What a difference a (Holy) Week can make.
Early last week, the Bangko Sentral reported that consumer confidence in the first quarter had dived to its lowest level in over a year. At only 1.7 percent, the overall confidence index (CI) was well below the previous quarter’s 9.5 percent, marking the third consecutive quarterly decline in confidence.
Just in time, though, our friends abroad came to the rescue. In their latest in-depth report on the country the other day, the US-based rating agency Moody’s declared:
“We believe that overheating risks in the PH are not yet material. Our view is based on expectations that current inflationary pressures are in part due to transitory factors [such as the impact from TRAIN]. Infrastructure investment and favorable demographics will lift potential growth to meet rapid demand growth and the external position will remain roughly balanced.”
With any luck, we may also be seeing similar votes of confidence soon from the other rating agencies, like Standard & Poor’s and UK-based Fitch, especially since Moody’s usually tends to follow after them rather than taking the lead as it did in this case.
And earlier this week, the investment bank First Metro Investment joined the University of Asia & the Pacific in reporting that they expected economic growth to exceed 7 percent in the first quarter of the year. This would be fueled mainly by manufacturing and higher imports of capital goods.
On the employment side, for the year ending last January, the economy added a whopping 2.4-million jobs, said by many to be the highest in a non-election year.
All of this simply confirms what we’ve been saying all along: The only real recipe to create new jobs is not pro-poor redistribution of income, or charity disguised as subsidies, or tax-paid make-work, but simply…good old-fashioned economic growth.
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Also in the run-up to Holy Week, many of us were wringing our hands over the prospects of justice for the bereaved family of Joanna Demafelis, the household worker who was brutally killed a year ago in Kuwait.
An angered President Duterte ordered a total ban on OFW deployments to that country. This may have prompted the Kuwaiti government to speed up the drafting of a new agreement on workers’ rights, which has already cleared the technical working groups of both countries.
Presidential anger may also have been a factor behind the subsequent decision of a Kuwaiti court to sentence in absentia the killers of Joanna to death, a most welcome Easter gift for our country. But the guilty couple continues to be sheltered by their respective home countries of Lebanon and Syria, in defiance of the court’s decision.
When relatives of the killers offered to pay “blood money” to Joanna’s family, they indignantly refused, insisting on justice instead. It’s clear that Kuwait will have to do a lot more to have the killers extradited to face justice. Failing that, we can’t be blamed for suspecting that the court decision was simply a moro-moro among fellow Arabs.
For his part, Duterte continues to up the ante. Notwithstanding the latest agreement by both technical working groups, he’s demanding more concessions, including the possibility of government to government coordination on our OFWs that might even do away with the need for private recruitment agencies.
If the entire overseas labor sector ends up being effectively nationalized, that would be a profound change indeed. Whether or not its benefits would be worth the costs, it would certainly bring justice to the dead Joanna—the Dutertian brand of rough justice.
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Before Holy Week, with the May 2019 mid-term elections drawing closer, leading LP senators Bam Aquino and Kiko Pangilinan announced they would be a forming a new opposition coalition that they bravely dubbed “the Resistance.”
For their part, some half-dozen Duterte allies in the Senate who’d been excluded from an early PDP-Laban senatorial slate hinted that they might get together to seek a temporary home, either with the LP or with Davao City Mayor Inday Sara’s new regional party “Hugpong ng Pagbabago.” These homeless souls took to calling themselves “the Force.”
With all these Star Wars names, it was just a matter of time before “the Empire strikes back.”
When the bruited opposition coalition finally hit social media under the monicker “Coalition ng Demokrasya,” many personalities included in its slate disavowed any connections. The LP chair herself, VP Leni, admitted that her party might not even be able to field a full 12-man senatorial slate next year.
This may sound like music to the ears of the ruling party, but it really shouldn’t. The problem is that if no credible opposition slate emerges next year, even if for no reason other than Duterte’s Teflon popularity, it may just be cited by his human rights critics abroad as yet another example of “repression by his authoritarian regime.”
The bigger lesson here, though, may be the inherent shortcomings of a unitary state under an overly powerful presidency. Whether the top dog is weak or strong, problems are created either way. What suffers in the process are what ought to be strong and stable political parties who can provide principles-based governance and continuity.
It’s a problem that advocates of parliamentary federalism claim they can address in a new constitution. It’s time to hear these guys out.
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Now that I’ve gotten my readers—who were wondering about my column title today—this far, I can confess that I’m dedicating this column to my first-ever grandchild, Sebastian George Olivar IV, born last Sunday in Virginia and my best Easter gift ever.
At age 65, when some of my friends are already sending their grandchildren off to college, I’ve waited a long time for this. There certainly can’t be anything worse than a long-overdue grandfather being gifted with a son’s son. The joy overflows.
Welcome to the world, Baste!
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