POSTSCRIPT / December 27, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Obstructionism won’t pull us out of the rut

LET’S AT LEAST LISTEN: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo tells the nation there are encouraging signs that next year would be better than the year about to end. The economist-president drew this optimistic scenario after careful study of the situation with her advisers.

Since the President has all the information about the economy in its global context and we don’t, we think the best attitude is for us to hitch our hopes to her assurance that the signs point to a better year.

We don’t have a vantage view of the big picture. The President has data that we don’t have. We gain nothing by heckling, by whining, by insisting that things will be worse in the coming year — if we have no verified information indicating a contrary scenario.

Those who have no viable alternative to offer have no good reason to tear apart the economic road map drawn by the President. Heckling is easy, but it does not contribute a whit to generating the national product.

Although we seem to be a nation of flagellants, there is no point in further punishing ourselves by wallowing in dire predictions. Why should we worry in advance, and insist on convincing ourselves that the President’s optimism has no basis?

It is more productive — and healthier for each one of us — to trust her assessment and align our own plans to her economic program and projections.

This does not mean, however, that we advocate abandoning our critical monitoring of what the government does or plans to do. We’re just saying that, in the absence of an alternative, giving our economic managers a chance to pull us through makes more sense.

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PERSONAL ECONOMY: It is normal for many of us to use our individual selves as the measure of how the economy is going. A man loses his job or fails to buy that doll for his darling daughter — and he starts seeing the bleakness instead of the brightness of everything around him.

A housewife watches the neighbors taking delivery of new appliances while she has to live with the old leaking refrigerator her husband bought when they were married five children ago — and she loses face and loses faith in the system.

A boy sees some classmates playing games in expensive computers that he has longed to have and he drifts farther from home to be with his barkada. A girl hides her pained comparison of her faded dress with the imported getup of her friends and develops a complex.

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SEEING THE BIG PICTURE: There is always the temptation to judge the national economy from the standpoint of our personal predicament. This is normal.

But in the final and total analysis, the success/failure of a government program cannot be measured on the basis of an individual’s subjective situation. For perspective, we have to step back and look at the big picture.

The Arroyo administration did not promise a rose garden blooming after GMA’s one year in office. As we understood the plans spelled out in her first state of the nation address, she had well-defined immediate goals that laid the basis for future action.

Reporting back a few days ago, the President expressed satisfaction that 2001 targets were met, including lower inflation, lower unemployment, and less speculation on the peso. The administration was also able to keep the budget deficit under P145-billion and to hit its target P100-billion in foreign direct investments.

While our neighbors that are supposed to be more stable foundered in the global crunch, the Philippines managed to post a growth of 3.3 percent. This has encouraged the President and her economic team to say that a 4.5-percent growth next year is achievable if the US economy recovers early enough.

Most analyses we’ve seen said recovery in the US could come middle of 2002 at the earliest. But GMA is banking on a US recovery in the first semester.)

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SOLUTION IN STAGES: The President conceded the current difficulties and the possibility of some twist of events (such as the Sept. 11 terrorist stabs into the heart of America) throwing the best-laid plans into disarray, but by and large the forces at play still appear manageable.

Still, GMA said “there is good ground to hope for a better year,” adding, however that there is “equally compelling reason to try harder in the year to come.”

No newly installed president grappling with a plundered economy can be expected to perform a turnaround in less than a year in office. We pick up the shambles not in one wave of a wand but in several stages of growth, placing one brick on top of another according to a master building plan.

It’s not easy. There are the outside forces (such as wobbly economies across the seas) whose adverse impact on our own country is inevitable. In the case of the US, our biggest trading partner, the drift of its economy is normally felt some six months later in the Philippines.

Another big problem is politics. Demolition crews are actively campaigning to ensure the administration’s failure — which is in effect also our communal failure. There are dedicated groups working to derail the present administration — either to restore a discredited regime or to help the election of pretenders to the presidency.

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COMELEC DOESN’T PLAN: Chairman Alfredo Benipayo of the Commission on Elections was reported in yesterday’s STAR announcing that “today” (yesterday) was the last day for new voters to register so they can vote in coming elections, including that for barangay officials and members of the Sangguniang Kabataan.

That is one of the many things seriously wrong with the Comelec. While it has an excess of lawyers, it has no competent managers. There is obviously no such thing as planning in the poll body.

How else will Benipayo be able to explain why he is announcing the end of that all-important registration period on the eve of the deadline? Why didn’t he announce the registration deadline weeks ago and followed it up with regular reminders?

As it is, virtually nobody knew that there was an ongoing registration of new voters and that the last day was yesterday. Why do we have to live with such incompetence?

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EXPORTING THE MESS: This dramatizes the point of many Filipinos laboring abroad who ask why there is this move to have them cast absentee votes (meaning they vote while they are abroad) when the Comelec cannot even assure that the voting right here in the home country is properly managed?

What they mean is that enlarging the area of voting to include Filipino communities abroad would only compound the mess that we see every Election Day and may even export to foreign lands the Filipino style of dirty elections.

Based on email to us of our compatriots abroad, we are beginning to get the impression (a misimpression, we hope) that only a few organized Filipino groups are interested in the passage of a law for absentee voting and that these groups do not necessarily represent the position of at least a majority of Filipinos living abroad.

How do we ascertain their true sentiments (as opposed to the lobby groups)? We’re asking this fully aware that this point could become an excuse for senators and congressmen thinking of using “public hearings” aboard to go on junkets.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 27, 2001)

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