Graphic novelist and playwright Carlo Vergara posted this note on Facebook last Wednesday: “Dear TV Producers… Please create a reality show where select government officials will try to survive on 10K a month. It will be a hit. Then, publish a guide on how a family of five can live on P10K a month. It will be called The Ultimate Guide to Pinoy Minimalism.”
Vergara is not entirely being facetious. The sarcasm and exasperation evident in his post are a reaction to a widely quoted statement by National Economic and Development Authority Undersecretary Rosemarie Edillon that the living standard for a Filipino family of five is about P10,000 a month. Out of that amount, P3,834 is supposedly needed for food, or P127 a day. The claim was made during a briefing where Neda executives discussed the May 2018 inflation rate, at 4.6 percent already on record as the highest in five years.
The amounts cited immediately drew expressions of shock and derision, with many observers remarking at how seemingly out of touch Edillon’s estimates were compared to the grinding reality lived by poor Filipinos every day. Alan Tanjusay, spokesperson of the Associated Labor Unions-Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, called the figures an “insult” and an “affront to millions of poor Filipinos.” Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa secretary general Josua Mata, meanwhile, said: “If Neda officials believe in their preposterous findings, let them and their families prove it first. We challenge [Neda] Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia to subject his family to a strict budget of P10,000 a month.”
The outrage is understandable in light of the steep inflation that has burdened the citizenry, especially the urban poor and those in the countryside. As Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito pointed out in his column yesterday, in May, “Overall prices in the National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila rose slightly faster (4.9 percent) than in the countryside (4.6 percent), although food prices in the latter rose faster (5.9 percent against 5.1 percent in NCR). These imply that inflation has lately hurt the poor more, as their budgets are dominated by food and they are much more numerous in the countryside.”
Edillon eventually clarified that the P10,000 amount was merely a “hypothetical figure,” and that she didn’t claim that a family of five could live decently on that amount. The figure was merely cited to demonstrate how a family could apportion and allocate its budget for day-to-day living given the effects of inflation, she said.
But even that explanation may not mollify the public soon, for a simple reason: Using P10,000, even only as a “hypothetical figure” on which to base budget estimates for a Filipino family of five, comes off as clueless at best, and callous at worst. Why that unrealistic number, in the first place? One would think addressing the rising economic anxiety required looking at fact-based and carefully considered yardsticks. Yet the act of pulling seemingly random figures from thin air only adds to the impression of an administration increasingly insensitive to the pain brought about by its economic policies.
Budget Secretary Ben Diokno, for one, has been quick to dismiss the cries for relief as bellyaching “about the small things.” Filipinos “should be less of a cry baby,” he said. As for the poor who have borne the biggest brunt of the inflation caused by recent tax hikes, “Do you think they pay taxes?” Diokno asked. “And how much do they get from the government? Free education, free healthcare, conditional cash transfer, etc.” It was also Diokno who said last month that “kung masipag ka lang, hindi ka magugutom sa Pilipinas (if you’re hardworking enough, you won’t go hungry in the Philippines).”
Merely waving away the poor this way, however, is no solution to the economic squeeze, much less bandying about “hypothetical” numbers. Diokno, Neda and this administration have to try harder.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.