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July 08, 2019 - Monday 4:07 AM by JD Vergara

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I watched a “DW Documentary” about wealth distribution in Germany and it asked the pivotal question: “Just like a century ago, humankind is standing at a crossroads. Will affluent countries allow rising inequality to tear apart the fabric of society? Or will they resist this trend?” The implied sentiment of this documentary is the idea that democracy has failed because it brought us this global problem. Wealth is concentrated only in the few while the rest wallow in economic hardships and poverty. 

An article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer calls inequality as the “injustice of the worst kind.” Why not? In the Philippines inequality is a kind of “res ipsa loquitur,” the thing speaks for itself. Like wild mushrooms, it literally protrudes in the cracks of our modern edifices such as bridges, high rise towers, and condominiums. You see inequality behind your car windshield as a bony arm extended to ask for a few loose coins. You see inequality in the weary faces of sales clerks and security guards versus the happy and carefree faces of those dining at the Asian Cow.

So we condemn the corrupt politicians and government officials who grew indifferent over this issue by the minute. We also blame the Chinese who seem to be in perpetual control of our businesses and economic opportunities, or we blame the day we were born poor. It’s quite obvious that this problem of inequality is complex enough for any of these simplistic condemnations. However, it is a real social problem that must be addressed because failing to do so indeed constitute an “injustice of the worst kind.”

For sure a band aid kind of approach such as the 4Ps won’t even crack the surface of inequality. There has to be a pivotal structural channelling of labor to bring about the solution we desire. The one thing we have is people. The Philippines has a bloated population at 104 million. And we are getting bigger by the year. Our streets are littered with children playing, telling us that we have ample supply of labor force in the coming years. How do we utilize this economic resource in ways that will bring us out of poverty?

Of course we need education and skills training. And for me this is where we should begin. Our education system, including government skills training such as the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) must be responsive to this need. Admittedly we can only talk here of images when we deal with this issue and so what we want to see the Philippines to have more homegrown and real products that make us truly nationally and globally competitive. We can think of technological or industrial products that will create a true economic movement.

I may come out as naive but I’m talking about Filipino-made vehicles, including ships and airplanes, computers, cell phones, television sets, car accessories, and other electronic products and thereby compete with the Chinese in this area. I even desire to see Filipinos producing products in the area of artificial intelligence that can have effective application in the fields of medicine, aviation, or agriculture. Filipinos are gifted and talented and there is no doubt in my mind that we can do this. 

But so far we have only squeezed ourselves in one industry -- service. That’s why a lot of us are nurses, caregivers, welders, butchers, singers, actors, etc. And if we ever make any product we have the typical such as rattan based bags, indigenous apparels and jewellery, and household furniture. While there is no problem with these products, we can do more.

This issue of inequality for me must not be dealt with only ideologically. Instead of thinking about failure of the democratic system, we need to think objectively and think of concrete examples so that this problem is truly addressed practically.