POSTSCRIPT / January 22, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Dismal options of RP voters: A trapo, gago or a berdugo?

FACED with a field of presidential aspirants dominated by Speaker Jose de Venecia, Vice President Joseph Estrada and Mayor Alfredo Lim, some dismayed voters want the ballot for the May elections to include an option for NOTA. That’s None Of The Above.

If you think that’s too deprecating a commentary, listen to another remark that we’re being made to choose from among a trapo, a gago and a berdugo. Aray!

Voting NOTA is different from a boycott or the staying away from the polls. A widespread boycott, by the way, is most unlikely because of the local candidates who will surely whip up the interest of their constituents.

A big turnout of the close to 40 million registered voters is expected, which speaks well for the participatory character of Philippines elections.

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NOW, a little good news. For more than a week now (I’m writing this Wednesday, Jan. 21), the peso has been steadily appreciating in relation to the US dollar.

The battered peso has been able to climb from P46:$1, where it languished after the Yule splurge, to today’s P41. Hold your breath and it may stay there. In fact, it may eventually crawl higher to P38.

The peso’s appreciation should be good news to you dollar-earners abroad even if you can now get fewer pesos for your greenbacks. What is good for good old Philippines should be good for overseas Filipino workers.

The Banko Sentral has been moving to prop up the peso. The banks, many of which were hoarding dollars, now seem to be cooperating. The central bank has also reportedly signed swap contracts with two foreign banks to support the peso.

The Monetary Board, the policy body of Banko Sentral, is also considering including exporters in the coverage of the central bank’s foreign exchange hedging facility. This is expected to bring in exporters to the rescue operation for the peso.

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BANKO Sentral Gov. Gabriel Singson noted that the peso is slowly “delinking” itself from the Indonesian rupiah and other wobbly regional currencies. The rupiah slid through the 10,000 per dollar level yesterday – a panicky situation that outweighed the positive move of merging several Indonesian banks.

The Monetary Board is considering moves to pull down prime lending rates to below 20 percent from the present 25-28 percent.

The proposals, suggested by bankers themselves, include the reopening of the central bank’s 30-day lending facility and its buying at market rates the Treasury bills holdings of the banks.

Prospects of exorbitant interest rates have scared land developers and other big borrowers, resulting in the slowdown of the realty business and related businesses in its wake. Rising rates will also hit small home mortgage borrowers whose banks raise the interest rate annually based on the prevailing lending rates.

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WITH the peso steadily gaining, plus other positive local and regional factors, the stock market has also bounced back, although many speculators are still stuck with overvalued stock bought before prices started to plunge.

“Everything has improved,” National Treasurer Caridad Valdehuesa tells the press. “The peso is appreciating, the stock market is up, and interest rates are down.”

The benchmark 91-day Treasury bill rate has fallen to 18.597 percent from the previous week’s 20.134. For the week, the 182-day rate has dropped to 20.428 from 21.808 percent; the 364-day rate to 21.892 from 23.625 percent.

Many bankers seem relieved. They report that liquidity has started to return to the banking system. Jittery depositors who had withdrawn their money from banks rumored to be in trouble have gone back.

But retail prices of many items, including essentials, have shot up. Even assuming that the peso stabilizes and interest rates are not raised to over 20 percent, it is doubtful if prices would still go down or that the thousands already laid off by distressed businesses will be rehired.

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WE have been excitedly telling kith and kin in the States to place their bets in our 6/45 megalotto since the elusive jackpot has swollen to some P140 million, or some $3.5 million, for the Jan. 21 draw. (If nobody wins it, it will still go up for the next draw set Jan. 24.)

Imagine the letdown when word got to us that the lottery jackpot was already $15 million in New York and $20 million in neighboring New Jersey. On hearing this, any Manila hustler could get inferiority complex.

Groping for a culprit for our continued economic plight, we don’t know if we should blame El Nino (now a favorite whipping boy here) or Indonesia’s 75-year-old Suharto who insists from his sickbed on running for a seventh five-year term.

Somebody should tell the strongman and his gang to stop dragging down the entire region with him.

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