An anaylsis of Philippine underdevelopment

Manila, Philippines

Franco L. Babasa
12 min readJul 25, 2020


In the context of tax, agrarian reform and elitist governance, what went wrong in the process of progress that curiously leaves the orient pearl below sea level?

Behind the façade that has been established by the titular citation given by former World Bank (WB) country director Motoo Kinishi of being a “rising tiger” in Asia (Cheng, 2013), the Philippines is hindered by an unacknowledged state of underdevelopment. Such is driven by various issues, among which are conflicts involving agrarian reform, taxation issues and an elitist state of government — all which reflect evidently in the life of the normal Filipino.

At a time of controlled population and recent liberation from colonization, Higgins (1957, p. 169) has cited that the contemporary stability of the Philippine economy has been stabilized by its dependence on 40% national agricultural income, reiterating the fact that the economy of the Philippines is indeed highly dependent on agriculture. Such is further illustrated historically in the 11.6 million hectares recorded for crop plantations, and about 29 million dependents on it among the 73 million-strong national population in 1998 (Espino & Atienza, 2001).

The intertwinement of economy to the national policies involving agriculture cannot be denied and is compelled to further be expanded into discussion. The state recognized the importance of agriculture upon the ratification of Republic Act 6657, also known as the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), signed during the presidency of Corazon Aquino. In spite of this initiative, groups like that of Save Agrarian Reform Alliance still seek what was a supposed proper resolution to the decades-overdue problem of land acquisition (Carreon, 2018).

Aside from assimilating the status of national agriculture, the policies of taxation are also deemed vital in the development of the country. In even the most basic units of governance, the circulation and allocation of public funds are compelled to exist pursuant to making public services available. In this context, taxation is proven vital to governance (Africa, 2016).

However, there is an existing problem that needs to be resolved in the implementation of the curtailing guidelines on tax. Africa further reiterates that the program being implemented as of the moment is not the program the country needs. This program, referred to as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, has already been signed by incumbent president Rodrigo Roa Duterte. Its primary stipulations modify the Republic Act №8424, formally known as the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997, which are concerned with implemental reform in various tax sources among the citizens. Contrary to its perceived objective, the TRAIN Law is rather becoming a burden to the regular Filipino. This has been illustrated on the data released in the Consumer Price Index, where the bottom 30% income households was mentioned by the Philippine Statistics Authority as an all-time high of 8% inflation for the poorest has been recorded (Ordinario, 2018) .

All the aforementioned are encompassed in the jurisdiction of the Philippine government, which leads the implementation of the stated premises in the development promises of the country. Brillo (2011) specifies how the political mechanism in the country is driven by a certain concentration of a dominating collective — an elite group that stands supreme in the majority of the policy-making processes. Furthermore, Simbulan (1965) in Brillo (2011) also cites the power accumulated by the socioeconomic elite families in recollection of the resilient benefit each has acquired during the Spanish and American colonial period. This led to an elite-monopolized set of policies in which the politics of the country revolves in.

Mises (1919), while referring to the impact of war mechanisms as a shaping factor of the economy and state of Western nations, implies that if a general understanding of the impact of all the premises in the conflict is sought, distinctly taking into consideration one condition from the other in a subjective take with regards to the weight of its remote relation to the bigger picture must be avoided. In this context, this paper seeks to establish that the politicization of agrarian reform initiatives and implementing taxation guidelines as collectively curtailed by a constitution held to the favor of an elitist government are notably interassociating contributors of the underdevelopment of the Philippines which adversely reflects on other sectors of the country.

The status quo of agrarian reform

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program has already ended in 2014 during the presidential term of Benigno Aquino III, following its 30-year implementation which was supposedly a 10-year plan as instigated by his mother, former president Corazon Aquino, way back in 1988 (Business World Online, 2014). In spite of this, the latter Aquino administration reassured that any pending legal matters exceeding the expiration date of the law — which was on June 30 of the same year — shall still be entertained and carried out.

In a study by Ballesteros, Ancheta and Ramos (2017) for the Philippine Institute for Development Studies, 2.8 million agrarian beneficiaries have been recipient to over 4.8 million hectares of private and non-private agricultural land. In spite of this, certain groups are yet to acknowledge the full realization of the agrarian initiative as there are still calls for proper implementation of the land reform and fair deals in profit shares. A particular situation is the rift between a particular Galbert Jamora and business tycoon Danding Cojuangco, wherein the former mentioned that the latter pledged educational support in light of the disadvantageous annual ₱10,000 profit dividend, but has instead resisted with violent threats should initiatives to claiming the land be pursued (Rivas, 2018).

Presently, incumbent president Rodrigo Duterte publicly stated in a ceremonial distribution of Certificates of Land Ownership Awards that he mandates the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) to distribute government-owned lands, albeit not mentioning numbers of specifications. In spite of this, Duterte compels the inclusion of mountain areas to be subject to distribution to Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries (Presidential Communications Operations Office, 2019). In the said event, a total of 1,609 hectares situated in Negros Occidental were distributed. With the aforesaid pledge and among other statements reiterating wider pursuit of land reform (Unson, 2019), the president establishes anticipation of its realization.

The propriety of contemporary taxation guidelines

The country is in need of an overdue tax reform, as emphasized in an article written by Africa (2016) which explicates on the TRAIN Law. However, he further stresses that the path taken by the new implementation is not serving a projected outcome that benefits the development of the country as a whole. As stated in the introduction, the law is an amendment to the National Internal Revenue Code of 1997 which seeks to remove income tax from the low-earning working bracket. Africa also reiterated in the said paper that the stipulations appear to veer towards a “pro-rich neoliberal tax agenda”.

In a breakdown articulated by Del Rosario (2018), the law repeals the 5% tax rate sought from workers earning an annual income of not over ₱10,000. Therefore, it is expected that the poor is relieved of the burden of tax, leading to a higher keep in the income sustained. Yet, on the contrary, the implication of such initiative is evident on the implementation of excise taxes among staple everyday products, which in particular does not exempt those that suffices for the impoverished bracket. This is illustrated on the implemental reform on personal income tax, value added tax, documentary stamp tax, estate tax, donor’s tax, and excise taxes among vehicles, sweetened beverages, cosmetic procedures, mining, coal and tobacco.

The driver of an elitist government

The unacknowledged elitism of the governmental power in the Philippines has long been an existent matter subject to discussion. Buendia (1993, pp. 143–146) attributes this way back to the time of colonial application in the country, where the Filipino elite has held a critical role in the history of Philippine politics as it posed dual impositions of being a communicator of public sentiments while expanding opportunities as compromisers and capitalists. Such setting has been described by Brillo (2011) as an elitist centrality founded on a patron-client framework, where there is reciprocation between the two parties: the elites being the patrons, and the masses being the clients. During the time of Spaniard rule, the elitist collective served as a channel of the colonizers for the masses to submit to authority in the body of the pioneer seat of power held by Emilio Aguinaldo.

The elitist state of mind has rather evolved into omnipresence as such has not left Philippine politics and has additively transitioned into implementing policies that do not meet sufficiency for the poverty-struck bracket. During the time of Benigno Aquino III as chief executive, the Hacienda Luisita — a 6,453-hectare sugar plantation owned by the Cojuangco descendancy (FIAN International, n.d.) which Aquino is part of — has been ruled by the Supreme Court as subject to land reform. It must be noted that in this time, the impeachment of the chief justice who held the court in the decision was successfully impeached, leading to a legislative backbone to circumvent the grave impact on the stakeholders and the issue were similarly due years ago. Such is a contemporary illustration of elite dominance in the Philippine government to wit (Overholt, 2017).

Furthermore, the tax reform initiative TRAIN synthesizes the validation of how the economy of the country is molded by the ulterior agenda being pursued in an elitist politicization. Hutchcroft (1998) portrays the Philippine as inadequate of even being categorized between a laissez-faire or statist economic continuum — a gauge where developing countries are expected to qualify, citing how the demands of dominant oligarchic forces have rather prevailed as priority in spite of the dominance of private sectors in economic development. Such forces have been described as those who have the luxury of both wealth and position to attend to the demands of the masses, enabling a control of the government and its policy-making machinery (Brillo, 2011).

Hutchcroft has also stressed how the World Bank reiterated that mobilizing resources for public expenditures in education, health, nutrition, family planning and poverty alleviation, among various socioeconomic sectors, may stabilize the macroeconomic foundation of a country. The author pointed out how the Philippines has been poorly exhibiting initiative to provide public infrastructure and regulatory guidelines for administrative services. In spite of the education sector being the highest recipient of the budget allocation in the 2019 Proposed National Budget (Department of Budget and Management, 2019), it is apparent that the allocation is not felt. This has been implied in a press conference held by Alliance of Concerned Teachers, where its secretary-general Raymond Basilio reports through collected data that teachers still dwell on the usual problem of classroom and teacher deficiency (Mateo, 2018).

In addition, the low allocation of the national budget on the Department of Agriculture (Department of Budget and Management, 2019) contradicts the very fact that the Philippines is an agricultural country. Having a 1.7% decrease in the allocation implies a low priority of the primary industry the country is supposedly focusing on, as emphasized by Rodriguez (2015) through the Food and Agriculture Organization, in its recognition of the role of agriculture as a solution to various socioeconomic conflicts that could be addressed by it. In emphasis, the author also cites the Hacienda Luisita conflict as an example of how the country might be abundant in natural resources, but is ironically depriving of assets towards the impoverished working group who lack secure land tenure, modern technologies, or the very resources due — as observed by the United Nations Development Programme.

Potential solutions

In ideal yet logical retrospect, the basic resolve to begin with in addressing all the aforementioned issues is that of revisiting who agrarian reform is supposed to be for. As it has been stated verbatim in Section 2 of the CARP law (, 2006), it is the landless farmers and farm workers who are paramount in the advocation of genuine agrarian reform. Consequently, the stipulations for a future ratification of an agrarian reform law must explicitly be for the benefit of the aforesaid stakeholders and not of the private sector, in order to translate land acquisition to means of livelihood security and poverty alleviation (Guardian, 2003). Moreover, as Gavilan (2015) asserts that “the Philippines cannot achieve inclusive growth if its agriculture workers continue to be among the poorest”, the call to increase budget allocation and local investments for research on and further development of the agricultural sector is a compelling manner to diminish this conflict.

As for the implementing guidelines on tax, the government must also re-evaluate the implementation of excise taxes. In an international perspective, such taxes primarily cover products which are considered superfluous or unnecessary in daily living (, n.d.). However, the impoverished bracket of the country isare dependent on certain products like petroleum and basic sweetened beverages to make ends meet, both which are included in the coverage of the application of excises taxes under TRAIN Law (Bureau of Internal Revenue, n.d.). The adverse impact, particularly on the poor, must be thoroughly researched, and the law shall be subject to suspension at any time a critical need from the national economic situation seeks it to be.

On addressing the elitism of the government past and present, the citizens must comprehend how to veer away from the patron-client construct and redefine governance by letting them acknowledge the challenges presented by the poor against the elite — hence, a contested democracy (Brillo, 2011). It is by recognizing such concern of a third-world country whose development is dragged by unalleviated poverty that the projected development may pave its way slowly into fruition.

All things considered, the initiatives that would lead to progress critically lies under the collective jurisdiction of the Filipino people, to either build or break those initiatives towards developing as a country. As Buendia (1993) cites Hans Kohn (1961), it is only by the determination — the “living and corporate will” of the people — to live united in a definite and definable goal which will truly build a nation, paving the way towards a genuinely developed Philippines.


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Franco L. Babasa

22 · Multimedia Artist from Bulacan, PHL