The signs are everywhere. Parents losing jobs and being economically displaced. Spending going down because what money people have is spent on food with not enough for medicine or education.

A recent study by Oxfam, a global organization that fights inequality that keeps people poor, showed how the coronavirus disease (Covid 19) pandemic is destroying lives. An Oxfam report released Friday, January 14, 2022, said that, across Asia, the pandemic “devastated lives and livelihoods, taking away 147 million jobs and pushing 148 million Asians into poverty.” But while most Asians are worse off, the region’s billionaires grew their wealth by US$1.46 trillion, leading to a staggering rise in inequality, it added.

Asia’s richest one percent now own more wealth than the poorest 90 percent, it said, and vulnerable groups such as women, ethnic and religious minorities, and migrant workers were worst affected as their incomes shrunk and their access to essential services was reduced. School closures have worsened the education divide with an estimated 10.45 million children dropping out of school. In the Philippines, as well as in Indonesia and Pakistan, the Oxfam report said 46 to 64 percent of households were unable to receive medical attention due to a lack of funds.

Now, compare that to Asia’s richest who were shielded from the impact of the pandemic and many even thrived. “The number of billionaires in the region grew from 803 in March 2020 to 1,087 in November 2021 and billionaires were able to grow their wealth by 74 percent. Some wealthy Asians even profiteered directly from the pandemic and there are 20 new Asian billionaires whose fortunes came from equipment, pharmaceuticals, and services needed for the pandemic response,” Oxfam said.

How do we correct this? The Oxfam report recommended that governments impose a wealth tax of two to five percent on Asia Pacific’s multi-millionaires and billionaires. This alone could raise an additional US$776.5 billion every year that would be enough to increase public spending on health in the region by 60 percent.

The House of Representatives is considering a wealth tax on Filipino billionaires under House Bill (HB) 10253. It proposes to charge a one percent tax for wealth above P1 billion, two percent for over P2 billion, and three percent when more than P3 billion.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III warned, however, that this new tax could result in capital flight and tax avoidance by the rich. But that consequence is a question of implementation of the law, not the imposition of a tax measure that would address the concerns of the majority.

Even the World Bank is calling on governments to assess the option of imposing a wealth tax following reports that the rich have become richer during the pandemic.

Legislators should pursue the House bill and not be sidetracked by threats to violate existing laws.