Carvajal: ‘Them’ and ‘Us’

A simple way of understanding the causal relationship of elite democracy and the poverty of millions of Filipinos is to divide Filipinos into “Them” and “Us.” This division exists in all levels (national, provincial, city/municipal) and in all institutions (economic, political, cultural/religious) of Philippine society.

“Them” are the owners of land and industry and their elected alter egos in government. “Them,” the minority, comprise 10 percent, give and take, of the population. Yet, “Them” have exclusive control of policymaking. Political factions of “Them” take turns buying on election day the power to decide on the fate of the whole nation.

“Us,” the majority, peripherally include those who work for “Them” as professionals; but “Us” mainly encompass the whopping 49 percent underpaid, underemployed or unemployed of the population that told a recent Social Weather Station survey that they live a hard life.

In spite of being the majority, “Us” have no voice in the country’s decision-making. Except for a farcical election system that’s really too tragic to be funny, “Them” have never made more than token attempts to set up institutional mechanisms that give “Us” effective voice in government.

The problem arises as the priorities of “Them” do not dovetail with the priorities of “Us.” What is wholly good for “Them” is often only marginally good for “Us,” if at all. For instance, the low minimum wage they decree is good for their businesses but not good for “Us” who need higher pay to live a decent life.

“Them” build billion-dollar superhighways but do not build decent houses for homeless or ill-housed millions of Filipinos. “Them” spend millions for military jets and helicopters but do not spend for potable running water systems in all barangays, not for enough classrooms to ensure that no Filipino child is without basic education.

“Them” conveniently forget that health, house, running water and education are universal human rights but roads and warplanes are not. Like what good is a billion-dollar superhighway to the homeless millions of uneducated, sick and hungry Filipinos?

As the majority, “Us” are supposed to rule in a democracy. But, as long as the country is controlled exclusively by “Them,” there is little hope that “Them” would institute mechanisms of effective participation in government for “Us.”

As long as “Us” have no voice in government, there is little chance that “Them” would institute programs that directly address poverty. They will continue to mitigate the crisis indirectly with trickles of economic benefits from their billion-dollar infrastructure investments.

Inclusive development comes from genuine democracy. This becomes genuine when a united “Us” acquire a veritable voice in government. Ultimately, therefore, the problem is not “Them” but “Us” and our lack of unity. Make no mistake about it, without one voice, “Us” will remain at “Them’s” mercy.