People feeling the pain

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Photo by judgefloro via Wikimedia Commons

You are lucky if you know what to believe in today’s world. Knowing what you think is true makes you even more fortunate. The atmosphere is not kind to facts and the truth. Climate change is causing disruptions right and left, from forest fires due to the heat to blizzards and snowstorms—sometimes happening simultaneously in the same country. In other words, it isn’t easy to be sure of anything today.

In the physical, facts and reality are hard to pervert or revise. The mind and the emotions can be very fickle, but the body is not as flexible. You may imagine many things and change your feelings, but you cannot move your body to move or change as much.

Even if most Filipinos may not understand it enough, that bigger picture we call ecology, environment, or nature controls so much of physical reality. They are the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. The masters of disinformation cannot easily twist physical reality, and the effort to fool people has limits where air, water, and food are concerned.

Like today. It is summer, it is hot, and there is a lack of rain. Farmers and agriculture are adversely affected when water for the fields is scarce. Even fish that usually can be plentiful and near enough to the shorelines to reach may move further away from land if the heat becomes too much. When the climate and the rains are disturbed, food is disturbed, too, like today and maybe much worse tomorrow.

Philippine society is unequally divided. The upper strata can hardly care about the cost of food. First, their numbers are small, and what they need to eat is only incidental to the whole food industry. Even if food prices double or triple within a year, the food budgets of the top 10% will not be upset. Food is not their concern—until the salaries and wages they pay their workers are not enough to feed their families.

Today, raising the minimum wage by 100 pesos a day is already being considered, exposing the reality that most Filipinos are having a hard time making ends meet. An increase that high will have a substantial impact on corporate expenses; ultimately, it will have a substantial impact on inflation and food prices. However, government officials know their constituents feel the pain of inadequate income in an environment where food prices do not stop climbing.

I have been talking only about the formal labor market, which remains the minority among all workers. If the formal labor market is now challenged, its bigger but informal counterpart is starting to suffer. That suffering starts with food because they will not have enough to buy the food they need. Then, hunger will rise because less money means buying less food per meal and fewer meals per day.

The heat will make it much worse. Agricultural workers and small farmers will be forced to reduce or stop planting or harvesting. Too hot and no water. This translates to less income from labor or from profits – which means less food on the table.

“We are in a downward spiral. Huge numbers depend on ayuda, and the national government depends on borrowing to cover the deficit year after year. It is only a matter of time before our resources sink and the interest rate we pay soar—the guaranteed pathway to financial distress.”

The puppeteers of fake news will try to divert the news away from lack of money and food. They will discuss entertainment, political conflict and drama, charter change, and Quiboloy. But they will not talk about the price of rice. They will talk about the scandal of NFA officials selling government rice at a significant loss to private traders (expected to sell it to the public at much higher prices). They will occasionally sacrifice below-the-line officials and employees to an angry public, knowing anyway that many will not end up being convicted.

Well, the price of rice is not 20 pesos a kilo. It was just a simple lie to innocent poor people wishing so much for rice to be sold for 20 pesos a kilo. If you are lucky, you might find an elusive 45-peso-per-kilo rice somewhere. Better, though, to budget more than 50 pesos per kilo and still consider yourself lucky. 20-peso-per-kilo rice was simply budol, the most popular local term for a scam.

So, who scammed desperate Filipino voters? Everybody knows who and why, but life must go on. What is one scam among so many? Filipinos are resigned to being scammed by their own public officials. They survive frustration by lowering the bar of expectation year after year. They get by instead by playing ball and lining up for their ayuda or subsidies, which come in many forms from several government agencies. Playing ball, however, means giving one’s automatic forgiveness for scammers in government.

We are in a downward spiral. Huge numbers depend on ayuda, and the national government depends on borrowing to cover the deficit year after year. It is only a matter of time before our resources sink and the interest rate we pay soar—the guaranteed pathway to financial distress. But that is too big a picture. It will begin in small but dangerous ways. It will begin with unaffordable food. It will worsen with unavailable food.

Meanwhile, to delay the inevitable, to slow down the pain process of most Filipinos, the exploiters among the powerful and the rich will have to double their efforts in diverting the attention of Filipinos from the crisis that is building in our land. Doing it subtly or in vulgar ways is just a strategy, but it is disinformation at its core.

I have been mentioning primarily about food. That is only the beginning because food is so physical and critical. Lack of it will bring pain that cannot be diverted and denied. It will be interesting to see how politics and big business will manage an emerging implosion, how reality will be blurred, how much more ayuda the government will give, and how many trillions more in debt.

You may also like

Leave a Comment