A week ago, the president’s approval and trust ratings were exceedingly high, almost as high as the president he succeeded in office.
This comes, in part, in the afterglow of being the first ever president elected by a majority vote since his father was deposed by the EDSA revolt.
In part likewise, the high approval ratings were brought about by the re-assuring appointment of persons highly regarded by the political and economic community to be in his economic team.
The fallout from the in-and-out official life of high officials in the presidential office, mismo, did not affect the president himself.
Neither will the expected deferment, possibly even rejection by the Commission on Appointments, of some of his appointees to Cabinet, crack the president’s armor yet.
The sugar importation fiasco had its innocent fall guys and the public, by and large, never got to know the real story.
The continuing rise in food prices has yet to affect the president’s approval rating, partly due to senseless optics like the Kadiwa stores, partly because the public knows it is an inherited problem exacerbated by global discombobulation.
But come 2023, I will not sustain this observation.
Ditto for diesel and kerosene, the cost of which the public has long accepted to be outside the realm of government’s powers.
Still and all, sugar prices have not gone down, and economists know why, even if the sugar barons and oligopolistic traders are laughing all the way to the bank, or enlisting themselves in the long queue for imported luxury vehicles.
Inflation has registered 8 percent, the highest in 14 years, but that is not the end of the story.
People may be relatively giddy at the moment because Christmas bells always bring temporary joy and relief, but the morning after, when the revenge spending is gone, the dissatisfaction over food inflation will surely come.
The newly harvested rice crop is lower than projected, and for as long as fertilizers remain high and the DA keeps distributing low-yielding inbred seeds on top of machines inappropriate for agrarian reform beneficiaries, the problems of food production will persist long till 2023 rings out.
The problems of neglect, inefficiency, and continuing wastage of public funds in the altar of political greed and the rent economy it perpetuates, will exact its wages severely in the following year.
By then, the afterglow shall have dimmed.
Which is why it is difficult to understand why House Bill 6398 was rushed through a one-day approval “in principle” by the Committee on Banks, and a sudden intermediation by a one-man TWG in the person of the admittedly brilliant Joey Salceda came as afterthought.
The uproar it raised has drawn first blood. Sadly, it is a self-inflicted wound.
CSW, or complete staff work, does not mean simple calculation of numbers. It must likewise include an appreciation of possible political fallout.
Clearly in this case of expending political capital, the calculations were wrong.
The manner political capital was taken for granted, will increase the decibels of opposition from a suddenly-awakened and previously stunned non-believers of the “unity” clarion.
The politically astute presidential “ate” saw it coming, and was among the first to call for a sobering “time-out.”
You don’t awaken the legion of SSS and GSIS members who keep contributing to a nest egg that looks threatened by what in theory is a good project, a sovereign wealth fund, but the rules of “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) has prevailed, and no assurance from Ben or Joey, or Wick Veloso or even the previously yellow Stella Quimbo, can plug a dam of doubts that has been cracked.
Even the use of the term “Maharlika” reeks of hubris, allowing the likes of Rowena Guanzon to bring back the forgotten issue of the P203 billion estate tax and arrears.
What if, years from now, Maharlika becomes Maharloko?
The assurances of Ben Diokno about the fund being “professionally managed by the private sector” was immediately washed away by Joey Salceda’s and GMA’s invocation of the president’s accountability as chair of fund management.
It just highlighted the fears of a Najib Razak redux in a country where corruption has always been a major political issue.
Come to think of it, even if the 2023 budget that was passed is interspersed with huge slabs of pork called “insertions” in the budgets of many line departments, some say to the tune of 760 billion (three times the Maharlika’s initial funding), the issue brings back the question: why not limit the pork barrel entitlements instead?
After all, it is Congress which wants the wealth fund. So why not at the expense of limiting their “parochial” concerns in a time of extreme economic want?
In the previous article last Monday, I clearly interposed no objection to the creation of a professionally-run sovereign wealth fund.
But do not use pension funds, which government holds only in trust for its contributors. And the timing, given the unsettled global environment, is rather off.
I even went to the extent of proposing to get the P250 billion from 5 percent of the Bangko Sentral’s reserves, which its governor, Philip Medalla, disdained.
The idea was already proposed by previous proponents, even in the Duterte administration pre-COVID, an idea that the pandemic effectively shot down.
Atras muna, guys, and back to the drawing board. Wait for better times, or at least until the worsening inflation and food security problems are mitigated considerably.
From a political standpoint, what re-electionist senator will come to the defense of Maharlika?
And what would-be senatoriable, other than my friend Harry Roque, will come to its defense, and risk the ire of teachers, civil servants, middle-aged employees looking forward to pensions, and the senior citizenry who will influence their progeny in 2025?
When first blood is shed, the first instinct should be to stanch the bleeding.