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Poverty, Inequality, and Development in the Philippines: Official Statistics and Selected Life Stories

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Mainstream academia’s and neoliberal economists’ failure to exhaustively explain the roots of the 2008 crisis and point a way towards how the world can fully recover from it, made radical theories of poverty and income inequality more popular and relevant as ever. Official World Bank statistics on poverty and their traditional measurements are put into question and even an IMF-funded study admits that instead of delivering growth, neoliberalism has not succeeded in bringing economic development to the broadest number of people, as massive poverty and income inequality abound in many countries, more especially in the developing world. Drawing from theories on surplus value, labor exploitation, and economic dependency, this paper will present an updated critique of the official poverty line in the Philippines and how official statistics mask the true extent of poverty in the country, thereby figuratively many faces of poverty hidden if not obliterated; analyze the link between poverty and income inequality within the country’s neocolonial set-up; and present summarized selected life stories of ambulant vendors, mall personnel, fast food workers, cleaners, security guards and other typical faces of poverty in the Philippines’ macro-economically rich capital region – Metro Manila – which serve as fitting counterpoints to the official narrative. Such discussion will be the paper’s springboard in presenting an alternative plan towards sustainable development of the Philippines.
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European Journal of Sustainable Development (2019), 8, 1, 290-304 ISSN: 2239-5938
Doi: 10.14207/ejsd.2019.v8n1p290
| 1De La Salle University-Manila, Philippines.
Poverty, Inequality, and Development in the
Philippines: Official Statistics and Selected Life Stories
David Michael M. San Juan and Prince Jhay C. Agustin1
ABSTRACT
Mainstream academia’s and neoliberal economists’ failure to exhaustively explain the roots of the
2008 crisis and point a way towards how the world can fully recover from it, made radical theories of
poverty and income inequality more popular and relevant as ever. Official World Bank statistics on
poverty and their traditional measurements are put into question and even an IMF-funded study
admits that instead of delivering growth, neoliberalism has not succeeded in bringing economic
development to the broadest number of people, as massive poverty and income inequality abound in
many countries, more especially in the developing world. Drawing from theories on surplus value,
labor exploitation, and economic dependency, this paper will present an updated critique of the
official poverty line in the Philippines and how official statistics mask the true extent of poverty in
the country, thereby figuratively many faces of poverty hidden if not obliterated; analyze the link
between poverty and income inequality within the country’s neocolonial set-up; and present
summarized selected life stories of ambulant vendors, mall personnel, fast food workers, cleaners,
security guards and other typical faces of poverty in the Philippines’ macro-economically rich capital
region Metro Manila which serve as fitting counterpoints to the official narrative. Such
discussion will be the paper’s springboard in presenting an alternative plan towards sustainable
development of the Philippines.
Keywords: poverty level, inequality, globalization,
1. Introduction
Mainstream definitions and measurements of poverty levels have come under
increasing scrutiny and criticism as radical theories of poverty and income inequality
recover their popularity, after more than a decade of neoliberalism’s failure to resolve the
2008 crisis that hit America and segments of Europe. Reddy & Lahoti (2016) remark that
the “criticisms that have been levelled at the (World) Bank’s methodology since the
1990s over key technical questionsPPPs, inflation measures, price variations within
countries (in particular the differing costs in rural and urban areas) and the merits of
income versus consumption data” remain relevant even after World Bank economists
increased the international poverty line from $1.02 to $1.90 in 2014. Meanwhile, Hickel
(2016) minces no words in explaining how the United Nations’ “MDGs have used
targeted statistical manipulation to make it seem as though the poverty and hunger
D. M. M. San Juan, P. J. C. Agustin 291
© 2019 The Authors. Journal Compilation © 2019 European Center of Sustainable Development.
trends have been improving when in fact they have worsened. In addition, the MDGs
use definitions of poverty and hunger that dramatically underestimate the scale likely of
these problems. In reality, around four billion people remain in poverty today, and
around two billion remain hungry more than ever before in history, and between two
and four times what the UN would have us believe.” Even World Bank-friendly experts
like Chandy and Karas (2016) admit that there are “contradictions” in official poverty
data and “it is surprising that the empirical basis for country and global poverty numbers
is rather weak.” With regard to incongruities, a 2017 statement on poverty in the USA
by Prof. Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and
human rights which count 40 million Americans in poverty, belies the World Bank’s
poverty headcount ratio for the USA, which is just at a measly 1%.
Official World Bank statistics on poverty and their traditional measurements are put
into question (Moatsos, 2017) and calls are made for the “measurement of poverty in
both monetary and non-monetary dimensions” so as to “reduce poverty in all its forms”
(Saunders, 2018). Even an IMF-funded study (Ostry et al., 2016) admits that instead of
delivering growth, neoliberalism has not succeeded in bringing economic development to
the broadest number of people, as massive poverty and income inequality abound in
many countries, more especially in the developing world (San Juan, 2017).
Drawing from theories on surplus value, labor exploitation, and economic
dependency, this paper will present an updated critique of the official poverty line in the
Philippines and how official statistics mask the true extent of poverty in the country,
thereby figuratively many faces of poverty hidden if not obliterated; analyze the link
between poverty and income inequality within the country’s neocolonial set-up; and
present summarized selected life stories of ambulant vendors, mall personnel, fast food
workers, cleaners, security guards and other typical faces of poverty in the Philippines’
macro-economically rich capital region Metro Manila which serve as fitting
counterpoints to the official narrative. Such discussion will be the paper’s springboard in
presenting an alternative plan towards sustainable development of the Philippines.
2. Critique of Official Philippine Poverty Statistics
Official Philippine poverty statistics should be subjected to a rigorous critique, if
the real extent of poverty is to be revealed as a springboard for realizing the actual
breadth and depth of poverty as a national and international problem, which is the first
step towards genuinely resolving the problem.
At the outset, the critique could begin with backing up Chossudovsky’s (2018)
straightforward way of describing official poverty figures in the Philippines as something
that “have been manipulated” as the Philippine government only appears to have
“adopted the one dollar a day World Bank criterion” while failing “to account for
292 European Journal of Sustainable Development (2019), 8, 1, 290-304
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inflation in both the 2012 and 2015 estimates.” Such official Philippine poverty statistics
focus too much on food poverty and fails to adequately encompass other essential
people’s needs. Moreover, these statistics don’t consider the fact that families can be
food-rich (with incomes deemed officially high enough to cover the minimum food
threshold set by national authorities) and actually poor at the same time.
Even the official food poverty threshold cannot accurately measure real levels of
food poverty, as it has been shockingly and significantly redefined in 2009. Such
recalibration of the food poverty threshold imposed lower and thus cheaper dietary
requirements for Filipino citizens, thereby artificially lowering down the official poverty
statistics. The new food poverty threshold was so laughable that it was eloquently
criticized even by a mainstream statistician who correctly spotted the wide gap between
the old and the new methodology for measuring food poverty (Mangahas, 2011a and
2016). For example, Mangahas (2011b) notes that the new menu for the food threshold
includes “no meat” for the poor (see Table 1), despite the Philippine government’s
inclusion of meat in the country’s “Daily Nutritional Guide Pyramid” released by the
Food and Nutrition Research Institute (see Figure 1).
Table 1. Old and New Menu in the Philipppines’ Official Food Poverty Threshold (Mangahas,
2011b)
M
eal
Old Menu
New Menu
Changes
Br
eakfast
Tomato omelette
Coffee for adults
Milk for children
Fried rice
Scrambled egg
Coffee with milk
Boiled rice
Elimination of
tomato
Elimination of milk
for children
Substitution of fried
rice with boiled rice
Lu
nch
Fried galunggong
Mongo guisado
with malunggay
leaves and small
shrimps (mung
beans sauted in
garlic, onion,
tomatoes,
malunggay leaves
and small
shrimps)
Boiled rice
Banana latundan
Mongo guisado
with malunggay
leaves and dried
dilis (mung
beans sauted in
garlic, onion,
tomatoes,
moringa leaves
and dried
anchovies)
Boiled rice
Banana
latundan
Elimination of fish
Substitution of
small shrimps with
dried dilis
Di
Pork adobo (pork
Fried tulingan
Elimination of pork
D. M. M. San Juan, P. J. C. Agustin 293
© 2019 The Authors. Journal Compilation © 2019 European Center of Sustainable Development.
nner
cooked in vinegar,
soy sauce, garlic,
and black pepper)
Pechay guisado
(sauted bok choy)
Boiled rice
Banana latundan
(bullet tuna)
Boiled kangkong
(swamp
cabbage)
Boiled rice
Substitution of pork
tulingan
pechay guisado with
boiled kangkong
Sn
acks
Pandesal (small
common bread)
with margarine
Plain pandesal
margarine
Fig. 1 Daily Nutritional Guide Pyramid for Adults (Food and Nutrition Research Institute, c. 2018)
As per the latest (2015) official poverty statistics released by the Philippine Statistics
Authority (PSA), “a family of 5 needed at least 9,064 pesos (US $174) to meet both basic
food and non-food needs monthly” of which 6,329 pesos (US $122) is allotted “to meet
basic food needs,” allowing only for a meager 2,735 pesos (US $ 53) for “non-food
needs.” Such pitiful amount for the non-food needs won’t cover all the items
enumerated by a 2007 resolution of the country’s National Statistical Coordination Board
294 European Journal of Sustainable Development (2019), 8, 1, 290-304
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(NSCB): 1) clothing and footwear; 2) housing; 3) fuel, light, water; 4) maintenance and
minor repairs; 5) rental of occupied dwelling units; 6) medical care; 7) education; 8)
transportation and communication; 9) non-durable furnishings; 10) household
operations; and 11) personal care & effects.” It must be noted that the Philippine
government’s categories of essential non-food items doesn’t include any item related to
leisure/entertainment, despite the fact that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (for which the Philippines voted in favor) mentions “the right to rest and
leisure…” in Article 24. Other entities such as the European Union’s Eurostat (2015)
includes leisure in their “quality of life indicators.” This laudable inclusion is a reflection
of the generally accepted idea that leisure is an essential human need (Leversen et al.,
2012, and Veal, 2015). Thus, a genuinely holistic poverty threshold should certainly
include leisure-related items in the essential non-food items.
3. Alternative Measures of Poverty
Poverty thresholds should always include thresholds on essential non-food
needs of the people. Poor citizens are those whose incomes are below the real cost of
living. To help present a better view of real poverty rates in the country, the current
researchers made an updated (and still very conservative) estimate of the government’s
categories of non-food items based on actual Metro Manila prices:
Table 2. Detailed Monthly Cost Estimate of Non-Food Items for A Family of 5 In the
Philippines (2018)
Non
-Food Item
Co
st for a
Family of 5
Assumption/Explanation
Source of Data
Clot
hing and
footwear
192
pesos
Assuming the family needs only
two sets of clothes and footwear per year
and costs are spread per month
Cheapest price for t-shirt,
blouse, skirt, shorts and jeans (only for
the father) in the popular Divisoria
Market
Cheapest price for shoes (only
for mother and father) and slippers (for
the whole family) in the popular Divisoria
Market
Price watch of
the government TV
C
hannel, People’s
Television/PTV (2016a
and 2016b)
Housing or
rental of
occupied
dwelling units
9,0
00 pesos
Cheapest monthly rent for
unfurnished studio unit in Manila
(apartment prices are definitely higher)
Researchers’
own canvassing of April
2018 rent prices in Manila
(listed prices in online rent
D. M. M. San Juan, P. J. C. Agustin 295
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advertisements are higher)
Fuel
415
pesos (LPG)
7-kg. LPG tank
Department of
Energy (2018)
Light
1,2
55 pesos
(light and
basic
applicances)
3-hour daily use of one
florescent lamp; daily use of small
refrigerator; 15-hour/day use of ceiling
fan; 8-hour/day use of small TV
Manila Electric
Company (MERALCO)
online app (2018)
Water
122
pesos (water,
not for
drinking)
140
pesos
(drinking
water)
10 cubic meters of water
20 gallons of drinking
water/month (common brands)
Maynilad Bill
Calculator (2018)
Researchers’
own canvassing of April
2018 prices in Manila
Maintenance
and minor
repairs
250
pesos
Monthly cost of low-cost
plumbing repair service (assuming repair
is only done once a year)
Gawin Group (2017)
Medical care
375
pesos
Monthly cost of QualiMed
AKcess Card for the family, “an
affordable primary care health card used
to avail of free healthcare service
inclusions and discounts on outpatient or
ambulatory care needs”
QualiMed (c.2018)
Education
3,0
00 pesos
Covers only cheap school
lunches for 3 children per month
(assuming that children study in public
schools where tuition is free and books
are provided for by the government)
Researchers’ own
canvassing of April 2018
prices in Manila
Tran
sportation and
communication
480
pesos
700
Covers only minimum jeepney
fares per month for 1 person (assuming
that the family lives in the town center
and only the father commutes daily to
work)
Covers only cellphone load for
two people (one-month unlimited calls to
the same network and unlimited text to all
Fare price set by
the government
Smart (2018)
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pesos
networks)
Non
-durable
furnishings
0
Prices of covered tems are
difficult to estimate; hence no estimates
are given
N/A
Hou
sehold
operations
2,0
00 pesos
Cheap laundry expenses (for 80
kilos of laundry/month)
Actual costs for household
operations are higher as prices of other
covered items and services are difficult to
estimate; hence only estimates for laundry
Researchers’
own canvassing of April
2018 prices in Manila
Pers
onal care &
effects
162
pesos
Bath soap (family size) at 4 bars
per month
Department of
Trade and Industry (2018)
TO
TAL
18,091 pesos
(US $ 347)
The researchers’ figures for a conservative but reliable poverty threshold is thus
pegged at 24,420 pesos per month for a family of five. Such amount is more than double
the government’s official poverty threshold, and a bit comparable with the 33,570-peso
monthly living wage for a family of six as computed (albeit without available details on
costs) by Ibon Databank (2017), an independent think tank. Websites such as
numbeo.com that produce statistics through crowdsourcing, can also help set the
poverty threshold. As of April 2018, in what could be dubbed as the upper limit of cost
of living in Manila for a four-person family, numbeo.com pegs the figure at 90,858.11
pesos without rent, while monthly rents for one-bedroom apartments range from
12,005.95 to 23,076.92 pesos. Such estimates are actually closer to another government
agency’s statistics.
The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) did release its own
statistics on what income is needed for a family of four to be able to live comfortably in
the Philippines. Its 120,000-peso monthly figure impressively goes beyond the official
poverty threshold, but the same agency downplayed the possibility of the government
working towards the concretization of such ideal, emphasizing in its launch that it is just
a “vision” and “not meant to be prescriptive. This is just saying where Filipinos want to
go...” (Dela Paz, 2016). Nevertheless, NEDA also whimsically claims that the Philippines
can attain upper middle-income status as early as 2019 (Leyco, 2018), despite the fact
that the government is actually still in denial with regard to the breadth and depth of
poverty in the Philippines.
Countless life stories of globalization’s discontents, life stories of marginalized
citizens whose lives are not documented by the government’s limited statistics, life
D. M. M. San Juan, P. J. C. Agustin 297
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stories of poor citizens in one of Southeast Asia’s worst countries with regard to outward
migration, poverty, and unemployment rates, could serve as counterpoints to the official
narrative and reveal the hidden faces of poverty in the country.
4. Life Stories of Globalization’s Discontents
The current researchers have interviewed using the indigenous approach
“pagtatanong-tanong” or an “improvised informal, unstructured interview” and
“pakikipagkuwentuhan” or ‘‘story telling’’ or ‘‘informal conversations’’ (Pe-Pua and
Protacio-Marcelino, 2000) an ambulant vendor, a mall personnel, a fast food worker, a
cleaner, and a security guard: typical faces of poverty in the Philippines’ macro-
economically rich capital region whose life stories weave a collective tale that challenge
the official government narrative and reveal aspects of poverty that are rarely discussed
in official documents. They were specifically chosen as they were already encountered by
the researchers, a number of times even before they were interviewed for this article.
Citations from interviewees were translated from Filipino. All of them have
incomes below NEDA’s definition of a comfortable family income, below the
researchers’ own computed poverty threshold, and below IBON Databank’s family
living wage threshold. Conversations with them were held from December 2017 to
March 2018, during their free time. Interviewees’ first names were stated as authorized
by them (unless otherwise stated, in which case researchers have used a knick name).
Most of the interviewees are also part of the dominant sector in the Philippine
labor force the service sector. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority (2017),
“56.3 percent of the total employed in 2017” are from the services sector. San Juan
(2016) described how the Philippines’ service sector-driven economy is rooted in the
country’s dependence on developed/First World economies, a system that “…is more
favorable to developed/ capital-rich countries because 1) developed nations’ investments
in developing countries earn profits which the former typically repatriate, rather than
reinvest in the latter; 2) developed countries control multilateral financial institutions
such as the IMF, World Bank, and even the biggest private banks that are capable of
bankrolling or frustrating any effort towards industrialization contemplated by
progressive developing countries’ governments; 3) technology transfers on a massive
scale seldom happens, hence developed countries tend to retain a monopoly on
innovations vital to the growth of the manufacturing sector; 4) the bulk price of the
developing countries’ main exports (raw materials and semi-manufactured goods) is
lower than the bulk price of their typical imports from developed countries (technology/
machinery and high-value products); 5) the migration of workers and professionals from
developing countries to the developed countries depletes the former’s human resources
298 European Journal of Sustainable Development (2019), 8, 1, 290-304
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which they need to free themselves from poverty and dependency; and 6) the education
system of developing countries is aligned with the needs of developed/capital-rich
countries which are also typical destinations of migrant workers from the developing
nations.” Hence, the featured life stories are also stories of the so-called globalization’s
discontents (Stiglitz, 2002), people who were unable to benefit from and/or left behind
by the bonanza that neoliberal globalization brought to capitalist clans and corporations.
Emilia: The Ambulant Vendor
Emilia or “Miling” as others call her, is an elderly ambulant vendor, with very visible
creases in her face burnt by daily exposure to the tropical sun in a not-so green city,
Manila. As an elderly person (a “senior citizen” in the Filipino context), Miling is
qualified to avail of the government’s Social Pension Program for Indigent Senior
Citizens (SPISC), a “government assistance in the amount of five hundred pesos
monthly stipend,” according to the Department of Social Welfare and Development
website, but she tells the researchers she’s not aware that such a program exists. She’s
not alone as “(s)ome 40% of Filipino senior citizens are still left behind in government
efforts to provide social protection for the sector, based on estimates of the Coalition of
Services of the Elderly (COSE)” (Pasion, 2017). Miling has been selling cigarettes,
candies, snacks etc. as an ambulant vendor since 1995 a 23-year experience of “hard
work with no improvement” in her words. She’s a co-breadwinner of her family of 6:
her sick husband, their only daughter (a part-time waitress) who’s a single parent to their
three grandchildren. In one of our conversations, Miling rails against tax hikes. She still
remembers the time when the value-added tax (VAT) was expanded from 10 to 12%
under the Macapagal-Arroyo regime and is disappointed when she learned that the
Duterte administration’s tax reform scheme made the price of major commodities
including her wares soar. She complains: “at times, noodles is all we can afford to eat.
Or bread even in dinner time. Rice is expensive. Viands are expensive.” Other Filipinos
eat pagpag or recycled left-over food.
Miling reveals she voted for Duterte but is now not optimistic of the future, saying
“they’re all the same, no concern for the poor” (referring to various Philippine
governments). She’s especially incensed that life seems to be getting more miserable
every year because of constant price hikes narrating: “When I started out in this job,
commodities were still cheap. You can buy many things with just one peso. Now, 1,000
pesos feels like loose change.” Like other ambulant vendors, she has suffered from the
informality (or, as per the government’s perspective, “illegality”) of her occupation: “One
time, the MMDA (Metro Manila Development Authority) personnel confiscated my
wares. Yes, I know it’s really illegal to sell things in the streets. But this is the only
occupation I know. This is better than stealing or doing something bad.” Miling’s
situation reflects the lives of many Filipino elderly citizens who are poor.
D. M. M. San Juan, P. J. C. Agustin 299
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Josephine: The “Saleslady”
Josephine is a permanent “saleslady” and minimum wage earner in a popular
Metro Manila mall owned by one of the country’s richest clans. As a minimum wage
earner, she is with 1/3 of the country’s labor force (Habito, 2017). She remains single but
“in a relationship” at 32. Somehow, Jo as she calls herself is lucky because many mall
personnel are casuals or under zero-hour contracts. She got social and health insurance
(SSS and Philhealth) but also dreams of paid vacations (few companies offer such
benefits in the Philippines. Jo is a credit card pawner, a “Loandoner” (a play of words:
from Londoner + loan = Loandoner) as she says in local parlance, despite receiving a
stable minimum wage: “what I earn is enough for our needs but I always pray that
nobody in our family gets sick. Getting sick is a no-no. Be absent on just a day and you’ll
have deductions from your salary. My salary will then be not enough to cover our living
expense.” She belongs to the proverbial “isang kahig, isang tuka” (literally “one scratch,
one peck”) class people who live through “hand-to-mouth existence.” Not even
retirement can offer her bliss. Her future SSS pension (pension fund for private
employees in the Philippines) is very meager as the maximum pension at this point is just
10,900 pesos (De Vera, 2017). Jo works in a firm that will benefit from the
government’s prospective corporate tax cut from 30% to 25% this year. Despite such
possible tax cut and stable profits, corporations fail to share profits to workers. A
relatively conservative profit-sharing bill languishes in Congress. For now, Jo will have to
make do with what she has for herself and for her elderly parents too. Forced
“overtime” during holidays and “sales” (discounts) periods do pad her pay but she
admits: “I hate OT (overtime). Our hard work is not well compensated. It’s not worth it
but I can’t complain.” Even her typical hours seems to be unbearable: “I have to stand
up all the time and I’m expected to greet customers and urge them to buy, buy and
buy…”
Mike: The Fastfood Worker
Mike (not his real name as he refused to give his real first name) is a contractual
worker in a major fastfood firm in the Philippines. He is a beneficiary of the Philippine
Department of Labor and Employment’s (DOLE) order to grant permanent status to
6,500 fastfood workers (Leonen, 2018). He is a minimum wage earner though he still
considers himself “luckier than other workers” as his company provides free food
(limited choices from the firm’s own menu) during his shifts. Researchers’ conversations
with him veered towards food, owing to his job, and at one point, Mike casually remarks
that fruits and vegetables are not part of his regular diet. He complains: “one starts to get
sick of fastfood if its taken daily. Thus, I choose to bring my own food sometimes. Me
and my co-workers share food when we bring some home-cooked meals.” He expresses
300 European Journal of Sustainable Development (2019), 8, 1, 290-304
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high hopes for the future: “I hope we really become regularized. May that DOLE order
be implemented. I hope our salary gets hiked too.” As of this writing, the DOLE ruling
still stands and the fastfood firm affected by the order promises compliance, but the
Philippine President more than a week before the International Day of Labor this year
announced that he would no longer sign an executive order to end contractualization
in the Philippines (a convenient campaign promise which has been rendered superfluous
when Duterte is already in power, hobnobbing with capitalists, both local and foreign),
claiming that it’s up to Congress to ban the said hated policy which many firms utilize to
save on costs at labor’s expense. Mike is a young, 20-something “bedspacer” (one who
co-rents a room with two or more persons) in Manila, renting at a rate of 2,000 per
month. The said rent may sound cheap for expatriates but such “bedspace” is literally
living in a small box, occupying space in double-decked beds, rather than living in a
spacious home. To help him make both ends meet, he claims to have a “sideline”
(“raket” is the Filipino word he used, which in the Filipino context generally refers to a
legal “sideline,” though it can also be used to refer to shadier occupations), but he
declined to give details. Mike is originally from the Oriental Mindoro, where his peasant
parents still reside. As the eldest child in a brood of 4, he sends money to his parents
whenever he can, to help support the needs of his younger siblings. Mike did not
mention if his parents own the land that they till but many farmers in the Philippines are
landless and the country’s land reform program has been criticized for its hosts of
failures (Sawchencko, 2000; Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 2015; Tadem,
2015; Manahan, 2011; Carranza, 2015). As a result, migration from rural to urban areas is
still very common, as Mike’s story illustrates.
Nora: The Freelance Cleaner
Nora is a middle-aged freelance cleaner in condominium units, who is married
to a jeepney driver. She spreads word about her services through word of mouth,
impressively earning an income above the minimum wage but nevertheless describes
herself as “still poor,” narrating: “My income is okay because my customers pay big tips.
Sometimes, they double my rate. But somehow, my income is not enough because prices
keep going up. I have medicines to take, maintenance medicine for high blood pressure.
And we still pay for our children’s education.” Despite her complaints on rising prices
and other tribulations common to the Filipino poor, she praiase her more generous
customers, whom she says even treat her to free movie tickets: “Whenever I receive free
tickets, my family goes to the cinema. We can’t afford it if it’s not free.” They have two
sons and one daughter. One just finished college and is now looking for a job, in a
country where unemployment is generally worst in Southeast Asia. Two of their children
are still in high school. At least, tuition in college would no longer be a problem because
of the government’s recently passed free tuition legislation, though various student
D. M. M. San Juan, P. J. C. Agustin 301
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groups warn that its implementation should be monitored to ensure that the poor
benefits from it. Nora and her husband now only need to save for other university-
related expenses. Their relatively secure situation could be unfortunately reversed by the
fact that the government would soon phase out jeepneys (Bautista and Lema, 2018),
possibly putting Nora’s husband into unemployment, and Nora obviously can’t be a
cleaner forever. She admits with a hint of sadness: “my job is difficult. I suffer from
arthritis at times. My joints ache but I need to be industrious always for our family.”
Ramon: The Security Gu ard
Ramon is a security guard in a Manila midrise, approaching 40 years old, and
married to a bank teller. He has two young children. He earns the minimum wage and
resides in a rented apartment in Caloocan one train ride and a jeepney ride away from
his work place. He clocks in nearly 12 hours per day to earn overtime pay and make both
ends meet, complaining that: “coffee no longer works in my case. I do some exercise,
some stretching when I am sleepy. You can’t be sleep, you can’t be sleepy in our job.”
The old labor slogan “8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest, and 8 hours of recreation” has
been overtaken by workers’ poverty in the Philippines, and some German workers’
successful fight for a 28-hour week is still the exception, rather than the rule, these days.
Ramon makes sure he still got time for his family despite his long work hours: “I always
make time for them. We eat out, in the nearest mall, when it’s my day of rest and when I
have extra money.” He dreams of buying their own house. He says commercial bank
loans are definitely out of his options because of the high interest rates and the shorter
loan terms. The Philippine government has the so-called Pag-ibig Fund, which provides
loans for Filipino workers who want to buy their own houses, but his and his wife’s
combined income and their choice of house (a detached, non-socialized housing unit) are
making things difficult for them, but Ramon says they’re going to try again this year.
5. Plan for Sustainable Development in the Philippines
Sustainable development means development that is holistic, broad-based and
egalitarian: development that will write better stories for the countless faces of poverty
under the current system. The relationship between egalitarianism and sustainability is
strong because the precisely inegalitarian nature of the current dominant economic
system allows a tiny global elite to seemingly endlessly accumulate wealth at the expense
of the environment and everyone else. Centuries of wealth accumulation of the elites
worldwide have caused massive destruction in may parts of the globe, the effects of
which are still being felt today through global warming and the extreme climate change
that it brings. A world where a small group of clans and corporations are allowed to
accumulate wealth without limitations for their equally endless luxuries and/or in pursuit
302 European Journal of Sustainable Development (2019), 8, 1, 290-304
Published by ECSDEV, Via dei Fiori, 34, 00172, Rome, Italy http://ecsdev.org
of absurd goals such as growth for growth’s sake, is a world without space for the needs
of the poor majority a ticking time bomb that is unsustainable and bound for collapse,
if not already now on the verge of imminent apocalypse.
In the Philippines, the economic system can only become egalitarian if sweeping
reforms towards broad-based development such as land reform, agricultural
modernization, and industrialization are enacted. Such reforms are necessary for a Third
World country to leapfrog into First World status, while ensuring environmental
sustainability. To ensure that economic development and environmental sustainability
are achieved together, full-blast research on and utilization of renewable energy is
necessary. As a tropical archipelago surrounded by water, the Philippines is a prospective
role model and leader in the field of renewable energy harnessed from the sun and the
seas.
These sweeping reforms should be coupled with progressive tax reform along the
lines advocated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the Communist Manifesto and also
advocated now even by non-Marxists like Thomas Piketty (2014) and Joseph Stiglitz
(2013) as only an egalitarian system will enable the government to lead initiatives in
ensuring that accumulated wealth from ecnomic development is utilized for the people’s
essential needs and holistic enjoyment of life. Progressive taxation is a preliminary step
towards a radically more holistic paradigm shift from profit motive to people- and
Earth-centeredness, from endless macroeconomic growth and elite wealth accumulation
to sustainable development and wealth redistribution, from strengthening corporations
to empowering communities a shift that will genuinely precipitate sustainable
development for current and future generations.
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... As Table 1 shows, using more realistic ranges for income clusters will yield the fact that a good number of those who are excluded from SAP would still be in fact poor, based on actual, ground-based statistics. Academic critiques of official poverty statistics in the Philippines are also instructive (see Mangahas, 2011 andSan Juan and Agustin, 2019;Chossudovsky, 2018). Simply put, the Philippines has more poor citizens than it cares to admit. ...
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