At his April 19 Monday’s televised talk to the people, President Duterte tried to recall the three current hottest issues. Quoting Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, he began slowly, “the hottest issues are West Philippine Sea, ayuda and –(long pause),--what’s the other one?” Then a voice butted in, “COVID!”
“Oh, well,” said Duterte, seemingly oblivious to the raging issues of the day. He got mixed up with his priorities—West Philippine Sea, ayuda, and oh well, COVID. He got it in reverse order. It should have been COVID, ayuda, and the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte’s mind works like a daily newspaper’s. There is no past. That is not news. There is no future. That is not news. Only the hottest issues of the day. Even then, he still gets it wrong.
One million Filipinos will get sick of COVID by the end of this April. At that trend, three million Filipinos will get sick.
Since the case fatality ratio or CFR is now at 5 percent, 350,000 Filipinos will die by the end of 2021. This 350,000 is higher than the 100,000 deaths in 50 years of the communist and separatist insurgency wars and more than six times the 57,000 military deaths in World War II in the Philippines. The death toll makes Duterte’s the deadliest presidency of the Philippines.
And yet, Duterte cannot even remember the pandemic as a hot issue. Despite the fact that the cabinet ministers in charge of essential and crucial departments got COVID—Defense, Local Government, Trade and Industry, Labor, Public Works and Highways, Education, and the presidential spokesman. A few of them got it twice. Thankfully, none of them died. Oh, well.
Holdouts are Finance—Sonny Dominguez who borrowed $15 billion to buy vaccines, and Agriculture, William Dar half of whose piggery got a disease of their own, the animal version of COVID, the Swine Flu.
There is a severe shortage of vaccines right now. Only 1.2 million Filipinos out of 110 million have been inoculated, most of them with the Chinese Sinovac, which has 50 percent efficacy (at least you will not die), and AstraZeneca which has been linked to blood clot (at least you will not die).
But where are the vaccines and when are they coming? Honestly, even Duterte himself does not know. Oh, well.
Next issue is ayuda. The President is correct. It is the No. 2 hottest issue. Ayuda is basically about money. Lack of money. People have no money with which to buy food. Food is half of an average Filipino home’s expenses—rice or cereal (15 percent of total expenditures), fish, pork or any meat, some vegetables.
Prices of rice, corn, fish, pork and nearly vegetables are at their record highs. Since food is half of the consumer basket, inflation, which is the rate of increase in prices, will probably double to more than 5 percent this year, from 2.6 percent in 2020 and 2.5 percent in 2019.
Why do people have no money? Oh well, one of every five workers is out of work, thanks to a military-style lockdown that is the world’s longest (since March 15, 2020) and severest (you could get killed at checkpoints, if mistaken for a nut, a curfew violator, a communist or a terrorist, or a combination of all).
What did the lockdown do? Oh well, it locked down 75 percent of the economy and closed down 70 percent of businesses.
In Metro Manila and nearby provinces of Rizal, Cavite, Laguna and Bulacan, “For every week of ECQ (severe lockdown), we lose P19.6 billion because people cannot go to work and have no income,” reckons Economic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua.
In Luzon alone, the Philippines’ main island, which accounts for 67 percent of total production, P3.3 billion worth of economic output daily was lost. Hence, the sudden shortages in supply of many prime commodities. Hence, the runaway prices which cut into people’s purchasing power. Pork that you could buy last year for P200 or less per kilo is now priced at P500.
Since people have no jobs and no money, they of course need ayuda. That, of course, government can no longer give. The Duterte administration is technically bankrupt today.
Now we go to what Duterte thinks is the No. 1 hottest issue, the West Philippine Sea. China, whose President Xi is his best friend and principal benefactor, has seized a number of atolls, reefs and islets from the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines. Some of the reefs and islets grabbed by China from their claimants: Fiery Cross in 1987, Subi Reef in 1988, Johnson South Reef in 1988, Mischief Reef in 1995, Scarborough Shoal in 2012, and Sandy Cay in 2017.
In March this year, 220 Chinese military vessels masquerading as giant fishing boats surrounded the Julian Felipe Reef, apparently to begin its seizure.
Thankfully, the Philippine military raised alarms and the United States sent its USS Theodore Roosevelt carrier strike group to the area, prompting the Chinese to disperse or reduce the number of their vessels. The US State Department warned China against doing such things again in the future. Bluff?
Duterte realizes he must do something about this blatant land and sea territorial grabbing.
But not now, he says. “The Chinese will just give you a (dirty) finger,” he told the nation last Monday. “You cannot scare them (Chinese) because they firmly believe it is theirs.” “I do not want any quarrel,” he said. “The issue of the West Philippine Sea remains to be a question forever.”