After two long years of this life-changing pandemic crisis, people are back to face-to-face interactions and are somewhat bringing in revenge from those difficult but necessary mobility and safety restrictions.
People are just happy to go out and are celebrating with friends and loved ones as much as their time and money can afford throughout the holiday season.
This is also the time when some retrospection of a pivotal year when the Filipino people elected a new set of leaders with President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. at the helm of a country that must navigate the complex risks and challenges of the evolving new normal.
At the start of the Marcos Jr. administration, the June survey of Pulse Asia revealed that Filipinos wanted the new government to prioritize on controlling the prices of goods and services and creating jobs for the poor.
Having lived through the rule of so many administrations since President Marcos Sr., these have been a recurring concern.
Respondents of the same survey said that their most urgent personal concern is to stay healthy and avoid illness (66 percent) which reflects how people fear the economic catastrophe that befalls a family when a member is hospitalized or stricken with a life-threatening illness, more so being infected by the COVID-19 virus.
The next most urgent concerns are to have a secure/well-paying job or source of income and to at least be able to have enough to eat every day (both at 47 percent) which echo the economic woes of a struggle of these hard times.
Findings of the Social Weather Stations survey of self-rated poverty showed a rising trend with 49 percent saying they are poor in Oct 2022 from 45 percent in March 2019. This is attributable to the economic crash caused by the pandemic.
On the other hand, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority say that unemployment rate in October 2022 fell to pre-pandemic levels at 4.5 percent which translates to 2.24 million jobless Filipinos and underemployment rate at 14.2 percent or 6.67 million Filipinos.
Gross Domestic Product data also show encouraging figures in this year’s 3rd quarter performance at 7.6 percent from an all time low of -16.9 percent during the 2nd quarter of 2020 which was at the height of the lockdowns.
Another consequence of the pandemic crisis is the huge government spending to implement the many anti-COVID 19 and “ayuda” programs as well as the continuity of public services and infrastructure projects.
Bureau of Treasury data recorded the national government debt reaching a new record-high of P13.64 trillion at the end of October 2022. By the end of the 3rd quarter this was equivalent to 63.7 percent of GDP.
A further illustration of how expensive these pandemic years is the huge budget deficit or the shortfall in government revenues versus its expenditures.
The national government’s full-year budget deficit for 2021 reached P1.67 trillion – or 21.78 percent higher year-on-year – which was equivalent to 8.61 percent of GDP (Bureau of Treasury).
From January to October 2022, the budget deficit stood at P1.11 trillion. These are the highest deficit figures compared to two pre-pandemic decades.
The ongoing pressures consequent of the pandemic and ongoing war in Ukraine has seriously affected the business sector which is the driver of the economy.
The latest update of the Overall Business Outlook Index of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas saw a less optimistic business sentiment as the overall confidence index declined for the second consecutive quarter to 23.9 percent from 26.1 percent in the previous quarter.
Respondents pointed to higher inflation, the depreciating peso, the decline in dales and demand, rising cost of production inputs such as raw materials and fuel, and higher interest rates as the dampening factors.
BSP’s survey likewise showed weaker consumer outlook in the 4th quarter of 2022 with the Consumer Outlook Index declining to -14 percent from -12 percent in the previous quarter.
Consumers identified again attributed this sentiment to the abrupt increase the prices of goods and therefore higher expenses, low income, and family members unable to work because there are fewer jobs available.
But still, despite all these problematic realities, the survey released last week by Pulse Asia bares the durable optimism of Filipinos with 9 out of 10 respondents looking forward to 2023 with high optimism.
Pulse Asia reported that, “Virtually all Filipino adults (92 percent) will face the year ahead with hope, a sentiment echoed by 89 percent to 99 percent across geographic areas and by 86 percent to 94 percent in the various socio-economic classes.”
We have been battered by extremely challenging times that have hit the world with hard lessons that I hope will guide all of us and especially the leaders of all sectors of our society to boldly move forward, to innovate and to recreate a sustainably and inclusively prosperous post-pandemic ecosystem.