“He who has the gold, makes the rules.”
I remember hearing this statement 11 years ago as part of my training as a medical transcriptionist. Back in those days, I was earning a rather miserable Php 7,000 a month, equivalent to about $160. At that time, I was fortunate that I was living rent free in a double-income family consisting of myself, my wife, and my 1-year-old son. Living my life as a so-called “Yuppie” during those days reminded me of a term that my wife uses to this day: “Corporate Slavery”. My wife and I had to slug it out in the harsh corporate world to earn some cash that barely covers our living expenses. I can only imagine how worse it must have been for my colleagues who had to pay rent plus have to support not only themselves but members of their extended family as well. Even as I rose from the ranks to gain positions of leadership, amounting to a somewhat better salary, it doesn’t help at all that around 30% or more from my gross salary would just go to taxes. Being somewhat well-informed, I then discover that my former line of work would earn at least thrice as much or more in developed nations. I began to ask myself why can’t we have the same thing here in the Philippines when we work our asses off as much as our brethren working in the same field for a lot more. Then it occurred to me that the Philippines is mainly marketed in the whole world as a source of cheap labor. Now the question is, who would promote the Philippine workforce in that way? It seemed to me the answer is none other than the oligarchs who own most of the big businesses in the Philippines.
Given that the oligarchs have priced the talents of the Filipino workforce in such a cheap way, many have resorted to going overseas as OFWs. We all know the reason for this: it is for none other than earning at least twice as much, sticking the almighty Dollar in their pockets in an effort to have the means to have a better quality of life back home. Now, is there any way that Filipinos can have a great paying job at home? In some way, the advent of freelancing websites like oDesk have made it possible, but only to a limited extent. The fact remains that it is only internet-savvy Filipinos who have the capability to do this, and I’m afraid to say if you take into account the general populace of the nation, they amount to only a small fraction. This is compounded by the fact that not a lot of Filipinos who try working from home via the Internet get great opportunities, no thanks to many Filipino freelancers who keep on driving the prices down to a miserable level. This in turn reinforces that Filipino labor is cheap in the eyes of the global community. I ask myself this: Has the Filipino been dumbed down by the oligarchs that even those who have set their sights on the global workplace would drive their rates down? The answer seems to be a big “Yes!”
It seems to me that one of the problems of Filipino society is an anti-competitive attitude coupled by mediocrity. The work ethic where “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) as a foundation results in — you guessed it — a cheap and mediocre product. Now, I speculate that the root cause of such thinking is none other than mind control by the oligarchs. For years, Filipinos have been conditioned to think that their talents and skills are cheap by local businesses offering 8- to 12-hour working days for miserable rates. The naturally persevering Filipino would then accept it as an inescapable fact of life they have to go through while muttering complaints under their breath about how miserable life is in the Philippines, so much so that they aspire to go abroad or go online for better employment opportunities. For the few who are successful enough like some OFWs and some online freelancers, they get to spend their money at home, purchasing products from none other than oligarch-owned companies and pay their taxes to the government. Since the oligarchs effectively use the government as its subordinate to strong-arm the people to their will, nothing changes: the economic playing field will always remain in favor of the oligarchs.
I suppose at this point one can see this vicious cycle going on:
1. Oligarch sets up business.
2. Oligarch employs local labor dirt cheap.
3. Local workforce continues to live under miserable conditions and aspires to go abroad as an OFW.
4. OFWs return home, some successful, some not-so-successful, but both will nevertheless spend money in oligarch-produced commodities and taxes.
5. Money goes to the oligarchs and the government, only for them to repeat step 1.
The success of this cycle maintained by the oligarchy relies on a number of factors, but the big thing is this: the restrictive, protectionist economic policy of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Now, I am no economist, and what I’m saying right now is my personal observation, but it is what we are experiencing at the moment.
One will be apt to conclude that the Filipino masses are effectively rendered a captive market of the oligarchs. If you see it this way, you wouldn’t be surprised that they are staunch opponents of constitutional reform. As things look the way they are now, the oligarchs will control government in order to keep the status quo by closing off great opportunities to many Filipinos. They effectively do this by keeping competition out of the equation.
Now what’s all this got to do with democracy in the Philippines? A whole lot. The oligarchs will start conning the masses into voting for political aspirants with ties to the oligarchs. Vote buying and control of local media amount to some of the biggest methods for it. The oligarchs and the government will also try and make the populace become more dependent upon them by slowly creating a welfare state, the biggest example of which would be the conditional cash transfer program. By controlling their minds, their emotions, and their stomachs, these oligarchs will continue to exert control over voter choices and behavior. The so-called excess freedom of the Filipinos described by the late Lee Kuan Yew is being used, paradoxically, as an control agent. Filipinos are given freedom to do the most mundane and stupid things one can observe on the streets in exchange for giving power to the oligarchs. Sounds kind of like the Philippine masses are being drugged into willful submission.
It’s safe to say (as it has been said by a number of individuals way before me) that the Philippines is under a plutocracy perpetuated by the oligarchs. This will continue to be the case until we Filipinos get to have the balls to shake things up, revise the Constitution, and create a Free Market society that allows investors from around the world to come to the Philippines and create better opportunities. Should this happen, it will level the playing field for both oligarchs and the masses and then ultimately address the problem of economic inequality. If such changes were to happen, reports of a booming Philippine economy wouldn’t feel like a big lie . It’s high time we get rid of the rule, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”