Wednesday, November 12, 2014

What Filipino Middle Class?

While trying to figure out why the middle class in the Philippines was so small I stumbled across this fantastic opinion piece in the Philippine Star newspaper. The author, Nelson Navarro, makes it clear that the Philippines wasn't always the impoverished economic basket case that it is today and that 30 years ago the neighbors of the Philippines used to welcome affluent tourists Filipino with money to spend. Today countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and even China are modernizing and have thriving economies. The Philippines has slums, barefoot feral children, beggars and so many excess people that according to Navarro’s piece 10% of the population of the Philippines lives abroad as OFW’s doing manual labor or are domestic servants. Philippine government officials and their cronies make money off of the export of laborers and maids.

The Philippines attracts call centers because Filipinos speak English and work much cheaper than English speaking Singaporeans or English speaking North Americans but attracting other foreign investment where the Philippines has to compete with their neighbors is hard. Really, why should multinational businesses invest here? Infrastructure has been neglected, there’s almost no public transportation so employees can’t get to work on time, electricity costs more than anywhere else in Asia and is undependable so brownouts and blackouts are a regular occurrence due to inadequate grid, bribes are required at every stage of business, squatters are rife and the underpaid police and low level government officials augment their income with bribes. Why not have your office in places that have a modern infrastructure and that work better such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or anywhere in China?

According to one of our hosts he fully expects that politicians to take bribes and steal from the public purse. That’s normal behavior in the Philippines and many other places in Asia. “But do they have to take it all?”, he said. Evidently they do and citizens mostly tolerate it. Manila’s public transportation consists of light rail lines (no municipal buses). The speed of the trains is held to around 20 mph due to a problem with the rails and the lack of spare parts due to a lack of money. New rolling stock is needed but a Czech supplier of rail cars was solicited for a 30 million USD bribe to get the business.

So what about the politicians? Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe collecting wife were the very models of kleptocracy but he's dead (but she lives on as a powerful elected senator as does her son Bong Bong). Current President Aquino has an actress sister named Kris who is all over the country on billboards as the official spokesperson for a fast food chain, Chowking. Her and a basketball player have a son named "Bimby". President Aquino also has a sister named, I kid you not, "Ballsy". Shockingly Ballsy was recently accused and cleared in a bribery scandal. It's that kind of country and will probably stay that kind of country.

No comments: