by Fr. Shay Cullen
The Manila Times
THE Covid pandemic caused great harm and the rich became richer while the poor became poorer, and an additional 4.27 million Filipinos fell into extreme poverty like Maria Mahirap, one of the poorest persons in the Philippines. There are hundreds of thousands of people like her who literally have nothing in this world, no possessions, no money, no family. We who have should count our blessings.
Maria, like hundreds of thousands of children today, was a victim of child sexual abuse. She lived on the streets and was exploited by human traffickers. Maria became a sexually abused and trafficked child and then a woman exploited by foreign and local sex tourists. With nothing more than a dirty, smelly, ragged dress,she lost hope and then her mind. She was brought to the mental hospital in Mariveles, Bataan.
There are about 19 million women, children and men in the Philippines in extreme poverty. That means eating pagpag, that is, one meal a day of recooked leftovers from restaurant garbage bins, a welcome gift from the well-fed rich. If they are more lucky, they can afford to eat a cup of cheap rice with salt and nothing else.
This is the situation of millions of the very poor in the Philippines, a proud nation of 110 million people with 26.1 million of them below the poverty line, owning few possessions, while 1 percent of the population is super rich owning about 45 percent of the wealth. That is nothing to be proud of and the world knows it even if the rich don’t care.
The superrich tycoons are just 1 percent of the population. They rule, exploit, manage and manipulate the permanent hungry pagpag eaters so that they willingly sell their vote for P3,000 in every election and live in paradise for two days. The 1 percent rich live in luxury all their lives. They attend thanksgiving Masses to celebrate their trickery unwittingly blessed by the Church.
Millions of unfortunate Filipinos are caught up in a grossly immoral, disgustingly unjust system by which the superrich live in luxury as they manipulate and exploit the hunger of the poor to take political power, all the while throwing scraps to the sick and dying lying in the slums under the shadow of their towering condos.
In the first quarter of 2021, the Philippine Statistics Authority counted 26.1 million Filipinos living in “relative” poverty, those without property, living in shacks and shanties, and eating just a little more than pagpag. That is an increase of 23.7 percent over the previous years since 2018, an increase of 3.9 million of hungry Filipinos, mostly malnourished women and stunted, undereducated children. They survive with unpayable debts. An additional 4.74 million Filipinos fell into extreme poverty during the pandemic.
In 2019, there were 15 Filipino billionaires, US dollars, and there will be 17 billionaires by the year 2024, according to a Statista Research Department report as of November 2021. There are no fewer than 569 ultrasuper rich Filipinos, each worth no less than $30 million.
Between them and their combined trillions of US dollars, mostly made on the Philippine economy, they could change the lives of the 22.26 million starving Filipinos. Besides throwing scraps to the poor, however, it seems they are hell-bent on making more riches for themselves.
The system is rigged by the rich. They are the political power behind the presidential throne. With their great wealth, they get themselves and their relatives and friends elected to Congress and others appointed to high government departments across the land. With economic and political power, they get huge loans, which the people must pay back by taxation. The superrich are the de facto rulers of the Philippines.
Congress people pass laws that benefit their sponsors and patrons from the dynastic families. Their corporations get tax holidays and the lucrative government contracts are rigged to fall into their hands and those of their relatives and cronies. They control the wages and benefits of the poor workers. Their corporations benefit from inflation through government subsidies. This is systematic corruption where government officials benefit their patrons and themselves.
The corporations of the dynastic families form interlocking directorates with the banking and insurance industries and other corporations in finance, mining, food production, construction and housing, besides others. These elites have a powerful monopoly on most products. They have the political power and connections to block outside investors, reducing or eliminating competition. Their domination of the political process and the economy causes capital flight and greater poverty for more Filipinos.
None of the Filipino super-rich has declared that they will share any of their massive wealth with the poor as US billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates have done. Buffett promised to give away everything before he dies.
If they did and followed the example of Zacchaeus in the Gospel story, they could save millions from hunger and poverty. Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore tree to see Jesus of Nazareth passed by. Zacchaeus was a corrupt tax collector and traitor to his people as he was working for the Romans. He was an outcast sinner to the Jews. But Jesus called him down from the tree and had dinner with him. He repented, confessed his corruption and gave away half of his wealth to the poor, and repaid restitution four times of what he stole (Luke 19: 1-10).
What a new world it would be for Filipinos if the billionaires did the same and made the economy work for the benefit of the poor. They could eliminate poverty and change the lives of millions of Filipinos.
But, it seems they are not looking to meet Jesus of Nazareth, and avoid his challenge to repent at all costs. They are more like Dives (Mr.Rich) who lived in luxury but would not give the scraps that fell from his table to Lazarus dying at his gate. (Luke 16: 19 -31) Only the dogs showed care and compassion to Lazarus. Dives went to the fires of hell.
As of October 2021, one percent of families or households worldwide owns 43 percent of all the wealth in the world. They are filthy rich. On the other hand, the poor make up 50 percent of the eight billion people in the world and own only 1 percent of all the wealth in the entire world. That level of inequality is staggering, shocking and disgusting.
There is no solution to this systematic unjust and unequal society other than repentance and spiritual renewal of the ruling elite, which is what Jesus of Nazareth called for, and as do reformers and true dedicated Filipinos. Look at what they did to them today and did to Jesus of Nazareth — imprisonment and execution.
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