipinos who have vacuumed up the bulk of the income gains. For the truly poor, nothing.
His public statements are a give-away. What he basks in, the achievements that he is truly proud of are two: credit upgrades and sustained growth rates. He is yet to utter the “I” word as if the words inequality and the great divide were non-existent. As I have written a countless times, the keyboards of Mr. Aquino do not have keys that say “inequality.”
There is even no debate on which, between income inequality or wealth inequality, is worse. Because the two are eminently applicable in the inequality story.
There is a hollowed-out middle class. If at all, the OFWs in the overseas diasporas function as the de facto middle class.
With the aid of a clueless press and the uncaring public intellectuals, Mr. Aquino has gotten away with his assault on Pope Francis’ most cherished agenda – deliverance to the poor and the vulnerable in society. Philippine media would call Pope Francis “Pope of the Poor” without explaining why and minus his condemnation of “trickle-down”economics. Media, in general, think that “Pope of the Poor” is a buzzword, or some sort of a slogan.
Pope Francis’ condemnation of a bedrock doctrine of conservative economics – trickle-down – has yet to find space in Philippine media and this must be depressing to visiting Pope Francis. In a time the global economic debate has been shaped by Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty Frist Century, “ it is doubly depressing to find Filipino public intellectuals unaware that economic inequality has been the most debated issue.
My prayer is that Pope Francis would find time to tell Mr. Aquino this: Your policies are hokum. Reverse them.