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Hard rain ahead

Publication Date : 16-01-2014

 

The real news is not that Philippine President Benigno Aquino III’s ratings dropped from September to December last year. The real news is that they did so by only a few percentage points.

His performance rating fell from 79 per cent to 73 per cent and his trust rating from 76 per cent to 74 per cent. So says Pulse Asia. Taken together with the SWS’ own survey over roughly the same period, that pretty much establishes the fact that Aquino has dodged the bullet, his ratings have dipped but not by much. Pulse Asia explicitly says so: “The movements in the approval rating of President Aquino … fall short of being considered significant in light of the survey’s overall error margin of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.”

September to December last year was the period when the Aquino administration for the first time in its life took a battering particularly in social media, a battering that extended to Aquino himself. And quite dramatically, too, the fall coming at a high point in that life, shortly after Aquino delivered his longest State of the Nation Address highlighting his administration’s accomplishments. September-December was when several things happened in quick succession, public outrage over pork, the siege of Zamboanga, the earthquake in Bohol, and the devastating superstorm “Yolanda”.

The sudden explosion of strident criticism of the Aquino administration had its detractors gleefully heralding the beginning of its end and predicting a plunge to negative ratings by yearend. As the top two survey organisations in the country have shown, the news of the administration’s death had been grossly exaggerated. Which also lent credence to its claim that while a good deal of the detraction was spontaneous, an even bigger deal of that detraction was whipped up.
The Aquino administration has dodged the bullet, but that is no reason for it to be pleased with itself. That is a reason only for it to exert itself to do better. Aquino’s own fall in approval and trust ratings came from his administration being seen to perform underwhelmingly, to put it kindly, in the face of Yolanda. A thing that blew up on him personally because of his penchant for trying to bail out his nonperforming people, in contrast with the way previous presidents did it, which was to distance themselves from them.

But more to the point, the results of the Pulse Asia, and earlier the SWS, surveys are not a reason to crow because the administration hasn’t gotten over the hump and the bigger crises are yet to come.
At the very least, there’s climate change, the new normal now being the Niagara Falls freezing like a scene from a sci-fi movie and a coastal city like Tacloban being turned into a no man’s land by howling winds like a scene from an apocalyptic one. Yolanda is not the end, it is just the beginning. And it’s all the administration can do to cope with disasters to come given a culture that says bahala na (literally: whatever will be), God has a special place in his heart for us. Years, maybe even months, from now, even Yolanda may look like a mild weather disturbance.

Just as well, there are the figures to show that today’s growth remains non-inclusive. It’s not spreading across classes, or “trickling down,” the favorite term of growth advocates, to the poorer sectors of society.

SWS as well reported that 11.8 million Filipino families rated themselves as poor and some 8.8 million families said they were “food-poor” during the period September-December 2013. That is an increase over the period before September, which registered 10.8 million families poor and 7.9 million families “food-poor”.

“Food-poor” is just a euphemism for “hungry.” The fact that there’s growth doesn’t mitigate the situation, it drives home the direness of it. That means the wealth isn’t trickling down, or, more plainly, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer. That’s an epic crisis, if ever there was one.

Indeed, the growth itself may not be there for very long. Jesse Colombo had an interesting article recently in Forbes that points this out. Colombo is sympathetic to the Philippines but feels obliged to give a reality check. Titled “Why the Philippines’ economic miracle is really a bubble in disguise,” his article shows how the Philippines’ record growth rates over the past few years have been largely credit-driven, caused by money inflows and cheaper credit.

“The Philippines’ economy is far less reliant upon exports than most Asian countries, while it is one of the most consumer-driven economies in the region, with household consumption growing to nearly three-quarters of the country’s GDP… The surge in the Philippines’ consumer spending has led to a bubble in shopping mall development, and the country now hosts 9 of the world’s 38 largest malls—beating even the US, China, and most other developed countries… There is also reason for skepticism about the growth and sustainability of remittances to the Philippines because 53 per cent of remittances originate from the United States, with much of it sent from Filipino nurses who are benefiting from an unsustainable healthcare bubble [in the US].”

The next two-and-a-half years of Aquino’s term won’t be easy sailing, it will be an uphill climb. I myself am glad he has survived his own crisis in credibility and looks to be back on track. Like I said the last time around, what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. For all his perceived failings, or for all the complaints thrown his way, spontaneous or engineered, he remains the best bet we’ve had in a long time to see us through the dark days ahead. The trust he enjoys in the international community shows so, as does the trust he continues to inspire among his constituents to go by the surveys, give or take a hiccup or two. He’ll need it to get us past the hard rain.
We’ll need it to get past the hard rain.

 

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