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Spooked

The “ghost” month in the Oriental lunar calendar ends, but what a month it has been, not only in the Philippines, but elsewhere.

According to the geomancers though, the “ghost” lingers for a week before departing, even if the seventh lunar month is over.

Typhoon ‘‘Mongkhut,’’ taken from the Thai name for mangosteen, is barreling in the Pacific Ocean through Guam, and if it’s current direction holds, into Taiwan.  Or it could yet hit Batanes and the Babuyan Islands, with heavy rainfall affecting Northern Luzon and the rest of our main island.

During the latter half of the ghost month, Typhoon ‘‘Jebi’’ struck Japan, destroying the long bridge that links the Kansai International Airport to Osaka, and beyond that, to Kyoto and the rest of Japan’s tourist destinations.  The devastation was almost similar to ‘‘Haiyan,’’ or our ‘‘Yolanda’’ of horrible memories.

And a week after, an earthquake struck Sapporo and Hakodate and other parts of Hokkaido.  Terribly spooked Japan has been by the ghosts of the seventh month.

A Xiamen Airlines plane skidded from the Naia runway into a grassy patch  softened by incessant rain.  It took a day and a half to extricate the plane, but the toll it took on airport and airline operations was devastating.  It happened during the second week of the ghost month.  

The incident not only resulted in stranding thousands of irate passengers; it also exposed how unprepared we are for such accidents.  It also highlighted the need for another international gateway that has been discussed for the last two decades, without decision nor action.

But what really spooked the average Filipino most were the long queues for vanishing NFA rice, along with commercial rice prices hitting the roof.  Along with the absence of rice, the price of fish and vegetables, pork and poultry rose as well.

Never mind the sugared drinks which we are so fond of.  Water is a far healthier substitute.

Yet there is no substitute for rice among the poor and the middle class.  Only the rich can afford quinoa or adlai, or whole wheat bread, and then again, they eat basmati or Calrose or Japonica, even if it costs them three times more than what the poor have to make do with.

As the gates of hell were wide open, the cost of basic necessities was what bedeviled Filipinos most.  And just as the “gates” began to close after the middle of the ghost month, the Bangko Sentral came up with its measurement of inflation that the Department of Finance and most economists did not predict to be as much: 6.4 percent, the highest in nine years.

It sent shockwaves across the economy, from a stock market spooked downhill, to legislators foaming in their mouths, asking for heads to be chopped.

And the peso went into deeper south, ending last Friday at close to 54 to the dollar.

The tragedy of it all was that, as Albay Rep. Joey Salceda noted, the cost-push inflation was “self-inflicted.” It was not a case of bad luck; it was a case of bad timing, an absence of planning, or even common sense.

The Left and the yellows blamed TRAIN 1, putting the chances of TRAIN 2, thereinafter re-named TRABAHO, the comprehensive reform legislation our economic managers were pushing on the back of a popular presidency, at peril of passage months before mid-term elections.

The “train” may have been contributory to inflation, but it was not the primary culprit, as any financially-literate person without jaundiced or reddened eyes could see.  Externalities such as Trump’s harrumphing Iran that caused oil to continue its rise, and the depreciation of the peso vis-à-vis Trump’s strengthening dollar were the greater contributors to the spooked economic situation.

True, all of the Asean countries were getting spooked by inflation, but the Philippine cost-push at 6.4 percent trumped Vietnam’s 3.9 percent, Indonesia’s 3.2 percent and Thailand’s 1.62 percent. The ghosts of August-September hit our price economy hardest.

And in the case of our staple grain, even with imports suddenly being rushed by NFA, and the harvest season just around the corner, the betting is that the price spikes will not abate significantly for the rest of 2018.  Consumers will need more garlic to ward off the spook, so to speak.

On the political front, Senator Antonio Trillanes was spooked by, it turns out, Solicitor General Jose Calida whom he wanted to roast over hot coals in a Senate hearing over security guard contracts.

And while the President was on a trip to the Holy Land and neighboring Jordan, Asec. Mocha Uson of the PCOO sang a Lebanese song in front of a souvenir shop in the fringes of Petra, obviously delighted at having seen such a magnificent wonder of the ancient world.  Oh well, maybe she was trying to ward off the “ghosts” of the seventh month.

* * *

On a personal note, and just as the ghost month was about to end, the 20-year old daughter of former employee in Butuan City died after massive bleeding, likely by an undetected leukemia.

What made her story more tragic was that she was a bright student in a graduating class at Fr. Saturnino Urios Catholic University, who had hoped that after finishing, she could help her mother and sibling gain a more comfortable life.

Patricia Yzel Lao Payot’s mother used to work as a counter girl in one of our family-owned fastfood restaurants, while her father was a dishwasher who eventually became a cook.  I helped the father get a job as a cook in a cruise ship, and through honing his culinary talents, now a chef and steward in a cargo vessel.

Such a sad denouement.

But as if to give the young girl some cheer on the way to heaven, movie actress Karla Estrada read a Facebook account by Patricia’s classmates of how much she idolized her son’s Kath-Niel star tandem. In fact, she lined up in a queue along with some classmates to watch the tandem’s latest movie, enduring abdominal pains just to watch her cinematic idols.  She collapsed after the movie screening, and had to be brought to the hospital.

The bereaved family wishes to express their gratitude for the kind gesture of Daniel Padilla’s mother Karla, sending a huge wreath to give condolences.  It would make Patrizia smile in child-like glee, the mother said.

* * *

This writer also sends profound condolences to the family of Rene Garcia of the immortal Hotdogs band, who passed away last week. Hotdogs’ OPM hits of the ’70s still delight to this day.

His brothers Greg and Dennis are good friends, with whom I have worked on several advertising campaigns.

Topics: Lito Banayo , Spooked , ghost , Typhoon , Japan
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