STAR COLUMN OF THE DAY: ARE WE TO FORGET THE NEXT 18 YEARS?

MANILA,  February 16, 2004 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - In a recent social gathering, I found the guests no longer joking about whatís to happen to this country after the May elections. A columnist had written something that got to them, so to speak. Na-tauhan, ika nga. It is either FPJ or GMA for the next six years, then it is either Noliís or Lorenís turn. Then itís Bong Revillaís, given that he is expected to top the senatorial polls. Thatís 18 years, a real long time to wait for our political sense to mature and be more responsible.

Those of my generation can only shake their heads in disbelief. We certainly canít wait 18 years for credible leadership to emerge in this country. No wonder a sense of helplessness has set in. When people get together these days, I inevitably get asked what currency they should convert their pesos to, US dollar or euro? Maybe, I tell them only half in jest, that they should also consider the yuan.

The futures market for the yuan is said to be bullish. Traders are betting that Beijing would allow even a token revaluation this year to placate the Americans, their prime export customers. In a sense, a bet on the yuan makes more sense than a bet on the euro. The upside in the Chinese economy appears more certain than that of Europeís.

Seriously now, the drastic depreciation of the peso has specially disheartened those of us who plan on retiring within the next five to 10 years. Love of country aside, we have a duty to ourselves and our families to do what we can to protect the buying power of that retirement nest egg. This is why the prospect of having a showbiz president, one after the other, for at least the next 18 years, is so unnerving.

Ces Drilon, the head of the Business News Group of ABS-CBN tried but failed to get a glimpse of FPJís economic program last week. What she succeeded in getting was the televised ire of the presidential hopeful when Ces asked a personal question, more out of frustration over her failure to get FPJ say something substantive on the economy.

My friend Mike Romero, spokesman of the opposition group, gave a list of supposed economic advisers of FPJ. But three of those mentioned quickly disowned the "honor". Then there was the story about FPJ recruiting Vice President Guingona as an economic adviser.

Tito G is one of the great Filipinos of our time but he is known to have this hangover sentiment for protectionist policies masquerading as economic nationalism. In this era of globalization, it would be a disaster to retreat to such policies rather than work on improving our competitiveness in the world market. Weíd be a democratic Myanmar if we retreat to protectionism.

My consolation is Serge OsmeŮa told me he has agreed to help FPJ on the economic policy side. Toti Chikiamco and Raul Fabella are also supposed to help out. Thatís good news except that I wonder how influential will they be? Put another way, how much economics education is FPJ willing to take to get him up to speed? Remember how it was with Erap.

I am sure the business community does not expect FPJ to have a detailed economic plan for the campaign. But is it too much to ask for a glimpse of his basic economic philosophy? That would at least give a hint of what to expect in his administration. That, however, appears to be asking too much from the box office king, given his obviously limited appreciation of the complexities of the economic issues that a President must deal with, specially for a country with our kind of problems.

While GMA, a PhD in Economics, can be trusted to understand the issues at hand, we all had a first hand experience of how she has failed to handle the issues well enough in the last three years. Sheís not decisive enough, allowing important issues to fester. Like NAIA 3. And how she resorts to populist policies for political expediency.

She talks free market one day but turns around and becomes populist the next. She has shifted positions so much, no one has a clear idea of what she stands for. This is precisely why she lost her middle class constituency and is now desperately trying to win over the masa with unadulterated patronage, courtesy of the taxpayers. And do not forget her horrible appointments to the judiciary and possibly the Comelec.

The dilemma people like us have today is, why give someone who failed, six more years of muddling through? On the other hand, why jump from the frying pan of GMA to the fire of FPJ?

But whatís the choice? A religious fundamentalist, albeit Christian? It is bad enough that religious leaders endorse candidates who are presumably voted blindly by their followers. Give these guys direct political power as well, and we may end up with a Christian Taliban regime.

Thatís the problem they have in America today with George W. Bush. The religious right, the Christian fundamentalists, have taken over. Thatís why their Middle East policy is all screwed up. These people could be very self righteous about their way being the only way. And I am always wary about people who, with a straight face, claim they speak directly to God and are conveying messages to us from Him.

Raul Roco appears to be the best of the lot, but even he had not been too articulate on his economic policies. His speeches have been designed more to inspire the way idealistic student leaders in our days would in an inter-collegiate oratorical contest.

When he had the chance to talk to business writers the other week, he was not able to flesh out how he plans to address the problems of our economy today. Maybe we just didnít have enough time. Hopefully, we would, as promised, get details that spell out his economic agenda. At least with Roco, we have his no nonsense record at DepEd to hang our hopes on... that maybe that could be replicated for all of government if by some miracle, he wins.

Oh well... I guess there are weightier decisions to make between now and MayÖ Right now, have to sharpen pencils on would it be dollar, euro or yuan? I am told that there is a Pinoy private banker in Hong Kong who has a Globe phone on all the time so that his Pinoy clients in Manila can call him and not worry about long distance charges.

Canít blame those guys. After all, from the looks of it, the next 18 years may have to be written off. Who wants to be caught holding a bagful of depreciated pesos?

Domestic Capital

We are often told that one of the problems of this country is our low savings rate, which means we do not have the capacity to mobilize capital we need for economic growth. PhilStar reader Chito Barcarse wonders however, if this is really so. Here is his e-mail.

"Do you think the proliferations of mobile phone users could have retarded the growth of domestic goods and services other than telecommunications? As per your columnist neighbor, Ms. Mary Ann LL. Reyes (ref. Hidden Agenda, Phil Star ,Wed. Feb 04,í04), there are 100 million text messages sent daily. At P1 per message, it is equivalent to P100 million daily, or P36.5 billion a year.

In our neighborhood, here in Cainta, I know several domestic helpers spending at least P30-60 a day for texting, rather than spending it for food. Donít you think a part of this P36.5 billion could have perk up growth in the food manufacturing sector?"

What can I say? It is indeed odd that many of our people would rather text than eat. Now that you can load your prepaid sim card with as little as P30, the phone companies have adopted the sachet principle of the consumer goods industries. Maybe the need to be connected to loved ones is a particularly strong motivation. But we all know you canít live on text messages alone. We all have to eat somehow.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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