THE HSBC's forecast on how many Filipinos will attain the exalted status of millionaires by the year 2030 is the kind of reportage that incentivizes readers to go on and read. Even paupers like me and my neighbors who have no hope whatsoever of joining that celebrated, coveted rank in our inconsequential lifetimes, have the incentive of reading about the coming surge in the number of Filipino millionaires, maybe for purely academic purposes. Remember that even the members of the 99 percent that participated in the "Occupy Wall Street" protests years ago in major US cities were not immune to wealth data voyeurism.
The rich are different from you and me, true. Despite the vast gap, the general public still wants to have some general idea of how rich the filthy rich are and how ordinary rich are those with ordinary riches. Even the man on the street in this nation of massive and intractable poverty has a general idea of who are the richest families in the country.
The HSBC forecast on the growing ranks of Filipino millionaires is largely a spin on the positive, a spin-a-win thing. For example, it said that the number of adult Filipinos with wealth of at least $250,000 would reach the 5 million mark by 2030 and 8.1 million by 2035. Last year, only 1.6 million adult Filipinos were reported to have had such wealth. At the superficial level, that is a win-win for a nation traditionally identified with backwardness and poverty.
In another data set, the bank said that adult Filipinos with wealth of at least $1 million would reach at least 400,000 by 2030 and 700,000 by 2035. Last year, only 100,000 adult Filipinos were found to possess wealth of $1 million or more.
The sense of celebration and euphoria over the number of millionaires "more than doubling" by 2030 and the number of dollar millionaires "quadrupling" that same year vanishes when you look at the same figures from the purview of population percentage.
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Even if the number of Filipino peso millionaires indeed scale the grand heights of 5 million by 2030 and 8.1 million by 2035, that would represent just 6.2 percent of the population by 2030 and 9.2 percent by 2035. All things considered, a base wealth of $250,000 may not be that impressive and — indicative of true millionaire status — in 2030, roughly eight years from now. By that time, that level of wealth may not even be enough to buy two luxury, all-options, SUVs of the "platinum" class. More so in 2035, roughly 13 years from now.
Even if a grand total of 400,000 adult Filipinos would accumulate wealth of $1 million or over by 2030, that would represent just 0.6 percent of the total population. The 700,000 that are expected to have wealth of $1 million and above by 2035 would represent just 0.8 percent of the total population. Do those figures represent real economic mobility and wealth that is broadly spread out and shared? No.
The figures suggest wealth will still be confined — as it is confined today — to a tiny sliver of the Philippine population. The dark reality of Philippine wealth and income distribution, in which the Top 1 percent sucks yearly income gains that represent 60 percent to 70 percent of the GDP, remains a depressing constant. Same old, same old story.
Reportage on wealth accumulation follows a familiar, disingenuous pattern. It almost always stresses on the Pollyanna, misses the poverty and economic immobility context and skips the dark underbelly of Philippine society, where close to 20 million people live below the poverty line, with many suffering from involuntary hunger. It obscures some hard truths. That immense wealth is confined to a very few families and the middle class can hardly be a functioning center — a center that fully discharges civic virtues. That economic mobility, stagnant from time immemorial, will probably stay that way through generations.
We see a repeat of this type of reportage, with barely any context and with the spin on the positive, on agricultural lending, specifically on how banks, from the banking giants to the rural banks and coop banks, meet the letter of the Agri-Agra Law. Under the law, banks should allot 15 percent of their yearly loanable funds to agriculture and the 10 percent to agrarian reform beneficiaries.
With regularity, the news reports would always stress on the increase in the loans made available by banks of all types and loan portfolio sizes to both agriculture and agrarian reform beneficiaries.
True to form, the news reports on the banking sector's compliance with the Agri-Agra Law mandate early this year, led with the 2021 total, a grand sum of P851.76 billion, up from the 2020 total Agri-Agra loans of P713.6 billion, the reports said.
But once you look deeper — it is always the obligation of a farmer like me to look deeper into Agri-Agra lending — you will find the depressing, unchanging truth, obscured by the seemingly positive figures. Total loans to agriculture for 2021 barely reached 10 percent of the required 15 percent. You will weep upon learning the percentage of the banks' loans to agrarian reform beneficiaries: not even 1 percent of the 10 percent mandated by law.
And through the past 50 years, that less than 1 percent compliance on loans extended to agrarian reform beneficiaries has been the norm. There were miraculous years when the total number of loans extended to agrarian reform beneficiaries breached the 1 percent mark. But even those rare years failed to move the average compliance beyond 1 percent.
The banks just merrily pay the fines, an average of P2 billion a year, for mocking and violating the law on agricultural lending.
This year, even with the promise of the new administration to pay attention to agriculture, there is zero chance of increasing the banking industry's lending to agriculture and agrarian reform beneficiaries. Moral suasion can't change the lending mindset of the banks. Why lend to losers and deadbeats when they can always deliver unsecured loans to the likes of Hanjin?