Thousands of Filipinos leave the Philippines everyday to escape poverty and hardship, seeking jobs overseas so their families can survive. Although the Philippines is rich in mineral and natural resources, the majority of its people are poor.

A RICH COUNTRY

The Philippines is a rich, agricultural country covering roughly 300,000 sq. km. of surface area, 76,700 sq. km. forest area, and 34, 600 km of discontinuous coastline. With a tropical climate, the country can grow food all year round with access to diverse fish and marine life.

It estimated to have the largest mineral deposits in the world (worth US$ trillion). It is estimated that it as the 3rd largest deposit in gold, 4th in copper, 5th in nickel and 6th in chromite. When it comes to energy, the Philippines is the second leading producer of geothermal power after the United States.

The country’s rich mineral deposits and geothermal power are due to its geographical location along the Pacific Rim of Fire, where there is volcanic action.

POVERTY

How much poverty is there in the Philippines? This depends on what the poverty line is. If having an income of 125 pesos per day means you are poor, then 66 million people were poor in 2015, because that is the number of people who were living on that income that year (almost 65% of the total population). In 2016, 7 out of 10 Filipinos (70%) who responded to a survey rated themselves as poor.

LOW WAGES, PRECARIOUS WORK AND JOBLESSNESS

If you look at wages, it is not a surprise that poverty is that widespread. Let’s take a snapshot. In the National Capital Region (NCR), the legislated minimum daily wage was P537 in 2018. However, it was estimated that a family of six needed P1,196 to survive. So if someone was paid the legal minimum wage that year, it would only amount to about 55% of what is needed if they belonged to a family of six. Since minimum wage laws are not enforced, it is also common for people to be paid even lower than the legal minimum wage.

Another sobering fact about the job situation in the Philippines is that many Filipinos are in precarious work or underemployed. It is estimated that 40% of jobs are contractual, probationary, seasonal or part-time. If we were to combine those who are underemployed and unemployed, we are talking about 30% of the labour force.

There are no national industries that can produce decent and sustainable jobs in the Philippines. The country does not have industries that produce goods that are needed by its citizens, so its economy is dependent on imports. The biggest sources of jobs are not sustainable and mainly controlled by foreign companies – such as call centres, assembly manufacturing companies and construction.

LANDLESSNESS

The Philippines is mainly an agricultural country, but so many farmers are barely surviving. Landownership is highly concentrated, dominated a few big landlord families.

Only 26% of 10 million farmers own lands, and 52% of farms are under tenancy arrangements (about 51% of total farm area). Share tenancy is an arrangement where landlords and peasants share the harvest, but the landlords get the lion’s share. Farmers pay land rent that could be as high as 30% to 90% of the produce, and they shoulder all farm production costs. When they are forced to borrow money to cover their deficits, they have to pay high interest rates (up to 75-90% of the harvest). 

Rural wages are low. The daily minimum agricultural wage is from P151 to P212, but many receive as low as P20 a day (Negros), P50 (Samar) P69 (Cagayan Valley) and P9.50 (Hacienda Luisita).

The agricultural goods of the Philippines are mainly for export, not for its population. Even staple goods such as rice are imported, not produced in the Philippines.

The land controlled by export-oriented corporate farms is increasing. Recent estimates show that 7,590 farms are owned by corporations covering 214,316 hectares. Corporate farms that produce export crops (e.g., fruits, sugar cane and coconut) are concentrated in the hands of a few families.

Agrarian reform programs that were enacted under various Philippine governments have not made a dent on the problem of concentrated land ownership. All agrarian reform programs contained loopholes that allowed landlords to limit or evade land re-distribution. This is because of the fact that landlord interests are heavily represented in the Philippine Congress, and big landlords oppose any measures that would reduce their wealth and power.

ROOTS OF MIGRATION AND PHILIPPINE HISTORY

Joblessness, low wages, precarious work and widespread landlessness in the Philippines are rooted in the colonial history of the Philippines.

Since the Spanish colonial era (1565-1898), a feudal system has existed that keeps the majority of peasants landless. Land grabbing from peasants who tilled the land and giving them to datus/chiefs who supported the Spanish colonial regime had led to the creation of an export-oriented hacienda system dominated by a few landlord families. This system was maintained by the United States (1898 to 1946) and maintained by Philippine governments since independence in 1946.

The export of the country’s natural resources (i.e., agricultural products) to be used for industries in rich, capitalist countries has meant that the Philippines has to import products the people need – a system that is called an export-oriented, import-dependent model.

A consequence of an export-oriented, import-dependent model is that there are no national industries that are geared towards the Philippine economy, and can be a sustainable source of jobs for Filipinos. This explains why so many Filipinos are unable to find decent and stable jobs in their own country.

Another harmful outcome of an export-oriented, import-dependent model is a huge foreign debt. In 2018, the foreign debt of the Philippines was US$$76.4 billion.  Debt service (interest payments) amounted to US$5.9 billion that year. The foreign debt is due to the chronic trade deficit of the Philippines – the amount of dollars earned from exports is low compared to the amount of dollars it needs to spend on manufactured and other imports. Remittances from migrants are now the top source of foreign exchange to keep the Philippine economy afloat.