Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Mr. Anonymous writes back in regard to my letter to columnist John Mangun:

“I agree wholeheartedly with your take on the "Filipino psyche". But I think I do not agree with your blanket statement that businessmen are exploiters of the masses. I think the law of supply and demand of labor dictates why the wages are at the levels where they're at. One must realize that there are not enough jobs out there right now and therefore, many people queue up for these jobs. Unfortunately, in addition to what you mentioned regarding the extreme self interest nature of the Filipino is the related observation that they want to get rich quick. Businessmen, by their very nature, are in business to make a profit. If the labor component is abundant, it is quite understandable that the labor component will be less expensive per unit. What I think should really happen is a sacrifice on the part of the population re minimum wage in order to increase the number of jobs available as what happened to Vietnam and China. Only when abundant jobs become available and the labor markets are tight then can labor price move up. AT this time,m when labor unemployment is probably at around 10% at he minimum, no amount of minimum wage increase will do anything. It will just feed inflation and in the end, we're just playing a shell game.I do undertstand that there's a humanity component to the argument but guess what, it's because we are too humane and not willing to do what is right that brought us to this situation in the first place. Lagi tayong naawa sa mga tao. I know it's harsh to say this buyt that's what it really takes to get us out of the hole we're in.”

Thank you for your comment, Mr. Anonymous. However, if you read carefully my article in question, you will find that I never made any "blanket statement that businessmen are exploiters of the masses." I wrote no such thing. I did, however, criticize a particular business sector---the Makati business leaders—for rejecting a wage hike out of sheer spite. I find their particular business views not only hate-filled, but also hypocritical and extremely selfish. For example, they were one of the loudest ones in calling for a 12% VAT on the general public, mainly because they could pass this on to consumers. But when the government called, in the same spirit as the 12% VAT, for a new business tax on private companies---something they could not pass on to the buying public---they cried foul and whimpered about how this was going to ruin the business climate, frighten away foreign investment, blah blah blah and all the other self-serving arguments they could think of.

I am not anti-business, per se. I am a businessman myself, Mr. Anonymous, so I do understand that businessmen need to make a profit. But what I'm pointing out is that business and the need to profit is not the end-all and be-all of the universe. Only two things motivate mankind, Mr. Anonymous. One is the need to benefit, and for businessmen this is expressed mainly by the need to profit. The other is the fear of death. In this aspect, it is nature's law, the law of the jungle, that is manifest, and as long as man is an animal, this factor will always remain unchanged, no matter how much civilization seeks to suppress it.

Let's simplify this further and apply it to the present subject. On the one hand, as you said, businessmen need to make a profit. On the other hand, people need to eat, or they will die if they don't. Now, when businessmen don't profit, they simply close their businesses after recovering what they can, and look for opportunities elsewhere. But when people have no money to buy food, do you think they will simply stop eating? Of course not! If they have to, starving people will take what they need without paying for it, and will even kill any businessman who gets in their way.

In fact, this is what keeps employers paying their employees salaries, because if they didn't, rioting and anarchy would be the next result. Quite true is the observation that if businessmen could get away with it, they wouldn’t pay their employees anything at all for their labors. Don't believe this can happen? Read about the slave labor economy in the American South in the 19th century. This is why responsible governments step in with their regulatory powers and require the business sector to pay minimum wages, so that it doesn't become a matter of supply and demand for laborers, and that there is a balance between the need to profit and the need to prevent social disorder and anarchy.

It has happened in the past that businessmen were so greedy in profit-making that they let the population suffer, and provoked a violent and bloody revolution as a result. This will happen no matter how much businessmen pay law enforcers and the government to maintain order. I already mentioned what happened in France in 1790, when the French royalty and their business elite exploited the masses into starvation, and when Queen Marie Antoinette was informed about it, famously and insensitively said: "Let them eat cake!" The French Revolution was the result, and along with the King and Queen of France, many elite businessmen went to the guillotine in front of cheering mobs of ordinary French citizens. Was that what you wanted to happen here in the Philippines?

In fact, this was also what provoked the communist revolutions in both Vietnam and China, the two countries you wanted us to emulate, as per labor wages. After the Chinese communist victory in 1949, hundreds of thousands of Chinese businessmen, along with millions of other "reactionary" citizens like intellectuals and even ordinary city folk, were taken to the fields and shot. In Vietnam, even before the North Vietnamese victory over the US in 1975, they and the Vietcong were already massacring affluent Vietnamese citizens wherever they could, like Hue City in 1968. In Russia after Lenin's 1918 victory, the same thing happened. In Cuba in 1960, the same thing. Even the famous killing fields in Cambodia were done mainly to kill Cambodia's business elite, in the name of communism. Again, was that what you wanted to happen here?

You mentioned China and Vietnam, in their "sacrifice on the part of the population re: minimum wage in order to increase the number of jobs available". You must not be a great believer in democracy for the Filipinos, Mr. Anonymous. These two countries sacrificed their minimum wages, all right, but it wasn't their people who ordered the sacrifice, it was their governments.
Their people never had any say on whether they should sacrifice their minimum wages; in fact their people don't have any say on anything. You must remember that these are communist, totalitarian countries in which the people have no rights of any kind. There's no human rights, no free press, no free religion, no freedom of any kind. The government speaks, the people follow, tapos, and if they want to cut their labor wages, or even eliminate them entirely, then they will do it, and they are ready to kill millions of their own people if their orders aren't followed. Was that also what you wanted for the Philippines? Because that's the only way we can compete with their low labor prices, which is why they attract all the foreign investment.

As for the favorable business climates in both these countries, I am not impressed by that. If there are favorable business climates in both China and Vietnam, it is only because it is in the selfish interests of their governments to promote such things. Ever notice that the majority of businesses in China are state industries? All this business talk about the economic miracle of both these countries combining capitalist policies with communist administration is bullshit, because if the business sector were to threaten the stability of the communist regimes of both these countries, then you can rest assured that these communist regimes will start cracking down hard, and even executing businessmen, as they have done in the past.

You may object to that P125 minimum wage, Mr.Anonymous, but that is the figure that has been determined by various social agencies, both local and international, to be the minimum requirement for a poor Filipino family to be able to afford three meals a day, decent housing and decent education. The lesser that Filipino businessmen pay their workers, and the further away from that P125 figure we are, the greater the risk in provoking a violent revolution, one that our own local NPA communists may exploit in overthrowing our democratic government.

Plus, there are ways of granting that P125 minimum wage that need not be inflationary. Congress recently came up with a version that spared the business sector from paying the brunt of that minimum wage. Their plan called for sensible income tax credits to make up a sizeable portion of that amount. In that area the business sector can do a lot in using their clout to convince the government to shoulder more of the burden in providing this minimum wage. So why is the business sector still opposing a legislated minimum wage and insisting on regional wage boards? I'll tell you why, and let's cut the crap about regional wage boards being the best determiners of local living conditions to set wages with. The business sector wants the regional wage boards because these are the ones that businessmen can bribe.

To reiterate, I never wrote any blanket statement that businessmen are exploiters of the masses. I was merely pointing out the common habits of many businessmen---and this you cannot deny---such as paying their employees barely enough just to keep them coming back to work. I know this because I've experienced this myself. But, to tell the truth, when I read letters like yours, it almost makes me wish I had written a blanket condemnation of businessmen. Because it's merciless and insensitive advocacies like yours that give most Filipino businessmen a bad name.

And as for the humane component, or lack of it, I'd go a little easy on it if I were you. We may need a little self-discipline and a lot less "Lagi tayong naawa sa mga tao", but we must never lose sight of the fact that we are human beings first, loyal Filipinos second, and astute businessmen a distant third. And no, I don't accept that the sole fact that lack of humanity is only what it takes to get us out of the hole we're in, because the United States was in our predicament 70 years ago, and they managed to dig themselves out of that hole, yet retain their human compassion. We should remember that if wala kang awa sa ibang tao, then, wala rin silang awa sa iyo. And that could be a problem later on, because you'll never know but that one day you might need a bit of human kindness. It's in short supply, as it is.