POSTSCRIPT / November 20, 1997 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Parol: Blinking a merry Yule message thru economic smog

YES, it’s already Christmas in the Philippines. Ayala Avenue, the main street of the financial capital, is ablaze with wondrous lanterns and Yule decor. So are the hotels, department stores and even ongoing construction projects and humble hovels.

The famous San Fernando lanterns of kaleidoscopic colors are tirelessly blinking though the smoggy evening air. The parols have been edged out in a few places by clones and counterfeits designed outside Pampanga, but they still dominate the scene.

The early trotting out of the lanterns was suggested by President Ramos to help dispel a gathering feeling of economic gloom. The commander-in-chief’s suggestion sounded like an order, but when he told the people “Magsabit ng parol,” not a few replied “Asan ang pambili?”

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THOSE who were holding on to their greenbacks in anticipation of the peso falling to P40 to the dollar shortly before Christmas are now forced to take them out and line up at the crowded money changers for fewer pesos.

When the dollar kept creeping up, peaking at P35.85, not a few dollar-hoarders salivating for P40 held back. But the green bubble burst, and now hoarders have to live with just P33.10, the rate at the friendly neighborhood moneychanger.

The market militates against an exaggerated P40:$1 exchange rate. Those who have been holding back, most of them getting their dollars from family members working abroad, are forced to change now at whatever rate.

The market is thus flooded with OCW dollars, and the oversupply has forced the dollar to go lower.

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THE buying spree is fueled by bursts of calculated chismis of impending price increases. The logic is that merchants will jack up prices at the height of the pre-Christmas shopping. Better buy now, goes the panic-buying spiel.

But while prices of many major items have gone up, one stark exception is cars.

Dealers have spread word that with inflation and the devaluation of the peso, car prices will soon go up. But the old price tags are still there. One cannot squeeze blood from a stone. Wala talagang pambili ang mga tao.

In fact, the banks are having a headache with their pile of repossessed cars, mostly from salaried employees and real estate agents whose sales have suddenly dropped. Banks have made financing requirements more stringent, further slowing car sales.

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STILL on cars, the relative newcomer Honda has overtaken Toyota, which used to lead the field with its fleet sales and conversion of units into taxicabs. Honda’s newest offering is the CRV, a part-time four-wheel utility vehicle.

Toyota’s two-door RAV-4, smaller and more affordable than its muscle-bound Land Cruiser, has introduced a five-door version. Some buyers say the small frisky RAV4 beats parking and flood problems. But until now, not too many CRVs and RAV4s are seen around.

Utility vehicles are quite popular here, the pricey ones (especially those imported directly from the States) standing as status symbols. They are popular for weekend family outings.

Also newly introduced are the Musso utility vehicles carrying the Mercedes Benz name, but made in Korea. Like the old Volkswagens made in Brasilia, the Korean Mercedeses are cheaper than the German originals. The Mussos are priced from P1,325,000 for the 3.2-liter gasoline auto-transmission model to P1 million for the 2.9-liter diesel manual model.

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BY this time, you must have heard that:

  • The two-Sunday consultations of the Lakas-NUCD were aborted on the last day. The selection of the party’s presidential candidate was left to President Ramos, the titular party head. The lazy man’s analysis is that the move favored former Defense Secretary Renato de Villa, who is perceived to be favored by his boss the President. His rival, Speaker Jose de Venecia is conceded to have had the votes to win a convention. While he was earlier exuding confidence that Mr. Ramos would anoint him, De Venecia is saying lately that with or without endorsement by the President, he would still run.
  • Sen. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who had been topping popularity surveys and touted as the answer to the presidential bid of Vice President Joseph Estrada, had just been dragged down by charges that she hid her real property in San Francisco in violation of law. Her husband claimed that the property were not theirs but his brother’s, but the damage has been done. The influential Jaime Cardinal Sin has counseled Arroyo to abandon her presidential ambition because she is “just a woman” and quite inexperienced. The cardinal was roundly criticized for his sexist remarks.
  • Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, known crime-buster, is being pushed by his admirers in media, but he is still looking at this late date for a party to carry him. That basic handicap, plus the perception of a parochial perspective and a readiness to sweep way human rights, may frustrate his bid to capture Malacañang.
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