, January 7, 2005
(STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco  -  Got home last Wednesday morning from an exhausting trans Pacific flight, in time to read the front page story of how Ate Glo’s praying to exorcise the "demons of skepticism". It is as if the so called doomsayers are responsible for the doomsday scenario that everyone sees for this country these days. Well... she is our Great Leader and it is all up to her to prove the doomsayers wrong by leading the country to prosperity. That’s what leadership is all about!

The problem with our dear Ate Glo is, she has taken to blaming others for the problems at hand, instead of looking within herself for the leadership to take us out of our messy circumstances. A hundred doomsayers can do nothing in the face of a strong leader who can inspire the people to look beyond their present miseries, and into a glorious future.

As I always say, our Great Leader must learn to inspire confidence. How can she inspire confidence if she is unable to transcend petty politicking and populism? Even some of her Cabinet members have to privately admit that it seems she is still on campaign mode. Thus, she is unable to make tough decisions expected of someone with her training and credentials.

Take the population issue for instance... the economist that she is, should have realized long ago that the growth rate of our population is not sustainable, given available resources for social services and the capacity of the economy to create jobs. Yet, she refuses to see the benefit and the logic of a population program that works. She attributes her blinders to her religious beliefs, which could even be a misunderstanding of what her religion allows.

A Jesuit theologian had once written in his column in this newspaper that even the Catholic position can be interpreted in a way that allows effective family planning on the ground that it is immoral to let souls be born in sure misery and sub human existence. No one is talking abortion here which I think is immoral, but we certainly have to go beyond the rhythm method that obviously does not work in the real world out there.

This week, another official alarm on our galloping population growth was sounded. Commission on Population chief Tomas Osias pointed out our population is now getting younger and more dependent on the government. Osias said almost 40 percent of 84 million Filipinos are under the age of 15. "These are the dependents that must be supported because they are still unproductive," he said in a DZMM interview.

Ate Glo surely knows that government is forced to spend more on education, health, and other social services as a result of the growing youth population, depleting the treasury’s meager resources. This is also why families must be broken up as parents go abroad to work because there is not enough here to make a living that would support a growing family. I am not sure if Ate Glo thinks it is better to have children grow up in broken homes, with one or both parents abroad, than have a viable population program.

Osias said population growth remained unchecked at a rate of two million Filipinos per year, mostly from the lower-income brackets. He said families from high-income brackets usually have only two to three children while those in the D and E classes have an average of six to eight children.

My wife was interviewing the woman who gave her a massage during our recent stay in Boracay and what she told her clearly presented the problem to me. The woman said she has eight children already and desperately wants access to family planning services. But, she said, the local health center no longer helps them. She is familiar with rhythm but found it difficult to use. What is she to do every time her macho husband comes home drunk and demands sex?

If Ate Glo took a braver stand on family planning, her health secretary wouldn’t be afraid to implement the more effective means that Sen. Johnny Flavier promoted in his time. Instead, Secretary Dayrit gave a generous grant to a lay Catholic group to promote rhythm. Even as Dr. Dayrit showed a bodega full of contraceptives to reporters recently to dispute complaints that these are not available, it seems distribution is faulty.

Population is just one major issue that Ate Glo must confront and show more forceful leadership on. Damn the torpedoes of some Church leaders. Anyway, the current Church position isn’t dogma. From what I know, we are way past the information and motivation phase of the program. Everyone, even in the prolific poorer families, knows about family planning. What now needs to be done is provide access to effective methods, short of abortion.

Can’t the economist Ate Glo see the problem and the solution? I am sure she does because she isn’t stupid. What is her hidden agenda? Why isn‘t she showing leadership? Then she wonders why people are skeptical.

2005 realities

How can one not be a skeptic given the facts that stare us in the face? An American think tank, the Heritage Foundation, ranked us 90th among 161 countries in its 2005 Index of Economic Freedom. It observed economic missteps, political instability, poor governance, and its susceptibility to external shocks has trapped the Philippine economy in a "boom-bust" cycle, and kept it lagging behind its Asian neighbors.

The Heritage report said widespread poverty continues to be the main challenge, with 28.4 percent of Filipino families falling below the poverty threshold in 2000 (as measured by the formal economy). But the situation is really worse. A Pulse Asia survey indicated that more than half of our people rated themselves poor, or feel poor.

Then we have the economists in the Bangko Sentral thinking that the country’s dollar income this year will shrink to $1.2 billion from an estimated $2.6 billion last year. This will happen because our export earnings are forecast to drop significantly as the result of a global economic slowdown.

Bangko Sentral Assistant Governor Diwa C. Guinigundo said they are forecasting export growth to slow to eight percent this year from 10 percent in 2004, but import growth to stay at 13 percent. The trade deficit is also forecast to hit $3.4 billion in 2005 from an estimated $1.98 billion in 2004. It also expects portfolio investments – investments in the stock and debt markets – to decline to $1.6 billion from $2.9 billion.

So, Ate Glo must see that skepticism is based on numbers. To pray for deliverance from our ill fortune is good but prayers alone are not enough. We need good leadership, one that can inspire us to work to beat the odds. The ball is largely in Ate Glo’s court.

Back to work

Ka Doroy once observed that the best part of a trip is going home. It is so true. While I surely enjoyed the company of all my children and other relatives over the holidays, it feels really good to be back home too. It helped that I took the most direct route home via PAL. I was also pleasantly surprised to notice the dramatic improvement in their in-flight cuisine. I used to just skip dinner and go to sleep. But this time, I enjoyed the Hainanese chicken rice. And for breakfast, sea bass, a big change from the usual tasteless omelets.

I could empathize very well with the full page ad of Citibank at the Los Angeles Times on the day I left LA. The ad’s headline said, If you’re exhausted after the holidays, imagine how your wallet feels! How true! How true! The hospitality of relatives and friends notwithstanding, the costs of travel are not insignificant for anyone earning pesos and having to spend in dollars. I stopped multiplying everything by 56 a long time ago, or I wouldn’t even be able to pay for breakfast at McDonald’s.

Still, the memories are worth it. As the Mastercard television commercial puts it, everything from meals to hotel rooms to shopping sprees can be paid for by Mastercard. But being with my globalized family, as one family again, even if only for a couple of weeks, is priceless.

Well.. Mastercard will make me remember the great days I had last month alright... right up to Valentine’s Day... that’s when I expect to get the billing statement for the priceless Christmas memories. But what the heck...the memories will be there forever... while the credit card bill... just for the next 30 days or so.

New Year thought

Dr. Ricky Soler sent me something I heard some months ago, but I guess it is timeless or timely, given the new year and this column’s focus on family planning. Here it is.

If you had sex twice a day for 365 days last year, kept all the condoms and melted these, you could make a tire and call it a GOOD YEAR!

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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