MANILA, February 15, 2004
 (STAR) BABE'S EYE VIEW By Babe Romualdez - The other day, I played golf with Argentinian ambassador Mario Schuff and he pointed out to me how intense and emotional Filipinos are about their politics. More so now when he sees the upper crust of society becoming so intense against an FPJ presidency, while FPJ becomes more and more popular with the poor. The ambassador feels that all this intense tugging and pushing between the two brackets of society is forcing the country into a class war. We’re simply doing it to ourselves. As he pointed out, we begin to forget that the elections, no matter how intense and quick-tempered we can sometimes get, we should simply calm down and remember that this is part of the whole democratic process – if this is what we want.

As the ambassador pointed out, there are many similarities between Argentina and the Philippines. That’s probably why he could make that accurate assessment.

FPJ is extremely popular with the masses, and like any other candidate, he’s going through the normal democratic process. GMA knows the importance of the D and E vote, that’s why she has Noli de Castro as her vice presidential running mate. This bracket, which comprises 90-percent of the social demographics can exclusively decide who will become president.

The disqualification, if it has merit, should have been resolved long before the campaign period started. Today, it is only adding more fuel to the burning tension between the rich and the poor. No one really knows what will happen if this disqualification pushes through. Either the marginalized sector would go to the streets, or have a replay of the Labor Day seige of Malacañang, who knows. Either way, we all lose. We are right now feeling its effects. Some businessmen are already threatening to leave the country because they expect some political and economic fallout. In fact, during the past ten days, more than 100 million to 150 million US dollars in potential investments have left the country due to the rumored disqualification of FPJ.

The Philippines got a failing mark this week from one of the biggest pension funds in the world as a possible venue for equity investments — Wilshire Consulting. Bangko Sentral officials said it was the faulty grading system, having based the results from third party sources. But it doesn’t change the fact that the Philippines has been deleted from the list of investment sites of the United States’ biggest pension funder – the California Employees Retirement System. Recently, the government’s 14 billion-peso housing mortgages was just put up for sale to foreigners. Foreign investors may have shown some interest, but it remains to be seen if a single deal would push through.

The OCW industry is also in deep water. I was told by a leader in the seafaring industry that Filipinos are now facing very stiff competition from Indian, Bangladeshi, Chinese and Indonesian overseas workers. Of about 100 applicants that visit an OCW employment agency, only four to five are given jobs daily. Also, Filipino OCWs demand very high wages. They get an average wage of 400 to 500 US dollars while Indonesians are content with $300 and Bangladeshi $250. Chinese, known for cheap labor, sometimes settle for $150/month.

Of course, the shipping line will always get cheap but effective labor. What NEDA head Ramon Neri said about the 2.3-percent population growth being advantageous to the Philippines so we can send more OCWs abroad is absolute nonsense. As a matter of fact, many Filipinos applying to become OCWs, mostly college graduates, can’t even speak one simple straight sentence in English. Simply said, foreign companies will get someone who knows how to speak English, at the very least. As I have said many times before, the country’s problems all boil down to the D and E bracket – they are just too many – 55-percent and 35-percent of the population, respectively. One consequence of uncontrolled population growth is weak educational foundation because the government does not have enough resources to educate the growing population, particularly in the lower class that’s now averaging an alarming seven children per family.

That’s why foreign companies are now seriously considering other nationalities to fill their workforce requirements. Overseas workers find it more and more difficult to find jobs abroad. China right now is enjoying a 13.6 percent or 4.1 billion US dollars increase in foreign direct investments because they offer cheap labor and has built a financially strong middle class. This is what we need to do in this country.

When problems pile up, more often than not, it’s the poor that suffer the most. This is precisely why we need the elections – to "let out some steam," particularly from the D and E sector. Elections could possibly be the only stabilizing factor at the moment. I completely disagree with our friend former ambassador to China Fortunato Abat who is advocating a no-elections scenario. If we’re to show some intense emotion about something, we should be intense about having elections – not the politics, not the personalities.

What we are now seeing and hearing is the voice of the majority. So far, the surveys are clear: they want FPJ to become President, Noli de Castro Vice President, maybe Bong Revilla as Senate President, and even Joey Marquez as Speaker of the House. Even if, for one reason or the other, they were all disqualified, there will be more of the same. For as long as we do not address the problem of the D and E class, the show will go on.

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Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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