By JUSTIN UMALI/BULATLAT.COM
Crises are always unpredictable regardless of preparation. The current Taal eruption has given us multiple stories – haphazard responses from the national government, heartwarming acts of kindness, and heartbreaking tales of animals left behind in the evacuation.
But none are as infuriating as reports businesses, and corporations putting their personal profit above the needs and safety of other people.
One example is how retailers bumped up the price of face masks in light of the ash fall. Old prices of P25-50 suddenly spiked to P200, P300, or even P500 in a single day. Even regular cloth face masks, which usually sell for far less, have risen to what can only be described as criminal levels.
It’s easy to dismiss this behavior as “the law of supply and demand” in action, implying that it is as natural as the next sunrise. But the truth of the matter is that “supply and demand”, and the profit-driven force behind it, is anything but natural.
What this is, in simple terms, is disaster capitalism: the commodification of crisis in order to generate greater profits. What others would call “supply and demand” is actually sellers preying on fear, anxiety, and sometimes even safety in order to generate profit.
Disaster capitalism goes beyond retail. Despite laws meant to protect worker occupational safety and health, call center agents from BPO firms in Santa Rosa and Tagaytay had to brave harsh winds and dangerous ashfall as they were required to report for work.
Other companies don’t fare better. Some are allowing their employees to work from home, essentially profiting from their workers’ labor-power while putting the burden of other costs on them: electricity, water, food, and so on.
The less than stellar government response also reeks of greed. The Duterte administration is more than happy to slash as much as 11 billion pesos off the calamity fund, while the Department of Interior and Local Government conducts itself like an NGO by calling for donations during times of crisis. The Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, is offering a P25,000 loan to fishermen affected by the eruption while the President pledges a P50,000 bonus for birthday celebrants in the Marines.
Because at its core, disaster capitalism isn’t just retailers engaging in price gouging. It is an entire system that dehumanizes human suffering and puts a premium on increasing profit margins. Beyond commodifying crisis, disaster capitalism extends to prioritizing capital over rights, safety, and other needs.
It is a foreign BPO firm, stubbornly refusing to give their workers a day off despite heavy ash fall. It is the modern worker, taking false pride in their ability to brave the weather and declare themselves “weatherproof”. It is the government, dangling loans to the poor while the military who kills them gets a bonus.
Disaster capitalism is a disaster of capitalism, because it exposes the ruling class’ lack of interest in affairs that don’t affect them. No landlord lives in the Taal volcano island; only tourist guides, tilapia farmers, and horses.
It thus falls on the people to unite against this disaster. While corporations count their earnings for the day, the urban poor have elected to give what little they have in the name of humanitarian aid. Students, professionals, and workers from all over the nation are organizing relief operations while the DILG and DSWD sit on their thumbs.
Even the Communist Party of the Philippines, and the people’s democratic government in the countryside it represents, has tasked its members and all revolutionary mass organizations to assist in relief efforts where needed.
Stories like these make it clear who serves who. Big businesses and out of touch government officials care only about their own needs. It is the people – the street vendors, the urban poor, the students and workers providing relief, the guerrillas in the countryside, and everybody else, who serve the needs of those who need it most.
Because “serve the people” must, and will only, come from the people themselves. # nordis.net