POSTSCRIPT / September 3, 1998 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Where are the jobs promised by Erap?

THE peso has been trading lately at P43:$1 at money shops while the regional pressures that had pulled it down are still very much around. Will the battered peso drop further to P45:$1?

Yes is more likely than no, although nobody can make a forecast with certainty.

But whatever is in the offing, a visit to shopping malls, restaurants and supermarkets shows that not that many people have been shopping and eating out lately. Even the specter of rising prices does not seem to stampede people into rush purchases.

The obvious reason for the depressed market is that many people do not want to spend their dwindling income for expenses that can be postponed. In fact, a growing number of people have no jobs at all.

* * *

TWO months into his first year, President Estrada has not presented any concrete program to create the jobs that he had promised the masses. It seems that while his handlers were writing his campaign platform and raising expectations, they forgot to put together workable programs to flesh out his plans if elected.

The government itself places unemployment at 13 percent of the available work force, compared to 10 percent last December. Counting the idle warm bodies, they would number 4.3 million.

We can no longer rely on factories to provide employment, because the opposite is happening: plants are shutting down and foreign investors are pulling out.

Some people in government are talking vaguely of some massive countryside employment program, but we still have to see even the outline of the alleged elephant under the black sheet.

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THE bright idea is reportedly like the EEA (Emergency Employment Administration) program of long ago, before martial law, that armed idle hands with pick and shovel, with broom and stick, to go through the motions of working on some giant government project.

Graphically, this means that if we want to dig the equivalent of the Panama Canal across that thin strip in Quezon to connect the Pacific and the China Sea, we would not use the behemoth machines of modern engineering. Instead, we would throw thousands of workers to claw away at the earth — in a grand scenario of generating jobs, and dust.

With labor-intensive projects in selected areas, money by the millions will thus be released as wages to the workers — although the per capita share would be just a pittance.

As fast as they lay their hands on the money, the laborers will spend it. It then flows back into the economy to help stoke the dying embers of business.

* * *

OBVIOUSLY, to launch big government projects to employ millions, we need money, lots of it.

But didn’t President Estrada declare the government bankrupt in his State of the Nation Address? Where will he now get the billions to spread around and, as his advisers love to spout, to “pump prime” the economy?

Since the Gross National Product has refused to cooperate by growing, the Estrada administration appears to have no choice but to drop its promise to stop burying us deeper into public debt. It is preparing to close its eyes, take a deep breath — and borrow some more.

The plan to contract more loans from foreign Shylocks, like the World Bank, would restore the political strings that we had cut earlier in grand fashion. Watching his lips, we see Mr. Estrada saying never mind the strings basta may pera.

The parallel plan to also borrow from local sources (banks) will divert scarce funds from private borrowers and is likely to push interest rates, and prices, higher.

* * *

IF you get a headache reading all this bad news, fall back on the catchall sigh that says that the Pinoy, resilient as ever, will weather this crisis.

Like in the favorite metaphor of the bamboo, we will bend with the stormy winds, and come out bruised but still standing in the warm sun of a new morning.

This is nice to hear, but some people are complaining that while Mr. Estrada tells us to tighten our belts, they are running out of holes for further belt-tightening.

* * *


* As President Estrada stands pat on his promise to cut out pork barrel, estimated at P50 billion, in the national budget, lawmakers are threatening to slice off presidential pork, estimated at about the same amount.

The barrel at the fingertips of the President is teeming with porky funds for poverty alleviation, public works, as well as intelligence and discretionary funds. There is also a bulging kit from legalized gambling.

Our prediction is that MalacaƱang will be forced to compromise and allow legislators some of their accustomed pork. But they will call it something else.

* Richard Gordon is finally gone, not in a flash, but in a slo-mo retreat as deposed chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority. The Supreme Court has ruled against his petition to stop his ouster.

Things will quiet down soon in the former US naval base, now a special trade zone. But the damage has been done. Some investors have slipped out. Traffic and business fell during the two-month battle for control of Subic.

A foreign businessmen who bought a share in the plush Subic Yacht Club for P1 million and saw its value go up to P1.3 million early this year, gripes that it is now worth only P800,000.

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