Benjie Oliveros | A mere token


The cornetto ice cream advertisement has been a hit. The ads show that one cannot enter a club, rent a video, buy a sweater, and get a sports drink with P20. The poor character was even made fun of for having only P20: he is made to dance while the club bouncer mimics the beat of the music and the disco lights; the employees of the video rental store brings out a wide frame and acts out the scenes from a movie; the burly sales attendant embraces him from the back to mimic a sweater; and the owner of the store drinks from the bottle before handing it out to the poor guy. However, one could buy a cornetto ice cream with it.

The point of the ads is that P20 is too meager an amount to purchase anything, but cornetto ice cream is so cheap that one could buy it for P20. Add P2 to the P20 and still, it would not purchase much. But this is just how much or rather how little, was given by the NCR Regional Wage Board: P22 Emergency Cost of Living Allowance (Ecola).

That progressive labor would raise a furor over this is hardly unexpected. Prices of oil products have gone up 14 times since the beginning of the year alone. Jeepney and bus fare have increased. Toll fees have likewise increased, thereby increasing the transport cost of goods. One could no longer keep track of the increases in prices of canned goods and other grocery items. The prices of rice and bread have also increased, with bakers threatening to increase the price of bread again. Sugar prices are at an all-time high. Recently, prices of school supplies have also increased, and the Department of Trade and Industry’s assurance that prices may go down once the demand increases defies the laws and realities of economics. And now the Aquino government is saying that LRT and MRT train fares would double in the coming days or weeks.

It is apparent that the Aquino government is still faithful to the neoliberal prescriptions of the IMW-World Bank or what is called as supply-side economics. Simply put, this economic theory presupposes that in order to achieve economic growth the government must make it easy for corporations to do business by providing tax incentives, assuring profits, deregulating prices, keeping wages down, among others. When corporations gain profits, production would increase, and the economy would grow. And the economy’s growth would, in turn, trickle down to the people in the form of increased employment and higher wages.

But this economic theory has never worked, and has made life for the majority even worse, especially since the 1970s, the era of stagflation and jobless growth. The world economy has been stagnant or has been growing at a slow pace, the demand for goods and services has been low because of the festering unemployment and underemployment problems, and yet prices are rising.

Even during periods when countries supposedly experience some growth, unemployment remains high. In 2010, the country supposedly achieved a 7.3 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and yet the unemployment rate was at 10.9 percent and underemployment was around 19 percent. Compare this to 2009 when the GDP grew by a mere 0.7 percent while unemployment was only slightly worse at 11.1 percent, with roughly the same underemployment rate. By the way, in 2007, the GDP was also at 7.3 percent and unemployment was at 10.8 percent; both 2007 and 2010 are election years.

While on the other hand, according to Ibon Foundation, the combined annual net income of the top 1,000 corporations amounting to P756.0 billion ($15.87 billion) in 2009 is six-and-a-half times their annual net income amounting to P116.4 billion ($2.44 million) in 2001. Their cumulative net income over the period 2001-2009 amounted to P3,788.9 billion ($79.5 billion).

It is then accurate when progressive labor groups say that the Aquino government is protecting the interests, and profits, of big foreign and local corporations at the expense of workers and the poor majority.

What the Aquino government, through its regional wage boards, has given Filipino workers is a mere token. It could not even buy a kilo of rice or pay for more than two jeepney rides, granting that one jeepney ride does not exceed the minimum fare. And the announcement of the granting of the Ecola coincided with the news that the LRT and MRT fare hikes would be implemented soon, raising suspicions that it was given to make the increase in train fares palatable. So for minimum wage earners taking the LRT or MRT trains for their daily commute, the Ecola they would receive would just go to their additional train fare. But if they ride the full length of the MRT or LRT, it would not even be enough. Cornetto anyone? (

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