The Top 1%

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Globalization is particularly effective among Filipinos. The great Filipino capacity for assimilation enables us to adjust much quicker to external influences, particularly the dominant ones. In many ways, this special trait allows fast adaptation and has brought blessing after blessing. In other ways, it has been most destructive to a people unable to hold firm on what it most important in culture and history.

The foreseeable future is a further loosening of borders. In fact, the Asean will be bringing down tariff walls to zero or practically zero for almost all products grown or manufactured in the region. The central piece of the agreement is to build an economic region, hoping that this union among member countries will raise its competitiveness and power in the global arena.

There are international dynamics that are beyond our control but actually force us to dance by their tune. Our culture and material needs are powerful reasons why we do what we do, and why we will continue to do so. If we can do little about it, then we must at least try to understand it and prepare ourselves as best we can.

We have two large non-traditional sectors in our society known as the OFWs and the BPO industry. Both in number of people involved and in revenue they bring to the economy, these two sectors are evidence of how Filipinos can quickly adapt to external dynamics. OFWs are not a simple result of poverty in our country. Many other people are poorer than Filipinos, yet they are not significant players in the international labor market. And Filipinos who become OFWs are not mostly from the poorest of the poor although they may be poor. Rather, there is something cultural that drives Filipinos to work in other countries, and why other countries prefer Filipinos over other races.

The BPO industry through its most populous face, the call centers, also depends on cultural traits of Filipinos. Many say it is because of our wider use of the English language, but it is much more than that. After all, we are drawing away from India the primacy of call centers when Indians, too, know English well. Recently, I read that the way Filipinos speak English is less laden with a distinct foreign accent. That is true, and it may be because we tend to bend towards the other rather than insist on our own—even in our accent.

Prior to the waves of OFWs finding employment in more than 170 countries around the world, our mariners or seamen and entertainers had already been leading the pack in manning foreign ships and playing, singing and dancing in foreign clubs. Again, our talents and capacity to assimilate or adapt are central to this, maybe much more than our poverty.

If Filipinos find it easier to adapt and adjust, what then should we be very careful about? Social scientists and anthropologists may be wary of the impact on our culture. One, we can actually lose some of our strong points. Two, we may also fall victim to what ails other people. I think that many who read me have their own views about the cultural impact that unmindful assimilation can do. I believe most of them will have good basis.

What I would like to point out are patterns and trends in the bigger world out there where our people either go, or whose powerful influences can wreak havoc on us in our home turf. The driving force behind most of global dynamics outside of politics and war is economics. And it is precisely economic practices of the more powerful nations that most probably will find expression in the Philippines, too.

What are these, then? Let me focus on only one for this article by borrowing figures from an advocate who shares the same concern.

A billionaire, Nick Hanauer, gave a simple math prognosis, saying that “if nothing changes in the next 30 years, the top 1% will share 36-37% of the global income and the bottom 50% will share 6%. That is not a capitalist economy anymore, that is a feudalist economy. This is just math. It is very simple math.”

If so goes capitalist economies, so goes the Philippine economy. Our economic perspective is grounded on common capitalist economic policies. And because we had come only recently from centuries of feudalism, we do not have to wait for 30 years before 1% controls 36-37% of domestic income. It is already much worse than that. In one presentation by a former economic minister, he showed how the top 40 families in the Philippines controlled 76% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Money begets money and that is how the capitalist system moves, making the future brighter for our top 40 families and bleaker for those outside their circle. Few of these top 40 families may have been favored by a colonial past, but definitely all of them used the free market system to build their business empires.

It is apparent that economic reform, or a new social perspective, is urgently needed to raise people out of poverty. Only government has the authority and the resources to do that. But government is already committed, by choice or force of circumstance, to economic policies dictated by foreign powers. Where, then, will the majority of Filipinos find their economic development and freedom?

Democracy must be the mechanism to dismantle feudalism, not its legalization. Even Pope Francis had said a year ago that “Today, everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed on the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized, without work, without possibilities, without a way out.”

Global patterns are not easy to confront, much less deny. But they push us to a narrow corner and will push even harder over time. Our conformity may cost us our culture, our very identity. At what point do we stand for who and what we are? At what point do we insist on what is good for us before everybody else?

You may also like

Leave a Comment