The Long View: Indefensible in Plaza Miranda


Indefensible in Plaza Miranda
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Last updated 01:17am (Mla time) 03/08/2007

President Ramon Magsaysay, whose 50th death anniversary is coming up, famously remarked, “Can we defend it in Plaza Miranda?” But then he was an activist president who was impatient with the idea of telling Juan de la Cruz to ape Juan Tamad - wait for the fruit to fall from the trees (or for economic benefits to trickle down from above).

He was also that old-fashioned kind of populist who leaped over fences, instead of raising them, to keep the common tao at arm’s length. But then, today, populism is a dirty word among those happily splashing about the shallow pool of our economy. Letting the people eat cake would be too generous. Let them sip from the gutter! How’s that for trickle-down?

Might as well take a cue from Orwell and change the noble words on the Cebu Provincial Capitol, from “The authority of the government emanates from the people,” to “The authority of the government eliminates the people.” Because, you know, as Madame Imeldific once said, “Some are smarter than others.” And some are too smart to engage in a debate before the vulgar herd, it seems.

Sergio Ortiz-Luis remarked on the ANC television channel the other day that his group’s offer to sponsor a debate in the Manila Hotel, the favorite haunt of Kampi party, makes more sense, because a debate in Plaza Miranda will be a security and logistical nightmare. Now, he’s basically a nice guy and I’m sure he didn’t mean to imply that Manila Mayor Lito Atienza isn’t capable of securing a public debate in the heart of his city. Otherwise, Ortiz-Luis’ group will owe Manilans an apology along the lines Iloilo City residents are demanding from whoever it was in the opposition who claimed their rally was cancelled because of a bomb threat.

Ortiz-Luis and company should be commended: their offer to host a debate demonstrates a high sense of civic consciousness on the part of businessmen who are generally allergic to politics and politicians – because politicians want to keep milking businessmen as if the latter are cows.

And certainly, Ortiz-Luis and company are entitled to their opinion that it makes more sense to hold the debate in the Manila Hotel. To my mind, if that’s as far as their comfort level will take them, they should go ahead and sponsor one – after all, the more debates there are, the better. Ortiz-Luis pointed out that the opposition has already told him they’d send at least three representatives to the Manila Hotel debate, so it’s not as if the opposition is frightened to face an audience of businessmen.

The scared-cats are in the administration, which blustered and bluffed, and after its bluff was called, have since been trying to dodge a debate. We should recall that the challenge to a debate was made by Presidential Chief of Staff Joey Salceda, after he got irritated by the opposition’s questioning the data the administration likes to trot out to support its claim that - whether Juan de la Cruz feels it or not - things are really super for the economy.

The opposition replied, sure, let’s debate it in Plaza Miranda. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita then waffled to buy time; but the problem is, the idea of a Plaza Miranda debate is an attractive one. And the best counter-offer - that of Ortiz-Luis and company - unfortunately reminds people of the Achilles heel of the administration: Its achievements might have made businessmen happy, but they’re only one sector of the broader electorate.

That electorate surely deserves a debate in which people like Solita Monsod, who has questioned both the administration’s claims and the opposition’s counter-claims, can ask hard questions. Both sides have no shortage of skillful debaters who can surely explain their side in a manner the layman can understand.

I, for one, would want to know if the administration senatorial slate believes Secretary Salceda’s 7-7-8 growth target is achievable; last Feb. 28, The Economist’s Economic Intelligence Unit forecast that “the fiscal deficit will continue to narrow, but the budget will remain in deficit in 2007-2008. Private consumption will continue to be the main driver of the economy, although GDP growth will slow slightly from 5.4 percent in 2006 to 5.3 percent in 2007 and 5.1 percent in 2008. Annual consumer price inflation will average 4 percent in 2007-08. Buoyant remittances from Filipinos working overseas will ensure that the current account remains in surplus.”

If The Economist thus concludes growth will slow down, perhaps the administration slate knows something foreign observers don’t know? And if so, please do share.

And I’d like to know what the administration and opposition have to say about David Llorito’s belief that the administration has been too busy playing “whack-a-mole,” that is, stamping out scandals of its own making, to really attend to what it claims it has been doing all along - forgoing politics and focusing on the economy. As Llorito puts it, “We could have achieved some more, probably on a par with our fast-growing neighbors, if only the government had been really attentive to the pulse of the economy.”

By way of proving his point, Llorito wrote that as far as the administration claim of an improved economy, “these are real gains, alright, but in truth Malacañang has little to do with it at all. A look at the national income accounts shows the country’s growth was largely driven by consumption financed by remittances, the rapid growth of cyberservices and the recovery in the export sector. The dynamics of these growth drivers have nothing to do with Palace occupants.”

Surely then, a debate on whether politics can ever be divorced from the economy, and whether claims of economic achievements are more than playing politics, deserves an open, public, debate!

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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