Year 28 since the EDSA People Power revolution and the special working holiday has passed even more uneventfully as the previous one. I am reviewing my post from the previous year entitled “Getting Over the Yellow Fever”. Sadly many of the points I have raised in 2013 remain unchanged. Some of these points include: Non-Inclusive growth i.e. the widening unemployment gap and the exclusion of key economic sectors. To add something new this year, gasoline prices are up along with the price of the US Dollar soaring to heights we haven’t seen in years, there are reports of capital flight especially in some of the sectors I mentioned and losing up to USD 1.5-B. Some of our key business players are looking to invest elsewhere in places such as Singapore and Nigeria. Perhaps we missed that in the news while we were watching Vhong, Deniece and Cedric Lee?
With such blistering rates of economic growth purportedly due to improved governance, it is really such a big mystery as to why veterans to Philippine business such as First Pacific and Enrique Razon would look elsewhere. While nobody seems to be in a festive mood today even with our annual celebration of People Power being celebrated by the President elsewhere (perhaps leaving the unattended traffic mess of this legacy), it doesn’t take half an economist’s brain to figure out that our economy is being propped up like a hot-air-balloon. Apparently, what my office-mate and I refer to as “clever-banking” was echoed by Mr. Razon in his Bloomberg January 2014 interview.
“The reality is business has been run by monetary policy since 2009. Period,” he said. “Liquidity has sort of reflated the bubble. We’re sort of in that party mode. You can go broke saying when the party’s going to end, but my feeling is absolutely it’s going to end.” – Razon
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I appreciate a man who is honest enough to call things for what they are: An economy full of hot air. Our country’s financial managers seem to be so awash with cash that it leant USD 1-Billion to the IMF in 2012. With PHP 142-B on tap with the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) and PHP 21.9-B budgeted for the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) scheme, you would think that we would finally have that elusive “inclusive-growth”. Are you feeling it yet? Most probably not! Another headline reads: DAP Funds Went to Fake NGO’s. Yet we’re still soliciting USD 8-B of development funds for Yolanda from the International Community ensuring that these would be properly managed. Some of them probably saying: “Really?”
Perhaps the economic boom is yet to trickle-down to the common Juan but don’t get your hopes up too high yet while you walk through the halls of SM Aura and enjoy the smell of a brand new car on display. If you’re not putting your daughter through nursing school in hopes that she’d send some money back for you to make a down payment on a home, then you’re not part of this country’s economic strategy. While it may seem like a great idea, perhaps you could spare some time to read this article: Overworked Nurses Linked to Higher Death Rates.
Keep your eyes fast on the television and be a good citizen. Waste a lot of “energy” on the latest with Vhong, Cedric and Kris! You might as well enjoy it as you’re paying for electricity through the nose. We have some of the highest energy costs in the world with threats of later brownouts at the behest of monopolistic and exploitive businesses. We choose to buy expensive and dirty energy while there is no sense of advocacy from the government to protect its citizens. The government sees it justified by not stepping in during the usual cases where people are obviously exploited, here and overseas. We have alarming fatalities perpetrated by reckless and homicidal bus operators while powerful vested interests remain to hold more sway than the common citizen. We obviously have some systemic flaws here.
Our primary sectors are being neglected in favor of consumption economics. We’ve lost Billions of dollars in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). This was due primarily to poor regulatory management and corruption. Along with these systemic losses is the loss in employment opportunity in Decent Employment. There are more than 12 million Filipinos unemployed. On top of that, 1.3 million of our working population is working overseas. It is clear to see that our “booming economy” is failing to provide any opportunity to provide sustainable and decent employment for its citizens. But of course the press release is that our population makes for very sustainable growth. That said, without a significant production base to balance our consumption. With AFTA at our doors, there is no urgency to reconstruct our agricultural output to curb our dependence on imported food. To add insult to injury, the issue of food security is of course an issue of National Defense.
Our very sovereignty is threatened at all sides. Inland we have inadequate defense and food production; our National Grid (responsible for power transmission for the entire archipelago) is managed by the Chinese (State Grid Corporation of China). Over (our) seas, the Chinese are firing water cannons at our fishermen. You’d have to think whether or not we actually have a friendly relationship with China.
If it is too much to ask for great leadership at this point, perhaps we could at least have some fair and competent management. We could be at the brink where even government could be privatized. It is all good within an environment where everyone is entertained. Keep people glued to television. Media consumption is a 24 hour 7 days a week business. It keeps the public peacefully entertained. It keeps people buying and consuming and it keeps the people’s eyes off the big picture. It couldn’t get any better for people at the top. Our wealthiest Filipinos own malls, Real Estate Corporations and Casinos. Ever wonder why?
My son and I were parked behind an SUV that has an old sticker that says: “Kung Walang Corrupt, Walang Mahirap!” My son asked: “Dad what happened? Didn’t we vote for Aquino?” I said: “Son, maybe democracy has failed us again this time. We got what we wanted but it wasn’t good for us.”
Democracy could only work with “consumer sophistication”. There can be no true democracy without economic empowerment. We need to have substantial equity and sway in governance. We live with a false sense of a free economy and most of our circumstances are forced upon us due to economic reforms we fail to make. These constraints are embedded in the constitution!
It has been 28 years. Where is the traction of EDSA? Until we see our people making the right choices then EDSA’s People Power it is Not! It’s Showtime both on ABS and on the coverage of the senate hearings. They’re all actors (figuratively and literally)! I am not enjoying the show. Instead I’m typing away at lunchtime trying to exercise the last fiber of democracy I have left. If I lean back long enough, perhaps that could be taken away as well. I write like this because I love my country and I love my children. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes. One only needs to travel along EDSA to know that this country is not where it should be!
John is a Senior Management Consultant for Strategy and Planning and has consulted with some of the most famous local and international companies. He has a combined experience of 15 years in the area of Enterprise Development and Corporate Strategic Planning. He has been a Professional Manager, a Management Consultant a Development Economist and an NGO Executive Director.