“Each day he hears the screaming broadcast of the Philippine peso falling once more against the US dollar, and feels depressed about it, without really knowing how the hell the rising dollar impacts on his life.”
The distractions of the past week have been many.
They pique the “marites” proclivities of many from the upper middle class and upwards, those who do not have to worry about the next meal, or those who wonder when Japan will fully open up, or pine for the weekend gluttony in Hong Kong.
So the former ES is truly “former,” with no consolation prize. And now the press secretary is out, her “health” unable to withstand the rigors of less than 100 days.
And our friend Joe Calida has had to resign as chair of the Commission on Audit, though this time, it is because his health is truly failing, for which we can only wish him well.
But the enemies of the palace have had a field day fanning the F-1 excursion of the president and his closest friends and family to the resurrected car race where the jarring noise of revved up engines is dimmed only by the clinking glasses of champagne over beluga caviar in the exclusive sconces of the uber-wealthy.
Amid all this, and with the high tribunal demanding real answers from Torquemada’s female incarnation in these benighted isles, let me write about something that truly matters: the common “tao,” the “masa” who Erap placed on a political pedestal and every president before and after him always claimed to “love, to care for, to nuture,” and all that balderdash that’s really nothing but pre-meditated hogwash.
In the midst of all that is happening in these islands of misery and the world around us, how is the “masa” faring on his daily grind?
Each day he hears the screaming broadcast of the Philippine peso falling once more against the US dollar, and feels depressed about it, without really knowing how the hell the rising dollar impacts on his life.
We began the year 2022 at close to 51; now it’s 59, and soon will be 60, the Christmas padala from our bagong bayani notwithstanding.
And unless the angels take Vladimir out of our midst, or the devils prey on Volodymyr’s fighting spirit in time for the war’s first anniversary, then Joey Salceda’s worst fears may come true: 65 to 68 by 2023.
But the ordinary Filipino does not even have a dollar to his name, so what the hell does that mean to him?
The answer is simple: inflation. No, amend that: super inflation.
Not nearly as hyper as what Venezuela and other Latin American countries experienced in the recent past, but enough to cause public anger to rise, and the 31 million to dissipate quickly.
Our economic professors love to repeat mantras like “no pain, no gain” and “no free lunch” and the caveat that every macro-economic policy decision creates “winners as well as losers.”
And the trick, we are told, is to ensure that there are a lot more winners than losers.
The PCSO recently gave the common man a taste of more winners, a lucky 433 who bet on the same six numbers, like a bingo diagonal, but never told us how many losers there were. Congratulations to the half millionaires Mel Robles and Junie Cua made happy.
Don’t splurge on useless things, guys. With inflation rising, that ain’t gonna buy you much.
The rule of thumb is always the law of supply and demand, which a former senator, reacting to an incumbent president’s threat to raid rice warehouses in the country amid issues of rising prices of rice and rice shortage, said “if there is one thing that we cannot repeal (it) is the law of supply and demand.”
One loved president who died so early in his life also said something that the common tao always aspire for, but have never really felt: that “those who have less in life should have more in law.”
Perish the thought. Not in our lifetimes. In this benighted land, the rich will always get richer, and the poor, unless they sacrifice as OFWs, will always remain poor.
Ours is a rent economy. Whoever owns massive real estate holdings get rich by exacting rent, whether from poor inquilinos or small-scale entrepreneurs eking out a modest living while the mall owner’s account in the bank he owns gets bigger by the day.
Politicians are also rentiers. They profit not from the sweat of their brow, like Edwin Markham’s Man with the Hoe, “the emptiness of ages on his face.”
Politicians in this country make hay by selling their power and influence, either to the oligarchic bosses who control the levers of wealth and power, or the contractors from whom they slice huge slabs of corrupt grease for every project they gain with their influence.
But back to the winners and losers game, before our readers get so depressed at the true state of the nation.
When the peso falls to historic lows, who loses?
Practically all of us.
Because most everything we consume is imported. Our staples, like rice and sugar and oil and corn. Our clothing, whether el cheapos from China or ukay-ukay from Bangladesh.
And shelter? Maybe if the housing czar, my friend Jerry Acuzar can multiply what his friend Isko Moreno did in Tondo and Baseco.
Where to get the moolah is another thing. Because steel bars are sky-high, and cement is a function of fuel costs, whether imported from Vietnam or produced locally.
What feeds our hogs and poultry need to grow, is likewise imported. What abono our farmers need to grow food is likewise imported.
And the petrol our small bancas feed upon to haul the little fish the Chinese have left for us in our seas is also imported.
Yet, our savvy economists tell us there are winners too. Who they?
The OFWs, the perennial saviors of our rent economy.
Sure their dollar earnings get more pesos each time the exchange rate falls, but before they can shout hallelujah, the price of almost everything their families consume shall have followed suit.
Because there is hardly anything that does not require an import as input to price.
Take the lowly sardinas. The tomato paste, the sugar, the oil that goes into cooking the tamban is more likely than not, imported, and the tin can on which they are packaged is also imported.
Or the instant noodles that the urban poor boil to add to their rice intake, carbo-loading with a trace of vetsin. The flour, the MSG, the food color, and even the plastic resins from which the tubes of packaging are extruded—all imported.
So are the OFWs winning? For one moment in time, as the song goes.
And yes, there are our exporters!
But then again, what do we export that is 100 percent ours? The biggest, semi-conductor assemblies, part of the global supply chain, have practically only labor as value-added.
The raw materials and other inputs are imported. And with the chains broken by the pandemic and the war, and the logistics messed up, the pesos earned from the depreciation just plows back to foreign shores.
But still, thank God for small mercies.
Then, because investor’s dollars buy more cheap Philippine talent, there are the BPOs who capitalize on our fantastic ability to speak foreign languages in their natural accents.
But it is an industry where smart technology is fast catching up, where robots can mimic humans. And as for the workers in our BPOs, everything they spend upon, including the rare nights out in BGC Taguig or Poblacion Makati cost more.
Exporters (including farmers) of natural produce, are likewise credited as winners. Who are these?
The banana industry, which is getting edged out by Ecuador and other Latin American countries, even as their stalks are hit by the Panama disease, and we have surrendered our market monopoly in Japan to Ecuador, while fast losing the China market as well.
Pineapples, maybe. But other inputs are also dollar costs.
The tourism sector should earn from cheaper pesos versus the dollar.
But that will have to wait until the travel market evens out in terms of plane fares impacted by fuel prices, and worse, the competition from our competitive markets, be it Thailand or Malaysia, Bali or Osaka, even Taiwan, and Vietnam, which are first preferences of most markets other than Koreans.
That is a reality that the plan to change our marketing line of more fun in the Philippines is changed into something, anything where the letters B, B, and M are reflected, simply won’t do the trick.
So there. As we wrote last week, fasten our seat belts is the rule. For the rest of the year. For next as well.
And sad to say, we cannot fathom at this moment till when the inflation will ebb, and till when we could become a productive, rather than—a consuming economy.