The silence is deafening. And yet it speaks volumes.
The performance of the stock market has always been used as an indicator of this country’s economic health. After all, why would anyone invest in local listed companies, if they weren’t worth anything?
The Philippine Stock Exchange went on an all-time record tear last week, scaling heretofore unheard-of highs for eight consecutive days. The PSE index went beyond 8,750 points for the first time last week before retreating slightly yesterday on what stock analysts described as a “technical correction.”
But you never heard anyone talk about the stock market’s phenomenal rise, especially from the people who used to point to the bourse’s performance in order to describe just how great Noynoy Aquino was when he was president. It was as if, for the critics of the current government, the stock market’s great improvement was fake news that no one should touch.
(The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte wasn’t making any noise about what was happening in the PSE, either. Its spokesmen, it seems, were too shy to take the credit grabbed with such alacrity and regularity by the drum-beaters of Aquino, or too distracted to see what was really going on.)
I still remember that day in April 2015 when the PSE Index first hit 8,000 during Aquino’s term. Noynoy was so awed by that event that he went to the stock market to congratulate the brokers and traders on the floor.
“I cannot help but think: How times have changed,” Aquino said at the time, claiming full credit for the market’s rise. “And might I add: For the better.”
Then Aquino predicted that the bellwether index would break 10,000 points during his term. The market responded the following day by quickly taking a beating in a huge selloff; Aquino never went near the market again and never repeated his bold prediction to anyone, ever.
But it is a testament to just how toxic the political environment has become that any good news that could somehow be credited to the government is studiously ignored by critics and the press. And any bad news that can be ascribed to the current rulers is very quickly blamed on Duterte, and then some.
Take, for instance, the expected and already noticeable increase in the prices of some goods because of the approval of the Duterte government’s tax reform program known more popularly as TRAIN. The debate over the tax program has already been hijacked by the leftists and the opposition Liberal Party as an anti-poor package of unjust impositions, even if it also includes tax breaks for millions of long-suffering Filipinos whose taxes have not been adjusted in two decades.
Why did a program that seeks to raise funds for much-needed infrastructure projects while lowering income taxes become anti-poor? Why should anyone who doesn’t consume more fuel than is necessary or more sugared drinks than is healthy fear increased taxes on these goods?
What’s really going on is unfounded fear-mongering that is motivated by a desire to see this government fail in the all-important job of improving the economy. Especially because all indicators, like the stock market, unequivocally point out that Duterte is succeeding in that area, as well.
I don’t believe that the critics of Duterte will ever concede that he is good for the economy—or for anything, for the matter of that. But when they fall into stony silence and ignore the excellent news that’s going on, I think that’s the same as confirming what everyone knows is true:
Duterte knows what he’s doing as far as making the economy grow is concerned. Even if no one, not even his own people, will say it.
Of course, Duterte doesn’t need any more affirmation that what he’s doing has the people’s approval: The results of surveys released by the two biggest polling outfits, Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia, just confirmed that for him.
In both surveys conducted in the last quarter of last year, Duterte kept his stratospheric approval and trust ratings across all major areas of the country. Not bad for a president who is just about ready to start his real term using a budget of his administration’s crafting and a tax program that several of his predecessors wanted to implement but couldn’t, out of fear of the political cost.
Here it must be pointed out that the members of the political opposition, most notably Senator Antonio Trillanes, predicted that Duterte’s popularity was headed for a precipitous fall by yearend of 2017. The people, according to the surveys, must have wholeheartedly disagreed.
I don’t know what else the opposition has lined up for the new year in their never-ending campaign to destroy Duterte in 2018 and, beyond that, in 2019, when the president will be subjected to a virtual referendum that is the midterm elections. But after witnessing everything that has been tried against Duterte so far, I think it’s much safer to predict that his popularity among Filipinos will only continue to rise, if that’s at all possible.
The man seems impervious to all the attacks against him. And his critics, no matter how hard they try, always seem to end up with egg on their faces.