REY GAMBOA: IT'S THE ELECTION FEVER, NOT FPJ

MANILA, November 23, 2003  (STAR) BIZLINKS by Rey Gamboa - It seems the cat is out of the bag (headline story "FPJ running in 2004," The Philippine Star, Nov. 23, 2003). If we are to believe brokers, traders, and pundits who historically tend to use anything and anybody as an excuse to bet against the peso and manipulate stock prices to their advantage, the question that will now bug the financial markets is his seriousness and "winnability".

Fernando Poe Jr. – or Da King – and his political plans are what the money market is supposedly agonizing about. Analysts say that whenever news of FPJ running in 2004 strengthens, the value of the peso and stocks tends to react in the reverse. And vice-versa.

Of course, market players have a tendency to exaggerate things especially when they see income opportunities every time the peso weakens or the Phisix floor drops.

But then again, even government officials are citing FPJ as a negative influence. No less than the National Treasurer Sergio Edeza was reported as saying that the candidacy of the movie actor would further drive up interest rates.

Da King and Erap stigma

One cannot help but think of the former deposed president every time Da King’s name crops up in the presidential race. People who think this way see FPJ’s candidacy as completely anchored on Estrada’s support.

"If he talks like Erap, drinks like Erap, thinks like Erap, then he is another Erap. It is that simple," is an example of derisive remarks often heard.

FPJ humbly admits that he has no experience in public service. But Da King’s lack of experience could really be a non-issue if we take the stint of Mrs. Aquino, who despite professing to also having no inkling in running the government, managed to stave off crises after crises.

The former president was also able to keep her name unstained by any allegations of corruption. But of course, she goes down in the Philippine history as the president who experienced the most number of coups.

Thousands of text messages have been sent back and forth denouncing FPJ’s ineptitude and simple-mindedness, and pointing to him as the last straw that will break the back of our economy. This is apparently circulated by those who believe that FPJ – a non-intelligencia member but nonetheless adored by the masses – cannot do anything for this country.

Makes one wonder what these arrogant know-it-alls have themselves done to move our country forward.

But FPJ is not the culprit

More than being perceived as a twin shadow of Erap, it is perhaps FPJ’s "winnability" that sends tremors of fear through the heart of our financial wheeler-dealers.

A closer look, however, will show that FPJ is not the culprit for our economy being in the dumps. There are so many factors that create negative vibes in the investment and business climate in the Philippines.

For starter, there is a perception as of now that the country has very limited options to pass on the reins of government next year. The incumbent government cannot exactly claim to a sterling economic management performance.

The untimely resignation of Finance Secretary Isidro Camacho – noted for his adherence to professional governance standards – and the expression of subsequent resignations by a number of key officials of the Arroyo finance team is another blow to the market. After Camacho’s announcement, the peso tumbled and is now closer to the all time low of P55.76 to the dollar.

The stock market continues to be in doldrums. Why? Not really because of FPJ but because of negative sentiments of too much political bickering, the alarming state of peace and order condition, unabated smuggling and illegal business activities, among others.

Exporters with manufacturing facilities are also rethinking their plans for expansion and are seriously looking at relocating out of the Philippines, again not because of FPJ but due to political instability, and other nagging issues such as uncompetitive power cost, labor restiveness, and inadequate infrastructures.

With elections just six months from now, chances that the national budget deficit will be kept within the P200-billion level grows dimmer. Critical revenue-enhancing measures are not moving in the legislature and weak revenue collections are not helping.

And as I stated in my earlier column, ("Political smoke chokes stock market", Philippine STAR, 21st November 2003), no one, not even the national leadership, will take corrective action to cure our economic ills at this point of time for fear that it may be politically unpopular.

With or without FPJ, we will just have to wait after the election fever subsides.

‘Breaking Barriers’ with Ford Philippines

"Breaking Barriers" on IBC (11 p.m. every Wednesday) will feature on 26th November 2003, Henry T. Co, president of Ford Group Philippines. This week’s episode will focus on the automotive sector and the effects of the changes in the excise tax law and the implementation of the Asean Free Trade Agreement (AFTA).

Is there a role for the Philippines as a manufacturing hub for automotive products to be supplied to the rest of the countries in the ASEAN region? With the recently granted export subsidy, will other vehicle companies in the Philippines follow the footsteps of Ford and start producing vehicles for export? Or, will the Philippines just continue to be a dumping ground for second-hand vehicles junked by other countries? Watch it.

Urban renewal on TV

"Isyung Kalakalan at Iba Pa" on IBC News (4:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., Monday to Friday) features starting today the various issues related to the urban renewal program being implemented in the City of Manila. While kudos was earned in some projects like the "Bay Walk" at Roxas Blvd., brickbats for other projects are being thrown at Manila City officials headed by Mayor Atienza. There are allegations of forcing through the Avenida Rizal project despite objections from residents and transport groups. And, the perceived kowtowing to the oil companies and reluctance to clear Pandacan of the safety and security threats of the oil depots. Watch it.

Should you wish to share any insights, write me at Link Edge, 4th Floor, 156 Valero Street, Salcedo Village, 1227 Makati City. Or e-mail me at reygamboa@linkedge.biz. If you wish to view the previous columns or telecasts of "Isyung Kalakalan at Iba Pa," you may visit my website at www.bizlinks.linkedge.biz.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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