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Avoiding the evil of consumerism

Part 3

Even for those with very high incomes (earning P100,000 monthly income or more) a possible motive to curb excessive spending on unnecessary consumer goods should be the continuing spectacle of millions of Filipinos suffering from dehumanizing poverty.  The target of reducing the poverty incidence to 14 per cent of the population by 2022 will be hard to meet because of the damage done by the pandemic to many Philippine industries, especially to the job-rich sectors like travel and tourism, retailing. transport and the related SME sectors.  Unfortunately, the consecutive lockdowns implemented by the Philippine Government, considered the strictest in the world, have exacted the heaviest toll on the poorest segments of Philippine society.  As economist Nick Poblador wrote in the column “Mapping the Future” in the Inquirer (August 17, 2020):  “Existing survey data shows that nearly four out of every five households earning monthly incomes of under P9,500 have lost jobs due to the imposition of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ).  By some estimate, this gruesome figure translates to anywhere between 4 and 5 million unemployed.  A good number of these have no visible sources of income whatsoever and have to rely on dole outs for their day-to-day existence… By contrast, only one-third of households earning between P9,500 and P190,000 suffered a similar fate, many of whom are able to adapt either by working from home or by availing themselves of alternative employment opportunities…We surmise that the most affluent in our society, the so-called 0.1 percent, have remained relatively safe and untouched by the pandemic.  Compare this to with the dismal situation faced by the 10 percent at the opposite end of the economic spectrum, those who are living in abject poverty and suffering under untold conditions of extreme uncertainty and insecurity in regard to their material, physical and psychological well-being.”       

 Given this very unfortunate situation resulting from the response of the Government to the pandemic, a minimum sense of solidarity or preferential option for the poor should motivate those with excess income to curb their overspending on unnecessary items so that they can channel their surplus income to charitable works that directly alleviate the sufferings of the poorest Filipinos.  For example, money saved from millions of pesos otherwise spent on lavish celebrations for weddings, birthday parties, and world cruises could be channeled to putting up food banks to feed the hungry, scholarship funds for the children of the poor, and medical clinics for the marginalized.   The rich should be reminded of their obligation to spend their surplus income on improving the material conditions of the poor. For Christians at least, the corporal works of mercy are not optional but obligations imposed by the highest command of Charity.

Each well-to-do family should really start by practicing charity towards those closest to them:   the families of their drivers, household helpers, gardeners, their barbers, beauty parlor operators, neighborhood peddlers of miscellaneous items, and sundry suppliers of various services with whom they have done business in the past.   Whatever have been saved by upper-middle income, upper income (but not rich) and rich families, as enumerated in a study of economists of the Philippine Institute of Development Studies (PIDS) , from reduced spending on lavish parties, luxurious goods and other items of conspicuous consumption during the pandemic could be used to help some of these hapless economic victims of the  pandemic survive in the coming months until some recovery is made possible.  These affluent families can also make donations to the many philanthropic  organizations such as food banks, orphanages, parish organizations engaged in helping the poor such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society,  Caritas, etc.  The prompt response of the adults in these well-to-do households can give a very good example to their children who should be taught to be concerned about  the poor from earliest childhood.

The avoidance of a consumerist culture should be nurtured as early as possible in the upbringing of the next generation of  Filipinos.  The hardships brought by the pandemic even among many well-to-do Filipinos remind me of what those of us who spent our childhood during the Japanese occupation saw in the behavior of our parents and other elders in our households.  I remember that as children, we were told not to leave even a single grain of  rice on our plates after eating.  The “clean plate” policy that China and some countries are now implementing to guarantee food security was actually a practice I remember  as a child.  We had a spinster aunt who would give us children a real thrashing if we left some food on our plate.  We had to make sure that we would get only the appropriate amount of food which we could consume at any given meal.  This practice in the home should be complemented by what some food banks today have convinced food manufacturers and retailers to do:  to contribute their Soon to Expire (SOTEX) food products or their surplus dishes at any given day to a food bank that would take are of collecting these surplus food items and distributing them to orphanages, prisons, feeding clinics, public schools and other agencies or institutions that are engaged in feeding the hungry, the very first corporal work of mercy.

 I would apply  a similar strategy to the surplus clothes of well-to-do families.  As Pope Francis was quoted above, upper-middle income and high-income people are advised to look at their closets from to time.  Inevitably, they will discover all types of clothing items and shoes that they have not used for ages but are just accumulating in their wardrobes.  They should gather these obviously superfluous clothes and  send them to parish organizations and other charitable institutions directly in touch with poor families.  In fact, it would be a good practice for married couples, once there is more freedom of movement after all the lockdowns, to bring their children with them to visit some of the poor households in the slum areas of urban centers to spend some time conversing with them and leaving some food and other gift items especially for the children of the poor.  This direct contact of children from the well-to-do families  with the deplorable conditions of poor households can help to nurture in their hearts and minds a desire to  help eradicate poverty when they grow up.  Seeing the plight of the poor could help to minimize, if not totally eradicate, the tendency towards consumerism among the economically well-endowed members of Philippine society.  As early as possible, children should be taught that the preferential option for the poor is a moral obligation for  all those fortunate enough to have more than they need to live comfortably. In this regard, I always remember what St. Josemaria Escriva, the modern saint who taught most about the proper upbringing of children, that parents—no matter how rich—should always keep their children a little short of the money they ask for so that they will appreciate the value of earning their own keep and do not turn out to be spoiled brats.

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Source: Manila Bulletin (

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