What about the 84% and 74%?

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MARLEN V. RONQUILLO

AFTER the election in May 2016, the great expectation was this. Mr. Duterte would end the unapologetic social darwinism of Mr. Aquino and bring hope—and deliverance—to the disillusioned. Even the post-election analysis from the foreign news outlets said as much and some lines from my election articles that described Mr. Duterte as the perceived antithesis of Mr. Aquino were made part of those post-election analyses.

We are about to enter May of 2018 and this question should be asked. Whatever happened to the places of Dickensian sorrow, the hovels of great poverty, the towns with poverty rates of 84 percent and 74 percent? These towns are mostly in the remote areas of Mindanao and the Visayas and they have been in that state of deprivation since time immemorial. These are the areas that were supposed to benefit from the cessation of Mr. Aquino’s growth-for-growth’s-sake government. And the “tapang at malasakit” meme of Mr. Duterte.

Has the magical word “change“ ever affected these “sloughs of despond”? Or, have things remained the same? The second, sadly, is the answer. There has been no deliverance for the hovels of despair.

Those trying to draw a more equitable map for the proposed federal form of government are eternally flummoxed by one seemingly unmovable fact. That 60 percent or so of the country’s GDP is turned out, year in and year out, by three regions: Metro Manila. Calabarzon and Central Luzon. Not only that. Much of what it takes to sustain the growth of the three regions do not need to be sourced from outside of the three.


Calabarzon and Central Luzon are not only major markets for what is marketed by Metro Manila (including retail and service establishments) but also provide commuting staffers to the BPO centers based in the NCR. The vehicles assembled in the industrial parks of Calabarzon have Metro Manila and Central Luzon as their largest markets.

In turn, Central Luzon supplies most of the pork, chicken and egg requirements of Metro Manila. Central Luzon is also the base of medium-scale to really large food processing companies that turn out everything from tocino to ham and the biggest markets for these products are Metro Manila and Calabarzon.

The passengers jamming the three main international airports of Metro Manila mostly come from these three regions.

The truth is the three regions that dominate the economic side of things do not need copra from the remote regions that much. Or raw materials for their food needs. Or, the yellow corn and sugar requirements. Even sugar for the food processors and yellow corn for the thriving animal feed plants are internally generated.

With three inter-connected regions dominating productivity, income generation, revenue-generation and job-generation, what kind of opportunity and funding level would flow into the remote towns with 84 and 74 percent poverty levels? Very little, of course. Unless, the government will adopt a strong redistributionist bent in all its policies and across all development concerns.

Is that happening right now, that intense and laser-like focus on redistribution to liberate the 84 percent and the 74 percent from their eternal misery?

The government information machine does not neglect the paeans to inclusive growth, the effort to spread out growth, prosperity and opportunities. Nominally, the government, the present government included, is committed to inclusive growth.

The realities of the national budget, however, frustrate that grand ideal of including those stuck up in eternal poverty their due, the grant of adequate budgetary support to lift them up from their bondage.

Investments in education, health and physical infrastructure have been pegged at the level to guarantee their isolation and poverty.

Even the ambitious “Build, Build, Build“ has no component that is allotted to the 84 percent and 74 percent. Investments under “Build. Build, Build“ operate on the thesis that every peso invested should yield the maximum bang. Investments directed at the remote, severely underdeveloped areas will yield results only in the long run and the long run is not in the purview of the massive infra build-up philosophy.

If you look at the roads and bridges, seaports and airports covered under the infrastructure program, there is one defining bond. They are metro -centric and future growth area-centric. There are no major programs for the remote, underdeveloped areas that need investments most.

Will that change under a federal form of government? Let us look at the economic profile of the US, the richest country in the world with a federal form of government.

Mississippi is the poorest state of the US with a per capita income that is 50 percent or so lower than the per capita income of the progressive states, the so-called coastal areas. It has been poor ever since. It is Trump country and Mr. Trump wants to pay back the loyalty of Mississippi voters and political leaders to him.

But what can Mr. Trump realistically do to lift up Mississippi? Nothing and not much.

Because the productivity, income, revenue and opportunity are elsewhere. And because Mr. Trump’s political party and top leaders loath redistribution.

So, don’t get any hopes up that the adoption of a federal system of government would liberate these hovels of grinding and impossible poverty out of their Dickensian sorrow.

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