I can only give you my view as to why I’m skeptical, or at the very least, not totally entranced by, the government’s claims of economic achievements. It’s a view based simply on what people tell me, not just in Metro Manila but in the provinces I’ve visited. What they tell me is this: the reason enrollment in the private schools is down isn’t always because the public schools are better. It’s because they’re almost free.
In his column yesterday, Manuel Buencamino clearly demonstrates why -to borrow a phrase used by Solita Monsod, who was referring to the government’s pleasure with the strong peso- campaigning on the economy can be a double-edged sword. Let’s assume that for most voters, economics is Quantum Physics -barely comprehensible. If you try to boil down the message for the masses -“the peso is strong, the stockmarket is high, investments are up,” then you are essentially asking people to believe you and trust in you.
But as Buencamino points out, if you get caught fudging the numbers (you can halve the number of classroom-less kids by simply stuffing in twice as many kids into existing classrooms), or tinkering with them (you can seriously reduce poverty by redefining who gets to be classified as poor), then the grounds for trust, the incentive for faith, gets eroded.
Thus, you trumpet the stock market going for strength to strength, and when news comes that’s suffered a reverse, the cognoscenti will know that every set back presents an opportunity, but in a society where activity in the market isn’t prevalent, how do you look anything but vulnerable?
Yesterday’s plunge in the stock market –the biggest one-day drop in nine years (January 9, 1998 to be exact, and the biggest monthly decline since March 2005)- had the President making a point of being chirpy, while inspiring this curious quote from a trader:
“The sell-offs on the US and China markets have caused worldwide jitters. This is definitely a good reality check and for the Philippine market, it’s the major correction that we have been waiting for,” said Astro del Castillo at First Grade Holdings Inc.
So the question is this. Does this mean there was too much hype, and that the drop in the market reflects where the market should really be? Overseas, markets continue to “wobble” though bargain-hunting has begun in the local bourse. One thing though: the government unloaded its PLDT shares in the nick of time.
Joey Salceda’s instinct, to face the opposition’s claim that its statistics are either fabricated or misleading, was correct: let’s dispute the data in an open debate. The problem is, the Palace began waffling and dodging the challenge of a debate. Perhaps the Palace propagandists believe that the middle- and upper-class message of “everything’s hunky dory and it will eventually trickle down,” isn’t a good one when dealing with a mass audience. Jove Francisco in his blog shows one of the reasons why: a government that has the President roving neighborhoods handing out relief goods (just because there isn’t a calamity doesn’t mean handouts aren’t relief) obviously knows the trickle-down isn’t a function of the market, it’s still the job of the patronage politicians.
To be sure, we aren’t where we were in the Erap years, and for quite a few people, things are better now, than then. IT and construction are two industries that are pretty happy: jobs continue to be created, investments are being made, there’s a building boom, as Lucio Tan’s expansion into real estate proves. The malls and their owners seem pretty content. I’d add another group: smugglers are delighted with the situation and ironically, the consumer is probably happy with the cheap goods that get smuggled in. Add, too, drug dealers, who also do well when smuggling is widespread.
A minimum of professionalism, then, characterizes the administration of the government. But a tremendous opportunity is being lost by the President’s instinctive attitude to fixing problems: to buy support. The rattles she throws at the political class to keep it distracted -Charter Change, etc.- are very expensive and ultimately futile playthings.
Meanwhile, aside from coddling the big players (political and economic), and pandering to the masses while ultimately relying on the pandering to keep them quiet but not appreciably make them more independent or self-reliant, the middle and the opportunities that could be theirs gets the squeeze. A case in point is where government could do more for the furniture industry.
BusinessWorld, which unfortunately doesn’t have Monsod’s interesting column online (she argues the opposition is wrong in claiming there haven’t been any economic gains since the Estrada years, but that the administration has some explaining to do about its statistics), also has a report (p.6 S1) on the local furniture industry (“Furniture makers struggle to survive,” by Marites S. Villamor and Kristine L. Alave):
The local furniture industry does not expect to recover this year from the past six years of contracting revenues, amid a persisting strong peso, lack of industry cohesion, and increasing competition from neighbors which manufacture cheaper furniture copied from local designers…
CFIP data showed furniture export growth has dropped at least 7% yearly since 2000. The industry posted about $300 million in export revenues in 2005 from $420 in 2000 -quite small compared with new entrant Vietnam, which earned about $1 billion in 2005 alone….
The entire industry employs around 80,000 people directly and 140,000 indirectly…
First among industry woes is expensive inputs.. inputs sourced locally are 30% to 50% more expensive than those from China… more and more Philippine furniture makers have resorted to just importing raw materials from China like paint, abrasives, beads and fashion accessories, and wrought iron… “We can’t increase prices because the peso is stronger and our production cost is higher” [an industry member said]…
…[Also there’s a] “gap” between good Filipino designs and poor production efficiencies… Philippine furniture makers have to contend with inefficiencies in production, high electricity price and high wages…
To top it all, it does not help that industry efforts are disjointed.
But the opportunities for asking tough questions are narrowing, for now. If the Comelec proceeds by granting dominant minority party status to Kampi, a distinction traditionally given the leading opposition party (and not to a coalition partner of the administration of the day), I don’t know how anyone will be able to ignore the attractiveness of simply boycotting the elections.
My column for today is How it works.
In his column, Lito Banayo does a masterly analysis of the voter’s preference survey in Manila, extrapolating how it might reflect voter preferences in Mega and not just Metro, Manila (in crunching and interpreting the numbers, analysts like Banayo have to be pretty objective in identifying existing strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for gain).
Gail Ilagan in her column, describes the pleasures and the value of academic conferences.
In the blogosphere, RG Cruz looks into emerging news on the local races. katataspulong also takes an interesting look at the dynamics surrounding the national vs. provincial campaigns. james cartmire thinks the opposition’s being too negative.
Behind the Clouds has something interesting to say about some popular attitudes towards politicians and politics.
I wish I could read the entry in Meretas Pemekiran which quotes Sukarno quoting Quezon. Perhaps Visayan readers can tell me if Bahasa is easier for them to read?