POSTSCRIPT / July 7, 2022 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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PSA stands by its 6.1% inflation report

Emerging from his first cabinet meeting, President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr. was greeted Tuesday by the press with questions on the 6.1 percent inflation rate announced by the government’s own statistical office. He flatly said he didn’t buy it.

President Bongbong Marcos on 6.1% inflation rate reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority: "We're not that high!" Photo: bilyonaryo.com

Marcos said he did not agree with the rate reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority. But he did not give his own estimate of inflation, which has been rising from 5.4 percent in May, and 4.9 percent in April. It was 3.7 percent in June last year.

If it’s any consolation, inflation at 6.1 percent is not the worst level for Filipinos. Record inflation averaged 8.11 percent from 1958 until 2022, reaching an all-time high of 62.8 percent in September of 1984 during the martial rule of the elder Marcos.

Bongbong Marcos noted that inflation, which is the rate of movement of prices of goods and services, was “a problem not only in the Philippines but everywhere.” We wonder how Filipinos reeling from rising prices of food, fare and fuel would take that escapist explanation.

Disputing the 6.1 percent estimate of PSA, Marcos said: “I think that I will have to… I will have to disagree with that number. We are not that high. We have crossed the… our targets were less 4 percent or less, unfortunately, it looks like we may cross that… cross that threshold. Tatawid tayo sa 4 percent.”

During his press briefing, the first since he assumed office on June 30, Marcos said that there was little that the country could do about rising commodity prices. Said too often, alas, his “wala tayong magagawa” remark is a damper for people hoping for better times.

The President tried explaining: “The increase in commodity prices are… again something that happens, that the forces, the forces that have pushed the commodity prices up, are again beyond our control.”

He went on: “Much of our inflation is actually imported inflation. It is imported because it is the inflation on the products that have suffered inflation that we import. So sumama na yung inflation nila dun sa atin.”

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Government statisticians monitor the retail prices of a basket of selected index goods and services whose price movements are used to calculate inflation.

Sought by media for comment on the President’s rejection of its 6.1 percent inflation rate, National Statistician and PSA chief Dennis Mapa said, “The Philippine Statistics Authority stands by its report.”

The PSA will have either to recalculate (which is not necessarily tweaking or bending the numbers) or some of its key people may have to be given other work to align the agency along directions from above.

With Marcos publicly disagreeing that the inflation rate as he takes over is as high as 6.1 percent, this jaded observer expects to see the number going down to more acceptable levels within the first year of his administration.

The PSA releases inflation data on a previous month in the first week of the following month. Its statisticians calculate inflation using the Consumer Price Index, which shows changes in the prices of selected goods and services that households commonly buy or use.

The Development Budget Coordination Committee of the previous Duterte administration had set the full-year inflation ceiling within a range of 3.7 percent to 4.7 percent. The year-to-date inflation, so far at 4.4 percent, is still within that target range.

Mapa has said that the main contributors to inflation are rising prices of food and non-alcoholic beverages, transport costs, and fuel prices. He added that based on data that they have been gathering, prices will continue to go up.

With the spike in the price of crude, which has been affected by the war in Ukraine, transportation costs rose by 14.6 percent in May 2022 and by 17.1 percent in June. Now gas prices have so risen that public utility drivers, and even some commuters, are asking for subsidies.

The PSA said these items were among those whose prices have gone up: Alcoholic beverages and tobacco, 7.8 percent; clothing and footwear, 2.2 percent; housing, water, electricity, and gas, 6.6 percent; furnishings, household equipment, and maintenance, 2.9 percent; health, 2.6 percent; recreation, sports and culture, 1.9 percent; personal care, and various goods and services, 2.6 percent.

 China-US rivalry for PHL rages

The high-level courtship continues. And who between China and the United States will win more favorable attention from President Marcos Jr., the prized object of the rivalry between the two big players?

The question cropped up again after the meeting yesterday of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi with Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo while the minister waits for his cue to proceed to Malacañang to call on President Marcos.

China may have the initial advantage of having just to build on the foundation for mutually beneficial dealings established by President Duterte after he “separated” from the US, the Philippines’ only treaty ally.

An invitation to visit Beijing is expected to be extended to Marcos, but his cousin Ambassador to the US Babe Romualdez appears to have beaten the Chinese to the draw by working out a visit to Washington.

An interesting footnote is that Marcos is the subject of a warrant issued by a US court. This issue has prevented his going to the US, assuming he wanted to go. But that detail, we’ve been told, could be set aside since a chief of state enjoys diplomatic immunity.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 7, 2022, under the head "PSA to tweak 6.1% inflation rate for BBM?")

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