• The Philippines, Pope Francis and the moral economy

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    For various reasons , we found the vice-presidential debate held last Sunday at the University of Santo Tomas more interesting and focused on issues, than the earlier two presidential debates held in Cagayan de oro City and Cebu City.

    We found it striking that without being prodded by the moderators, the candidates, in their respective ways, addressed the issue of income inequality that underpins so much of mass poverty in the country.

    No inclusive growth under Aquino
    Some said that the record growth under President Aquino is not being shared by the great masses of our people despite all the government propaganda. Trickle-down economics does not work. There is no inclusive growth. It’s only the rich who get richer, while many of the poor sink in greater deprivation and misery. The Filipino middle class is not expanding noticeably.

    That the vice-presidential candidates discussed the subject at all is significant. With the election campaign already in the homestretch, none of the presidential candidates, with the possible exception of VP Jejomar Binay, has bothered to address the issue at all.

    That is not from lack of awareness of the problem, since we can see poverty everywhere around us. More likely, it is because of a lack of a coherent idea or program to address the challenge.

    If the president-wannabes are truly serious, each of them should have by now an economic team advising them and outlining ideas for a workable economic program.

    Nearly all the candidates have fallen into saying that they will just continue the Pantawid Pamilya program (4Ps) of the Aquino administration as their poverty measure. But it is essentially only a welfare program, and it is hardly an economic strategy for economic advancement and change.

    Poverty and income inequality    
    The candidates’ perspectives will change if they learn to yoke together the challenge of poverty and income inequality, and work out a program for eradicating both.

    We think for a Catholic country like ours, it will be a start if government and the people directed more of their attention to what Pope Francis has called the need for nations and the world to move into “a moral economy.”

    By that, the Holy Father meant to say that there is something very wrong in a society, where so few have so much and so many have so little, and the income of, say, 5 percent of the population exceed or even dwarf the income of the other 90 percent.

    It’s no cause for pride for the nation to say that we now have over 10 or 15 Filipino dollar billionaires in the Forbes annual list of the very, very rich. For the very poor that has no meaning.

    Pope Francis is surely correct when he called for “the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the state, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society.”

    He admonished world leaders to “seek a new economic model to help the poor and to shun policies that sacrifice human lives on the altar of money and profit.”

    Political dynasts and economic oligarchs
    The problem in our case is that the nation’s political leadership still do not have the vision to uproot poverty and inequality in our country. The economic elite and oligarchs are still concerned mainly about protecting their niches and rent-seeking enterprises in the economy.

    One foreign observer has remarked that political dynasties and economic oligarchs have effectively combined to become the real government in the country. Holding both oligarchs and dynasts in check will be the key to change in the Philippines.

    There are no quick or easy solutions to this challenge so far as we can see. But we think and we believe that by moving the nation into a moral economy, we could jumpstart the change toward a time of reform and dynamism in our country.

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