POSTSCRIPT / December 5, 2017 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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Palace to the poor: It’s just inflation…

THAT Presidential Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman blamed inflation and the peso’s slipping against the American dollar for the growing number of Filipinos rating themselves “food-poor” means, to us, that the administration has no comprehensive anti-poverty program.

The hungry 10.9 million families — comprising 47 percent of respondents or three percentage points more than those in the previous quarter — cannot eat statements attributing their misery to rising prices and the falling exchange rate of the peso.

Assuming those are the real reasons, what is the administration doing to manage inflation aside from talking about it and hoping that, perhaps by accident, market forces might catch the peso from falling lower?

It is not the job of the government to simply explain to the harassed masses what hit them, but to move proactively to forestall adverse economic forces – or if that is difficult, to at least cushion the impact and work out a quick recovery.

The average household needs at least P5,000 a month for food to be considered above the food poverty line. The latest survey findings mean that some 800,000 more families went under the line from July to September.

Considering the billions being thrown to scattered activities whose contribution to productivity and improved well-being is uncertain, the past 17 months seem to indicate either incompetence or lack of concern on the part of those running the government.

The survey conducted Sept. 23-27 by the Social Weather Stations showed that self-rated poverty has affected 10.9 million families, up from the 10.1 million in June. Forty-seven percent of respondents considered their families poor, slightly higher than the 44 percent in the previous quarter.

Self-rated poverty went up in Metro Manila (28 percent to 31 percent) and rose sharply in the rest of Luzon (34 percent to 50 percent), although it went down in the Visayas (64 percent to 56 percent) and Mindanao (57 percent to 45 percent).

Self-rated poverty is subjective. It is what the person says it is, so it may be pointless for the presidential spokesman to try explaining to the victim by blaming something called inflation. Food, not hollow terms, is a more logical response to hunger.

Households that do not enjoy the comforts and amenities they desire or see among their better-off neighbors are likely to exaggerate their plight to survey interviewers.

It is embarrassing to report it, but in the nation’s capital itself, there are households huddled in the depressed areas surviving only on cheap NFA rice sprinkled with salt. Many daily-wage workers lunching at nearby carinderias fill themselves with extra rice with skimpy viands and free hot soup.

Meanwhile, the poor see politicians engrossed on fattening themselves or spending millions plotting against their political enemies and critics. Some officials even have at their command expensive bloggers to puff up their public image while cutting down whoever gets in the way.

Trying to explain food-poverty, presidential spokesman Harry Roque says above the heads of the hungry millions:

“We attribute (this) to inflation which registered 3.4 percent in September, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.  It is also at this time that the peso depreciated which contributed to the increased prices of goods.

“It is for this reason that while the administration is building a strong and sustainable domestic economy, growth must be inclusive and translated to a more comfortable life for all. We must ensure that the economy serves everyone and leaves no one behind by improving our social services.”

We were waiting for Roque to end with “And I thank you!” in the glorious style of gays vying for the “Miss Q & A” title in Vice Ganda’s very entertaining TV show – but he did not.

 PAF to have 6 new attack planes

PRESIDENT Duterte once had to admit that he could not afford to risk war by insisting in his talks with China President Xi Jinping on the Philippines’ claim on some disputed maritime features in its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone

That humbling scene came to mind when we heard yesterday that the Philippine Air Force has awarded the supply contract for six light attack planes to Embraer of Brazil. The small flock may not amount to much in a big war, but piloted by skilled and intrepid airmen, they will be of great help.

We are talking of the EMB 314 that has been renamed A-29 Super Tucano. The A-29 is being supplied by the US to the air forces of Afghanistan and other countries. It can load 1.5 tons of ordnance, operate from rough runways and carry out ground attack missions.

When delivered starting 2019, the A-29 will be assigned to the 15th Strike Wing. The plane is basically an advanced trainer that is also given light attack roles. It can launch bombs, missiles and other ordnance on ground targets. It is widely used by the air forces of developing countries.

The P9.68-billion deal includes pilot training, spares and integrated logistics support, according to Director Arsenio Andolong of the DND public affairs office. (He is the son of the late newsman Nering Andolong, big boss of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office during the Marcos regime.)

The joke is that the air force is mostly air and hardly any force.  Seriously, it has some 230 aircraft of all types, including a Fokker F-28, the Philippines’ version of Air Force One of the US president. The tired Fokker has been in service since the time of President Diosdado Macapagal. President Duterte avoids riding it, saying it might be more useful as a hospital plane.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 5, 2017)

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