And then what?
What a week! So many things happened, and all too quickly. There was the sudden departure of Secretary Wanda Teo after a preceding week of recriminations and the quick appointment of Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat in her stead.
We worked together when NFA was still attached to the Department of Agriculture, and I must say Berna is a perfect fit for her new responsibilities. Bright, articulate, very professional, and needless to say, a beauty to behold.
As she assumes her new challenge, we wish her well. Tourism, as I have always maintained in this column, is one of our economy’s low-hanging fruits, and so is agriculture. Both impact greatly upon the livelihood of our D and E income levels.
* * *
Secretary Ernesto Pernia bared the first quarter’s GDP growth rate, and while it is within spitting distance of the target, it was tempered by inflation.
Some politicians were quick on the draw, and asked for a stay in the implementation of the TRAIN law they just passed a few months before. Well, take their opinions with a grain of salt. Next year they will face re-election.
The spike in inflation was not really a direct function of tax reform. Sure, alcohol and tobacco prices rose, but then, who cares? One of the main reasons for increasing taxes was to discourage these injurious vices to begin with. The cost of public health care which all taxpayers must bear is a greater economic “evil” than making bad habits costlier.
External factors, over which we have little control, such as the ever-increasing price of oil, is the biggest culprit. Plus the exchange value of the peso vis-à-vis other currencies which affects our consumers greatly because we produce very little of what we consume.
And the price of rice, owing to the absence of low-cost NFA rice, which was entirely predictable, and preventable. While the direct cost of rice to inflation would be just a tad higher than one-half of one percent over-all, the impact to the D and E classes is quite big.
Which again explains why in the latest surveys, high prices were cited as the major concern. To a great extent, the decrease in the leadership’s approval ratings could be attributed to the inflationary pinch.
If we had a less popular president than Duterte, the alarm bells would be ringing.
* * *
Our worry should be focused on the world commodity market. Prices of oil keep going up, and Trump’s Iran decision will push these further. At 71-75 dollars per barrel, America’s shale fuel will once again be competitive, and in Trump’s rather distorted “America first” and “business first” mindsets, what is good for business is good for America, and the rest of the world be damned.
The cost of our “Build, Build, Build” catch-up program will be affected because of the direct correlation between oil and construction costs, and the only way to mitigate this upon the macro-economy is to produce more from agriculture, get direct foreign investments coming in, and bring more tourists into our islands.
Tall order in the short run, but doable.
* * *
The week was capped by the denouement of Meilou Sereno’s ordeal in the hands of her peers.
Siya naman kasi.
When her peers forced her to go on an indefinite leave, she should have taken the cue, and resigned to protect the institution.
Not being a lawyer, and with the plethora of expected reactions, the funniest of which come from senators who are in truth relieved that the burden of an impeachment trial upon them had passed over, I think that from a political standpoint, the timing of the decision was perfect for the administration.
The ordinary man’s attention is on the barangay elections, too micro for something as macro and as “malayo sa bituka” as the controversial quo warranto decision last Friday.
We were having our regular monthly board meeting when the decision was announced. The lawyers in the board immediately concluded that “the Solicitor General has now become the second most powerful official in the land.” Imagine if the OSG files quo warranto cases questioning the validity of future appointments?
* * *
And then what after all the big events of the previous week?
This week, some “big” news is supposedly coming from the Senate. What it is I won’t reveal as I do not want to pre-empt.
Abangan na lang. Recall what Rep. Rey Umali predicted the day before the SC decision, where he said it was going to be 11-3? As it came, it was a close 8-6.
In the next few weeks and before Sona, lawyers will speculate on who the next CJ will be. Expect President Duterte to come up with a “sage” decision.
* * *
Leaving back for Taipei on a very quick trip to Manila for our regular board meeting, we bumped into TECO Representative Dr. Gary Song-huan Lin, who was on the same flight. The friendly Dr. Lin will retire from a lifetime career as diplomat effective next month.
We wish him well as he and Madamme Lin begin their “apo-stolic” mission.
* * *
I normally look forward to the chicken arroz caldo served at the airport, and I took only coffee in the house before I left. To my utter dismay, the porridge was too thin, with very little chunks of chicken (shreds may be a better description) floating on sparse morsels of rice. The rest was rather tasteless “caldo,” or soup.
Did the cook wake up on the wrong side of the bed, or is it the price of rice and chicken?
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