The government’s Social Amelioration Program aims to help poor Filipinos during the Enhanced Community Quarantine period, as the nation grapples with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdown, which has been extended to April 30 and which the President says will not be lifted until there is an available cure to the disease, has disrupted economic activity and consequently the livelihood of millions.
In theory, aid to the poor is a just and commendable undertaking, assuming it is implemented well and that the help reaches all intended beneficiaries.
On social media, unfortunately, the issue had bred gross misrepresentation, generalization, exaggeration and undue acrimony between the middle class and the poor and destitute.
According to the Philippine Institute of Development Studies, “middle class” is a broad spectrum that covers families that earn between P19,000 and P114,000 every month. Within this category, a family can either be lower middle class (P19,040 to P38,080), middle middle class (P38,080 to P66,640) or upper middle class (P66,640 to P114,240).
Other organizations have slightly different reckonings, but the general range is similar.
The assumption is that members of the middle class are gainfully employed, can provide for the family’s basic needs, and, most importantly, are conscientious taxpayers.
Those immensely better off than the middle class cough up a relatively smaller portion of their wealth to the government in taxes, if they even pay correctly in the first place. Those who earn less than the middle class most likely do not pay any taxes, being part of the underground economy if they even have jobs to begin with.
It is on this premise that some taxpayers begrudge the help given to the poor, or at least wonder why they don’t also get the same assistance from the government—using the very funds they contribute—when they work very hard and risk their health and safety just to earn a living. On social media, they say the poor are indolent and content to be mendicants, used to not working for anything and yet demanding much from the government.
Meanwhile, taxpayers are depicted as selfish, quick to judge and lacking in compassion, just because they are able to enjoy a few more comforts that others cannot.
This binary, simplistic thinking will not do anybody any good—not during ordinary times, and most certainly not during a medical and economic emergency. Such talk only fuels division and resentment.
It is true that those working in the formal economy are hardworking and goal-oriented. They want to help those less fortunate. They know it is their right to scrutinize where their taxes go and expect the government to be working in their interest—just as it is also true that some are conspicuous in their consumption, blind (nay, foolish) in their privilege, and indifferent to the plight of others.
On the other hand, many poor Filipinos are born into poverty without the advantages and opportunities enjoyed by the middle class. They have to break insurmountable barriers just to be able to get a fair chance at success. It is true that some have unfortunately come to rely on external help to get by—but this is likely a personal quality, not the behavior of a class. Many more want to advance in life through self-improvement and hard work.
The enemy is not the other class. The enemy is a virus that is deadly however unseen. We should not fall into the trap of obsessing over what we are not getting and resenting others who have it. Instead we should focus on ensuring that everyone has enough as we sit out these trying times.