POSTSCRIPT / October 7, 2008 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Palace finds excuse for economic decline

TWO BIRDS: With or without Malacanang having to declare it, most Filipinos know in their guts that we are indeed into hard times and that the immediate future is not about to brighten up.

It was smart of President Gloria Arroyo’s spokesman to confirm the obvious. And by tying up the mess with the financial turmoil in the United States and the money woes creeping up on other countries, he shot two birds with one stone:

1. He pulled the rug from under the eternal whiners and wailers, and laid the basis to tell them “I told you so” when the whirlwind wallops the country’s tender economy.

2. He deflected to an external factor the blame for whatever economic distress befalls the country as a result of the US financial meltdown. Suddenly the administration has a ready explanation for any failing of its economic policies and performance.

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REAL HEROES: Press Secretary Jess Dureza says: “The Philippines will have to continue to brace itself, like all other countries of the world, to weather this crisis.”

The subliminal message is that the financial tempest is not peculiar to the Philippines. The implication is that the Arroyo administration should not be blamed for the local manifestation of a global malaise.

When an epidemic breaks out, we do not drag out the family doctor and pillory him for having failed to prevent the pestilence.

Dureza reminds us that the President “has set in place early on some economic fundamentals that helped the country ride the storm.” He has a good point there.

But still, much credit should also go to the Banko Sentral and the monetary board for having kept a tight rein on the banks and other financial institutions.

And, of course, the real heroes are the Filipinos working hard overseas. Their remittances — running to more than $1 billion a month — have helped the country stay afloat despite its being weighed down by corruption and mismanagement.

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GAPING TRAP: One trap into which Filipinos should not fall is the impulse to scrimp and “save” more money than usual, to stop or suspend normal spending, in the face of uncertainty.

Cutting down on consumer spending just to ensure having cash on hand when the ceiling falls, is a sure way of strangling the economy. When the buying and the consuming slow down, factories close and workers are laid off.

We fall into the trap when we panic and withdraw all our money from the banks, when we stop our usual buying and consuming.

What we fear might happen would then happen. The skies then darken and panic catches us by the throat.

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ACT NORMAL: The right thing to do is to act normal, to buy what we normally buy, to consume what we normal consume. That way we will help the country ride out the developing crisis.

Dureza describes this as making sure “umiikot ang pera.” As money circulates, the turnover stimulates the economy in a big way.

The plain folk pleading poverty and unemployment may ask, “But where will we get the money to buy things?” It is a valid question.

With the US market cooling down, Dureza talks of diverting to “other markets if we can.”  He mentions China  — now our biggest market with its 1.3 billion population – and India that is bursting with 1.1 billion. He also mentions government plans to step up infrastructure spending and job-generation.

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LEADERSHIP: At this point, faith in one another, including our leaders, is crucial.

What is needed is a new covenant, a firm understanding that in the face of adversity, we hold on to one another and, together, banish fear and act normal.

In instilling (or restoring) faith in the system and ourselves, the role of government officials is primordial.

But while leadership that inspires confidence is electric, it is not something that is switched on or off at will.

Inspired and inspiring leadership in government has been dissected to bare bones, but there are hardly signs that the discussion has changed anything or anyone.

We still appear to be what we were — seemingly roaming in the desert without a roadmap — when the Arroyo regime took over from a shortlived Estrada administration seven years ago.

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CLEANSING, RENEWAL: Is it too much to expect a rousing response when, or if, the administration now climbs the tower, rings the alarum bells, and cries an impassioned appeal for unity, trust and cooperation?

Hindi naman siguro.

We are a people inured to hardship. We have gone through trials and, somehow, came out bruised but intact. Like the bamboo, we know how to bend with the wind without breaking.

In crisis, people might still listen to the administration. One way for it to recapture its mandate, and be able to inspire and command respect, is to LEAD BY EXAMPLE.

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SHOW THE WAY: If people are asked to give more of themselves and produce more, they should see in their leaders the same, if not more, sacrifice and industry.

We cannot expect people to save electricity, for instance, if they see their officials ensconced in offices bursting with more lights than a Las Vegas marquee and air-conditioned so cold that one has to wear a jacket.

How do we ask motorists to save fuel when they see officials zipping around with abandon? How do we demand dedication and honesty in the bureaucracy when corruption seems to be the rule in the higher echelons of government rather than the exception?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 7, 2008)

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