Wake-up call for the Philippine oligarchy
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2006-08-17
As reported by INQ7.net on Aug. 9, a survey by the Pulse Asia poll group revealed that "41 percent of Filipinos believe the country is controlled by a powerful few and ordinary citizens cannot do anything about this situation, with only 17 percent disagreeing with this view and 41 percent unable to make up their mind about the matter."

Now, that piece of information would not be so alarming were it not for the fact that over 40 percent of Filipinos live below the poverty line and with surveys also showing a worsening incidence of hunger. Where an economically deprived majority is well aware of their helplessness under the clutch of the oligarchy, you find the seeds of a social explosion that has revolution as a possible outcome.

Nobody wants to talk about it. Many Filipinos are afflicted with a serious denial problem. But the signs are all there and scientific surveys validate them.

In October 2005, Pulse Asia also revealed in its "Coping Survey" that 33 percent of Filipinos were open to committing illegal acts (21 percent) or supporting an overthrow of the government (12 percent) in order to get relief from poverty. Those are over 25 million Filipinos admitting to a mindset that promotes a violent overthrow of the government. People who are ready to resort to something illegal are also easily inclined to participate in a revolt against an oligarchy that thrives on a system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer.

The smallest-minded perspective espoused by many of those who are in denial of an impending social volcano is one that insists that we are an inherently non-violent people and that a violent upheaval has never happened before.

The French and Russian monarchs were caught with their pants down by the French and Russian revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries. They paid dearly with their lives and those of their loved ones for having taken the wrath of a hungry people for granted.

No matter how much of a pacifist a people may seem, extreme threats to their survival and well being will inevitably drive them to take extreme solutions. When the stark contrast between their poverty and the excesses of the unconscionable and powerful rich becomes more pronounced, the wealthy and the privileged will certainly be the object of popular anger, as they represent the obstacle to a meaningful solution to the poverty

Nothing could be more incendiary material to this explosive situation than the sight of our leaders -- in both the administration and the opposition -- continuing their political circus while the people sink deeper in poverty, despair and cynicism.

Our political leaders behave like the central characters of the classic Greek tragedies, King Oedipus of "Oedipus Rex" and King Creon of "Antigone." We who know better are no different from the chorus in the classic Greek tragedy that kept issuing futile warnings to the erring royals.

The contrasts in our society had never been this sharp in the past. Our rich had never been this rich -- they make billions -- and our poor had never been this poor, with some surviving on only one meal a day. Just watch those old Filipino movies made in the 1950s and early 1960s to see how different the "poor" was from today's stereotype. In his early years in showbiz, the comedian Dolphy portrayed the poor man as one who lived in
what is now classified as a class D dwelling. Class E today is typically seen as one-room lean-tos or hovels under bridges.

In contrast, our classes A and B today live in a sanitized world of unprecedented luxury. Many foreigners who see our class-A subdivisions comment that these enclaves would make you think that the Philippines was a rich country. That is a clear condemnation of our being the only so-called Christian nation in Asia.

The big Philippine wealth gap can be traced to the decades-old exploitation and predation, in which economic opportunities are monopolized by the few who also happen to control the political system at both national and local levels. The patronage system that characterizes our politics is nothing but a system of political investment that reaps a
plough back, easily a thousand-fold, in graft and corruption once the traditional politician gets the coveted post.

It is important to separate the oligarchs from people who are simply rich. The oligarchs control the levers of power. People like Henry Sy and John Gokongwei -- unlike the Lopezes, Ayalas, Aboitizes and Alcantaras – made their fortunes by competing in the marketplace and never dabbled in politics.

In fairness to the corporate achievers, many of them practice corporate social responsibility and are really involved in trying to uplift the living conditions of the poor. The Gawad Kalinga group alone, I'm told, gets around P300 million a year from its corporate partners, many of which are among the top 1,000 Philippine corporations. It is the traditional politicians and their main sponsors who have created this wealth imbalance
and situation of extreme poverty.

However, that is small consolation if and when our social imbalance culminates in a class war or a revolution instigated by the masses. As seen in the French Revolution, both the good and the bad aristocrats were sent to the guillotine. In the Cambodian experience, even the members of the middle class became victims in what is now called the killing fields.

The exploitation and predation has been allowed to go unabated through the decades because the people are not educated and lack genuine advocates who can espouse and fight for their rights. The Catholic Church fails to fill this role and at best has only paid lip service to being the advocate and champion of the oppressed Filipino. In the Spanish colonial years, the Catholic Church was even a participant in the exploitation system.

Now, just like an environmental imbalance that has resulted from irrational degradation, the oligarchy is faced with a looming social backlash. Just as global warming is threatening to upset our world, severe grinding poverty is threatening to unleash a class struggle in our country.

This is no longer a theory. The surveys now show the growing sentiments of the poor against the oligarch.

You may email William M. Esposo at: macesposo@yahoo.com

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