POSTSCRIPT / October 9, 1997 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Rumor: Peso skidding to P40:$1 Fact: War clouds over Mindanao

RUMOR, an informal ‑ yet powerful ‑ market force in the Philippines, is helping pull the peso down. Everybody is talking of a P40:$1 exchange rate around Christmas and the gossip is contributing to the rising demand for greenbacks. It is now P36 to the dollar, and still rising.

Despite the promise of more pesos for those who can delay converting their dollars, the lines at the money changer counter at SM malls are growing longer. Apparently, the plain folk clutching dollars from their kin working abroad cannot wait.

SM clients are rewarded with an exchange rate that is some 20 centavos higher than one can find outside SM. Is Shoemart’s Henry Sy piling a dollar hoard or is SM just helping the Banko Sentral mop up the dollars falling from the sky?

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YOU guys working abroad for the Yankee dollar better not rejoice yet, because whatever gains you may have chalked up might be eaten up by inflation. You now get more pesos for your dollars, but you or your relatives back home will spend more pesos because of rising prices.

Despite valiant attempts of financial managers to rein in prices, rumors (again) have it that inflation will hit double digit by the time Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer comes dashing through the lahar down here.

The same rumors of imminent price increases trigger panic buying, raising demand, and therefore raising prices in a vicious circle.

It doesn’t help any that with the dawning of the political season, we are now caught in a blizzard of ugly (mostly baseless) rumors about the economy.

* * *

POOR President Ramos is visibly aging faster as he wards off the slings and arrows of political misfortune.

Despite his repeated disavowals of any desire to stay beyond 1998, his critics have refused to let the issue rest. They see in his every word and action some hidden political agenda that would keep him in the Palace longer than what the Constitution permits.

The erosion of the President’s credibility is hurting the economy and everything else.

To the slap of the tandem of Jaime Cardinal Sin and former President Cory Aquino, the President had turned the other cheek, then the other. It seems that it is no longer Fidel V. Ramos that is under siege but the presidency itself.

* * *

WITH the presidency and not just the President himself under attack, there is the inevitable passing of the buck around the Palace.

The cabal around the President points to Press Secretary Hector Villanueva for what they said is his failure to paint a rosy picture of the state of the nation and communicate the many virtues of the Ramos administration. They are already floating the name of one of their favorite media hacks (a columnist) as a worthy replacement for the beleaguered press secretary.

Villanueva’s work is not made any easier by the bad habit of some of the President’s gofers to speak out of turn for the boss.

The irony is that after some Ramos boys misjudge public temper and whisper self-serving advice to the President (“You are indispensable… there is a clamor… we can force charter amendments to lift term limits….”), these often backfire.

And poor Villanueva is then called upon to do a fireman’s job.

The Press Secretary has the unenviable job of marketing a presidency tarnished by the careless antics of people around the President. The presidential spokesman is even elbowed out by others presuming also to talk for the President.

* * *

WITH charter changes to lift term limits progressively becoming a remote possibility, the Palace may be mobilizing to play its last card. Or so some critics are saying.

The focus is turning toward Mindanao, a powder keg that may yet blast hopes for an orderly election in 1998 and the turnover of executive power to the new elected president.

With the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari having been collaborating with the Ramos administration, another armed secessionist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, has taken the MNLF’s place as troublemaker in Mindanao.

Manila papers run big pictures of firing squad executions by MILF gunmen of persons who they said had been convicted in Lanao by Shariah courts run by the MILF. The police and the armed forces could only watch helplessly.

An MILF spokesman has served notice that the rebel group does not recognize the Philippine Constitution or the authority and jurisdiction of the government over Mindanao, the Bangsamoro and the natives of Mindanao.

“In other words,” the spokesman stressed, “The Bangsamoro people have a separate government and recognize the authority of the MILF over them.”

Shades of war ‑ and of a crisis that could justify the suspension of elections and the holdover of the Ramos regime!

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