"Getting rid of some albatrosses in the current government would give the people some hope."
That report of the biggest contraction of the economy, by 16.5 percent in the second quarter when we were on varying degrees of lockdowns, came as a jolt from out of the long dark night of this pandemic.
Everyone expected figures lower than the first quarter, but 16.5 percent was way too low. And even the most optimistic can no longer accept assurances from our economic managers that the worst is over and there would be a bounce upward by this third quarter. Truth is, these are also the “lean months” when agricultural production is down, and food prices are up due to logistical problems brought about by heavy rains, floods and typhoons.
It is good that agriculture rose by 1.6 perent in the second quarter, which should be a good sign after a long drought in agricultural performance, mostly man-made, as in caused not just by El Nino or other climate disturbances, but by official indifference, neglect and incoherent policies. Mercifully, the President had put a new man to the task, and over the last year which was his first, policies and programs have become sensible. We can only pray that these are sustained over the long haul, especially in these difficult times.
Everything else went southwards, with manufacturing down by negative 23 percent and services by negative 16 percent. This is directly traceable to the lockdowns in the most productive regions of the country, particularly NCR and Regions 3 and 4. Now with the pandemic getting worse by the day, relief is not around the corner. Not this year anyway, and not until a vaccine is produced and available. Neither does a strong peso bring any satisfaction to people whose remittances from family working abroad have been shaved off two or three pesos to the dollar, nor would such exchange rate have much impact on inflation.
Certainly, not until the vaccine comes around would people come out and celebrate.
Until then, recession will continue to depression.
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It must be so depressing even to the people in the palace, especially to the President who bears the brunt of wondering how in God’s name we can give relief to a suffering people driven to hunger and despair about their immediate future.
With an economy among the most robust in Asia, a turn-around in the internecine strife in Mindanao, a military in high spirits, and the highest approval rating for all presidents since surveys became quarterly public, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte never expected this calamity to hit his government in the last two years of his administration.
Nightly, or rather daily, he must be in solitary communion with the Maker, beseeching for answers as he leads the nation in a crisis like no other in all of 75 years. Like 90 percent or more of the population who have not been through the less than four-year ordeal of the Pacific War, the dispiritedness was never like this. Even when our economic bubble and our debt payment problems overwhelmed Marcos at the same time Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, and the economy contracted by more than 10 percent, the national spirit was never this bad.
And pinning our hopes purely on the discovery and availability of a vaccine is not helping people who must suffer through the daily grind of hardships inflicted by the pandemic. Neither do they see the prospects of early relief, with small- and medium-scale businesses, the biggest collective employers, closing down one after the other, unable to withstand the severity of economic lockdowns.
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This isn’t unsolicited advice to the leadership, and it came to me last Saturday night when I was listening to the Spotify collection in my playlist where I lump music from Hollywood movies and the musicals of Broadway and West End.
Maybe it would add to some measure of hope if he let go of some albatrosses in the current government. “Let it go, let it go. Can’t hold it back anymore,” says the hit song from Walt Disney’s Frozen.
If the pandemic will not yet go soon enough, it would give the public some measure of relief, or hope that things would be better managed, if the President let go of some health officials.
In truth, even these health managers may be feeling the pressure of public disapproval, and the onus of being unable to correct earlier mistakes.
Such an act of letting go will not necessarily make the pandemic go; the pestilence still lingers, and grows world-wide. Still, the feeling that “change is coming” would at least assuage public trepidation and fears, and as is the wont of the human spirit, “hope springs eternal” may yet come to the national psyche.
Make “Let it go” freeze away the rumblings of “Do you hear the people sing?” from the pathos of Les Miserables.