Monday, June 15, 2009

RP’s ‘not poor’ but ‘low class’?

The National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB) Secretary General Dr. Romulo Virola reported one statistic on the NSCB Web site that we should all be very worried about. In his Independence Day article, “Pinoy Middle Class Before the Crisis!,” he said that: “The Pinoy middle class remains vulnerable and has continued to shrink. And this is prior to the global crisis…” Of course, the readers of my column know that we’ve alerted the nation to this fact years ago, and revived this when the collapse of several pre-need firms set back tens of thousands of Filipino middle class families by at least a hundred thousand pesos each and jeopardized the advancement of their children.

I have raised the term “Africanization,” as a trajectory of prevailing socio-economic trends, to vivify in the minds of Filipinos the kind of extreme poverty and social collapse that awaits us if the present neo-colonial, oligarchic system continues. Dr. Virola’s article confirms this in very quaint terminologies: “High Class, 0.1 percent; Middle Class, 19.1 percent; Low Class (Not poor), 54 percent; and Low Class (Poor), 26.9 percent.” Here, “High Class” is the erstwhile “Upper Class” while “Low Class,” which used to be “Lower Class,” is now further split into “Not poor” and “Poor” qualifiers.

Removing the “-er” suffix from the classifications removed any comparative intention and made each sound like descriptions of social quality instead of categories. So now, to be rich and earning beyond P2 million a year is to be “high class;” never mind if they’re a kidnap-for-ransom leader from Surigao or part of the Kuratong Baleleng gang or a jueteng Lord. They’ve got class because they’ve got the money. “Middle class,” on the other hand, covers families earning P2 million down to P246,109 a year. Never mind if you’re a diplomat speaking four languages or a self-made millionaire running a successful business; you’re still not “high class” according to the NSCB but at least better than “low class,” who now constitute 80.9 percent of the population. But wait, one can also be “low class” and “not poor?”

Under this scheme, the 54 percent can now console themselves as being “low class” but “not poor,” and can still look down on the truly “poor” 26.9 percent. Why, we should thus congratulate Dr. Virola for finding a solution to RP’s poverty problem, thereby giving Gloria Arroyo another reason to gloat that the number of “poor” in this country has been reduced to an unprecedented low level! Of course, this is in part to counter that May 2008 SWS survey, which said, “Self-rated poverty went up… six points in Mindanao (59 percent from 53 percent); five points in the Visayas (47 percent from 42 percent) and in Metro Manila (44 percent from 39 percent); and two points in the rest of Luzon (48 percent from 46 percent),” in which a staggering 50 percent of Filipinos (or nine million families) considered themselves poor!

Apart from the rise in self-rated poverty, though, the really worrying part is that of the “shrinking middle class.” As everyone should know, a growing middle class is always an ideal in any economy as it is considered the indisputable sign of real growth. Both China and India today are proud of their growing middle classes and measure their success by the growth in home building and car purchases.

Dr. Virola’s confirmation of what we have long known--that RP’s middle class has been shrinking and will shrink even faster in the face of the ongoing global financial and economic collapse--should be the final wake-up call to all that real, drastic change should come soon or else we’re doomed.

That middle class is composed of thousands of hardworking parents and professionals who work, save and invest for a better tomorrow, particularly for the future of their children. I associate them with members of Philip Piccio’s group, “Parents Enabling Parents,” who were gypped in the successive pre-need funds scam. But, on the whole, Dr. Virola’s “middle class” is this layer of professionals and entrepreneurs who, through the past three decades, have continued to suffer greater and greater impositions and extractions from the “high class” political and, not to forget, corporate rulers of society.

Even as we write this piece, the biggest residential users of electricity--the middle class--will be hit again by a 35-percent increase in “basic electricity distribution rates” because of the shift from a fixed “return on rate base” (RORB) to a new uncapped “performance based rate scheme” (PBRS). Add to this the increasing cost of water, the perpetually-increasing real estate taxes and professional and business costs, with a great many middle class families being OFW-dependent, who are reeling from the backlash to the country’s labor-export policy, coupled with the export sector’s 35-percent loss--resulting in massive lay-offs, and we have an impending disaster.

In our last conversation, I told Philip Piccio that the middle class can be our society’s revolutionary class, which hopefully, gave him some food for thought. As members of the middle class come to realize the disaster awaiting us, they’ll be more and more scared of the consequences of not moving more vigorously and radically--not just as leaders for their class but for the whole of society. If not, our middle class will someday completely disappear, and we’ll all just be low class--poor or not poor.

(Tune in to 1098AM, May Pag-asa, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, and Friday / Teachers for National Transformation, 10 p.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday; Talk News TV, Destiny Cable, Channel 3, 8:15 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., Tuesday on “Hello Garci and Whistleblowers II;” also visit

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