Duterte’s economic narrative

“The economy is sinking deeper and deeper,” President Rodrigo Duterte admitted in a pre-recorded briefing on Monday, February 1. He claimed, though, that the Philippines is not alone as other countries are also struggling to keep their economies afloat.

Or maybe not. While the rest of the world are suffering from recession, China, Taiwan and Vietnam are projected to have positive gross domestic product (GDP) as of December 2020. GDP is defined as “the final value of the goods and services produced within the geographic boundaries of a country during a specified period of time”.

Mr. Duterte is known for his jokes but this time, he seems serious. As recorded by the Philippine Statistics Authority, the country’s GDP plunged to -9.5% or one notch lower than the Asian Development Bank’s prediction of 8.5%. The figure is far lower than the GDP in the remaining years of President Ferdinand Marcos and almost the same as the figures during World War 2.

The Philippine dismal economic performance has been due largely to the government’s performance in addressing the Coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic. Aside from joining the Top 10 countries with the longest lockdown, it also implemented the longest community quarantine. Even then, the government failed to control the spread of the virus due to trial and error policy-making, double standards in implementation, and wrong program and activity prioritization. Note that while the country is battling the pandemic, the government has also waged a propaganda war against the opposition and the rest of the citizens when what is needed is unity, It has also waged another war this time to fight communism to the point of wrongfully tagging individuals and even universities instead of attacking poverty to the core — the problem that fertilizes and nurtures the growth of terrorism-related ideas.

But of course, Mr. Duterte also has economic managers who have been doing their best to keep the economy afloat. Unfortunately, these managers are, in most cases, isolated because the President does not appear to be interested in balancing health and economic issues, or at least hushing the clueless ispiritu santong prayles surrounding him. As a result, administering the country for the President is just like playing whac-a-mole.

But the economy is sinking deeper and deeper, no doubt, reversing the economic fundamentals set in place by the administration of Gloria Arroyo and Noynoy Aquino. Even the “Build, build, build” (3B) has done nothing because unemployment is still on the rise, and business enterprises particularly the small and medium enterprises remain closed. Unfortunately, economists do not expect stimulus efforts from either monetary or fiscal authorities as even the Philippine central bank “is likely out of ammunition after front loading rate cuts, while the fiscal side of the fence appears content with its current modest increase in budget in 2021.”

Worse, the Duterte administration has focused itself on another 3B which is “Borrow, borrow, borrow” which reached ₱10.03 trillion as of October 2020. The new loans were mostly for COVID-response but not necessarily bailing out local industries to keep the economy afloat.

With ships are sinking, captains usually announce that life vests be given to the passengers. The best of the crews are also called to assist to keep the ship afloat — until at least all the passengers are secured to safety. But with the economy sinking, the President’s official mouth piece does not even call for unity and instead boasts of the arrival of the subway boring machine and telling the opposition “Manigas kayo” while the keyboard warriors attack Vice President Leni Robredo’s “pale-colored spaghetti” during a food distribution activity. The current government doesn’t seem concerned if the economy will indeed sink or not. Could this be because the members of the higher caste in the government have secured already their own lifeboats?

Well, that remains to be seen. The last news is: The PhP15 Billion PhilHealth fund was reported to have been liquidated already.

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