The Philippines is a country with some of the greatest inequality. There are 16 million Filipinos who suffer serious poverty out of population of 107 million. Six million live in extreme poverty. They suffer the burning heat of summer and the downpours and floods of the rainy season in hovels made of plastic sheeting, scrap wood and rusty metal sheets. They eat only a meager one meal a day and seldom high protein fish and meat scraps. Most are uneducated, jobless and have low access to health care.
The children are the worst-affected. They suffer from bad food resulting in stunted growth and learning disabilities. Here, harsh words and rejection, hard work and abuse is the norm. They witness violence and sexual activity from an early age. They are the abandoned, throwaway children and families of the Philippines and the poor everywhere.
They eat less low-quality rice and a pinch of salt, a spoon of vegetables and seldom meat, if ever. The urban poor eat recycled leftovers from uneaten dinners from restaurants called “pagpag.” Their life is harsh, crude, rough and hopeless. Year after year, more children are born into dire poverty.
The children take to the streets to survive, to escape beatings, broken homes, hunger and survive by joining street gangs, sniffing industrial glue to block the pain of living without love, care, education and enduring a life of misery without a future. They are mostly innocent children aged from 10 to 15 years old and while not criminally liable for misdemeanors are nevertheless arrested for being homeless street children. They are jailed illegally and suffer beatings and “slavery” to other older inmates, sexual abuse and life in an empty cell. Children commit only two percent of all crimes in the Philippines.
Their alleged survival strategies, petty theft and drug use, are not crimes but an unconscious response to live, and they endure injustice, greed and selfishness of society that condemns them as criminals and does little to change their dire situation. They are the first line victims of a Philippine economy dominated by a tiny rich elite where an estimated some .00001 percent own as much as 70 percent of the national wealth. They are part of a globalized world economy that creates dire poverty for hundreds of millions.
The inequality grows greater with the globalization of the world economy. Corporations are moving production to poorer countries that allow the lowest wages and overhead costs. They frequently have sweetheart deals with politicians and pay bribes to get ahead with illegal transactions. The rule of the rich, through dynastic families keeps the poor very poor, uneducated, and jobless.
According to Oxfam research, the inequality is getting much worse. It is revealed that 82 percent of all the wealth created in the past 12 months (2018) went to the 1 percent of the world’s population amounting to few million people. Whereas, 3.7 billion impoverished people who make up the poorest half of humanity got nothing. They live in dire poverty, struggling to survive and stay alive. That’s the greatest inequality the world has ever known. The Philippines is among the most corrupt, according to Transparency International and among the greatest unequal countries of all where thousands of children marked as criminals are jailed.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.