An artist’s illustration of the rich and the poor. (Photo courtesy of PNG Image)
Focusing your life solely on making a buck shows a certain poverty of ambition. It asks too little of yourself. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential.
— Former United States President Barack Obama
CALOOCAN CITY, Metro Manila — I may be poor but I have brushed elbows with the filthy rich so I know a little about the realities of the gap between the privileged, the underprivileged, and the unprivileged.
I have friends who are billionaires, though not as wealthy as the late Henry Sy, who in his lifetime had been listed among the richest in Forbes magazine and the richest man in the Philippines. But they are certainly as privileged to own several houses in posh Ayala Alabang and Forbes Park in Makati and boast of fleets of luxury cars that the poorest of us have seen only in pictures.
One friend, Jay, comes from a family who owns a textile company that manufactures the cloth used by Lacoste in their fashion lines. He used to be a persistent participant in big-time dog shows but after marrying a Go family member, who owns Negros Navigation, he has concentrated on piling up the moolah.
Another friend, Freddie, has a number of Italian stores and the popular Linea boutiques that sell expensive items like original leather shoes and accessories. He drives around town on a Harley and his cousin, who belongs to the big Sison clan, has, I would say, the biggest and most unique ‘Belen’ or Christmas manger as it occupies a whole room in their house in Loyola Heights and tells the whole story of Our Savior Jesus from His birth in Bethlehem to his death at Golgotha outside of Jerusalem.
There are other friends, whom I would say are at par in wealth with the Ayalas, Tans, Chongbians, and more, but they opt to be quietly rich—unlike those I have seen wearing barongs and suits in air-conditioned offices around Metro Manila.
But if you ask me what is common about them, I would definitely reply that they do not experience what we are faced with right now with inflation and recession prevailing and a serious downturn in our economy. The truth is that most of our poor countrymen are being hit hard by the unprecedented and fast depreciation of the Philippine peso which has seen a spiraling increase in the cost of essential commodities.
I have neighbors here in Caloocan City who only eat one meal a day while others are forced to beg for food and even sell their souls to lending firms just to get by and survive the financial pinch.
Our currency started depreciating sharply in July when it was around 55 against the US dollar, but by the current month, it has dipped to an all-time low of 57.7.
Yet our rich friends are unaffected by this. That’s because most of them have multiple sources of income. Their income is not usually sourced from one employer like us from the poor; so they have other means to cushion the effect of rising fuel and commodity prices.
There are reasons why our peso is depreciating and among them are increasing imports and decreasing exports that have been slowed by weakening Chinese demand and other factors.
In reference to data from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), 23.7 percent of our more than 110 million population are in abject poverty—living below the poverty line—and this percentage is increasing as more and more lose their jobs and are homeless and without a livelihood. Another indication of the poverty situation is the number of babies born and surviving within the first five years, which, I would say, is alarming.
Expected to grow even more is food inflation, as has been warned repeatedly even by the United Nations who foresee a looming global food shortage. Last month, we saw our food inflation rise to 6.5 percent and trade experts claim this would further grow to 7.5 percent by the end of the quarter ending in September.
Our food production comes at a heavy cost because, in order to help the farming sector produce food, we depend on the importation of fertilizers and feeds for animals and fish as the local supply remains inadequate to the sector’s requirements for increased productivity.
On top of it all and despite our peso depreciation, the government has not (until now) increased the national daily minimum wage, which has remained unchanged at 537 pesos, or a measly US$9 and 40 cents, since 2019.
A neighbor, who actually is my sister-in-law, says that although her husband earns more than double the minimum daily wage, she still feels the pinch as “(their) income is not enough to support (their) children, two of whom are still in school.” One of them is in Grade 12 while the elder is about to graduate from college.
In recent times, life has become even tougher and most of us have more loans than before. An officemate needed to (take loans) because that is the only way for him to survive as he receives a wage that is extremely low.
As for myself, I fear not because I am a child of God. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us not to worry: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
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