That 7.6 percent increase in our gross domestic product for 2022 was certainly better than good news for the country; more so for the seven-month old administration of President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.
Spin masters did a good job at comparing it to the growth indicia of other neighboring countries, and gave many the impression that “happy days are here again” – to borrow that campaign ditty of Franklin Delano Roosevelt played at the 1932 Democratic convention amidst the gloom of the Great Depression.
To be fair, the lowering of restrictions caused by the pandemic and lockdown policies of the previous administration by President Marcos Jr. unleashed enough spending activity to reverse the two years of economic decline.
Revenge spending, revenge domestic travel, the return of face-to-face classes, and the balikbayan homecoming in the last quarter gave life to our services sector, whether retail, food and beverage outlets, resorts and hotels.
The dollar-peso exchange also gave more bang for the bucks sent by OFWs and Fil-Ams to their families especially during the holiday season, enough to compensate for the decline in agriculture and a tepid manufacturing sector.
The big dip was in 2020, the year COVID 19 was at its most virulent, when our economy shrunk by 9.5 percentage points.
Gradual recovery came in 2021, when we registered a 5.7 percent GDP increase, and 2022, which was an election year with heavy spending, and the birth of a new administration, brought up the salutary 7.6 percent.
Our economy in the last three years may be compared to a sick person hospitalized for so long, incurring in the process so much indebtedness, but is now out of sick bay and recovering.
Hopefully, that recovery will be sustained.
The poet Robert Frost concluded in his famous Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening, “and miles to go before I sleep.”
That must be the reason why the president keeps stating he is “sleepless” in the face of problems both geopolitical and economic.
We certainly would not want to rain on our economic managers’ parade, but the headwinds keep us from uncorking the champagne bottle to celebrate.
We are recovering, but we have yet to recover.
The government’s huge debt is like an albatross upon the neck, preventing a huge build-up of government spending on infrastructure and other pump-priming activities.
Though the PSA by its statistical measurement tells us that unemployment is down, largely the result of the opening up of the locked-down economy, underemployment is high.
Deep and unjust inequality persists in our society despite the growth.
Our Gini coefficient is quite high, and the trite fact of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer persists, heightened by food inflation sweeping our economy like wildfire.
First there was sugar, followed by the ridiculous spiral of onions, and now eggs. Garlic to follow? What next — rice and fish?
With prices of meat and poultry still unabated since pestilence struck, what could yet be the source of protein for our poor, with hard-boiled eggs sliced and partitioned for families who subsist on rice plus instant noodles for their carbohydrate fix?
As if food inflation was not bad enough, and our food security threatened by low production and high costs, there is the price of oil still hanging like Damocles’ sword upon our heads.
This week, the OPEC plus cartel will meet again, in the midst of the Chinese dragon awakened from COVID stupor, and the Russia-Ukraine war continuing to build up. The signs for oil prices indicate an upward trend.
Meanwhile, recession rules in Europe and Japan, just as it threatens America.
The impact of these on our exports, already saddled by high costs of production and logistics, hobbled as well by supply chain problems, will weigh down on our balance of trade.
Again, to paraphrase Frost, “the woods are … dark and deep” and we are not yet out of it.
Last Friday, fraudsters victimized several persons who went to Malacanang expecting to take their oath of office for several positions out of thousands the president has yet to appoint.
According to the victims, a certain Undersecretary Eduardo Diokno and Assistant Secretary Johnson See, supposedly from the Office of the Executive Secretary, instructed them to troop to the palace for their swearing in ceremony to be administered by the President himself.
Whether these names were merely mis-appropriated, and whether the claims of some of the victims about paying huge sums of money to secure their positions in government are true, we cannot verify as of now.
The NBI is investigating.
The positions for which oaths of office were to be administered include an ambassadorial post to the Netherlands, which is dubious, firstly because what we have is a tri-country diplomatic representation in Belgium, The Netherlands and Luxembourg; and secondly, ambassadors need an agreement by the host country plus confirmation by the Commission on Appointments before they can be sworn in.
High positions at the Department of Transportation, Tourism and GOCCs like Clark Development Corporation, its international airport, even the Port of Batangas were also mentioned, with suckers taken in.
Matters like these, including persistent rumors about positions for sale, or previously sold, speak volumes about the state of present governance.
Last week, over our usual members-only lunch meeting, a highly-placed legislator said they would soon open up the proposal to revise the Constitution for congressional debate.
Readers will recall how we have been proposing charter change, and enumerated our own wish list of suggested revisions to the present charter in several articles last year.
Though it is a congressional initiative, and the presidential hand is yet to be seen, this is very welcome news.