The next Congress must deal with the Great Divide

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MARLEN-V.-RONQUILLO

Next Congress must deal with the Great Divide or else…

The problem with the Great Economic Divide is that it there is no single policy anti-dote that legislators bent on reining it in can put on the table. A Magna Carta Against Economic Inequity? A 100-page bill will not suffice. The inequality is so deep and unbridgeable that those who will attempt to correct in the next Congress will be clue­less on where to start.

And how grave is that problem again? The Top One percent sucks up most of the national income and after that elite group is the nine per cent that sucks up what the Top One percent has left over. There is no vibrant middle class and after the rich and the super rich are the likes of you and me, fighting over the crumbs at the economic bottom.

Upward mobility and meri­tocracy are now vanquished dreams. The narrative of my town Lubao—a bright kid from a colony of tuberculars who rose to the presidency of the Republic—has been down­graded from something perfectly achievable to something utterly improbable.

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The last Congress saw something of a radical proposition that wanted to deal with the Divide. Break up business monopolies to prevent the coun­try’s economy from being controlled by five families. The monopoly-busting bill of Rep. Danilo Suarez of Quezon, ironically one of the richest members of Congress, did not even get a committee-level passage.

Was his bill deficient in form and substance? Was his authorship of the bill its main liability? Or, was the bill Latin to most members of the House of Representatives? Or are most members of Congress in the pockets of the plutocrats?

The long and the short of it is this: any legislative effort to rein in the Great Divide has to go back to the writing board and write a compelling bill of solidity and substance.

The next Congress will have to write it. Allowing the Great Divide to fester for so long might lead to a worrisome scenario: the underclass crossing the threshold of stoic suffering into taking things in their own hands, like an aggressive, bloody version of Occupy Wall Street. At the very least, economic inequality is, by itself, a form of humanitarian crisis.

Writing that draft law should be the first priority of a Congress striving to get relevance.

Not writing that legislative bill that is overarching in reach and scope is not an option.

Corporate profits have been having an amazing run. Never in the history of the country’s corporate history has corporate profits risen as much as they have these days, this is the qualifying thing, across the broad. It is not just retail or banking, or food and beverage, or power generation—traditional profit centers from time immemorial. Every business owned by the giants has been on a roll and the mining sector seems to have batted out its boom-bust cycle for a permanent state of immense profitability.

Telco, yes, telco is not only a cash cow but a giant tubong lugaw operation. One pays every time he talks or text messages and talk and text are our new national preoccupation.

A period of consolidation—and the buy-out of businesses that threaten the giants—has been done quietly and at break-neck speed. This has prevented the rise of independent entrepreneurs not allied with the plutocracy. Remember the quick acquisition of a rising fast-food chain built on the premise of unlimited rice and marinated chicken by a giant in the food field? It was annexed in a rush deal in which the young entrepreneur that built it was bewildered by the billions offered for his chicken chain.

And we all know the dominant players in the new fields of energy, construction of big-ticket projects under the PPP, oil and gas exploration, tourism, plus many other promising new areas of business. They are the same old, old—just moving into new fields that would rake in the huge profit.

Construction used to be left to the independents by the giants. FF Cruz, AM Oreta and the likes. No More. If you scan the names of those bidding for the multi-billion peso projects of the DOTC under the PPP, you will not see the independent construction companies that used to dominate that field. You will see the conglomerates bidding independently, or as a consortium composed of the biggest of the big.

The statistical board’s depressing figures on intractable poverty tell us the hard truth, the bigness has no trickle-down effect. Whatever is earned by the plutocrats and fat cats stays at the top—and very little is moved below.

Then, we have the jobless, joyless growth—in which even the most aggressive income-generating sectors hardly create jobs.

If jobs are created at all, the expenditures for food, transport, shelter and clothing – meaning basic survival—are the only things covered by the meager pay.

Congress really has to prevent the unmanageable scenario of poor people crossing the threshold of stoic suffer­ing to venture into that red line of aggressiveness. The results would make the Jacobins exemplars of moderation.

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