In difficult times

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Philippine 1/2 peso bill | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Except for about 5 million families in the Philippines, the balance of about 21 million is too vulnerable because of the current economic conditions. With that many households looking to the government for varying levels of support, there will not be enough government resources to accommodate the need.

One of the earliest reports from the new finance team of this administration mentioned that the Philippines will be borrowing more than one trillion pesos in 2023. I suspect during the earlier part of the year or within the first 365 days of the new president. How depressing.

The last president more than doubled the running total of government debt, starting with 6 trillion pesos and ending with 13 trillion pesos. Quite a high price to pay for popularity. He is not president anymore, but we, all the way to our grandchildren, are left behind to pay for the next several decades.

In 2016, PNoy turned over a government with solid finances and an exchange rate of 46 pesos to 1 US$. Now, it is 58 pesos to 1 US$ or a depreciation of 26%. This delicate scenario brings back to mind how an older Marcos, from 1970 – 1985, collapsed the peso value several times. He started with 3.9 pesos to 1US$ and left the exchange rate of a whopping 18 pesos to 1 US$, almost one-fifth of its original value.

Whether we like the new president or not, we share the same Philippines. But, of course, we will not share the same economic challenges. He will be okay no matter what; he and his brood will not go hungry no matter what. But the millions going hungry today will increase in number. Worse, those who are not yet hungry but are threatened with deteriorating purchasing power in the face of steeply climbing costs will taste hunger, too.

The hungry, the poor, and the food insecure can be as high as 80% of the population. Politics will force the new administration to borrow, no matter how weak our financial position is. Otherwise, it will have to contend with frustrated and desperate people, including those who expected him to lower the price of rice to 20 pesos per kilo. To ease tensions, the price will be steep.

What is funny is that we are only in the third month of this presidency. Outside of the few who immediately benefited from the elections and the Comelec results, nobody else did. As the primary winner travels abroad, the people are the losers with runaway prices and shortages of oil, gas, fuel, electricity, transportation, rice, sugar, salt, and almost all other food commodities. Inflation is not chosen; it will just raise any costs of goods and services it can manage.

I have not yet begun to dive into the scandals. I want to stay on the surface because what is underneath is even more ugly and dirty. But even staying on the surface where material reality is, whether we like the president or not, can be quite exhausting. Life today is exhausting, period, for most Filipinos,

We can do little with difficult times because factors beyond our control cause many. However, we can do much by making the best of a bad situation. The answer, as many says, is in our hands.

I will even venture to say that the 31 million whose votes were counted by machines and SD cards as overwhelmingly for the president today will be feeling the pain more. After all, they expected their candidate would bring back a golden era and low rice prices. In other words, they had their hands out. However, a worse economic situation today will keep their hands in an asking position.

Yes, in difficult times, our hands should be busy, but not busy asking. We must work harder because there are fewer resources, not more, to reach the majority of dependent Filipinos. So far, and true to form, we see people asking for help everywhere, or at least complaining about how they cannot afford even to fill their families’ need for food. They insist on more budgets for health care and medicines, educational support and facilities, and higher wages.

It is crazy. Difficult times call for more sacrifices, not more begging. And sacrificing means doing more, producing more, not just consuming less. When essential products cost too much for a devaluing purchasing power, the only way they can be affordable is to produce more of them ourselves. Then, of course, we can consume less but may get weak, sick, or die in a scarcity situation.

Let us go back to food. When our neighbors are not hungry, we ease the tension from discontent when we are not hungry. We can then focus on how we can help one another produce even more, allowing us to barter when we have enough supply. Fish for rice, rice for vegetables, vegetables for pork or chicken. As long as we produce and exchange food, from the seas and the shores to the flat lands and the upland slopes.

Let us teach the children as though they are our most important investment. Teach them what we know how to do. Teach them to contribute to what helps the family, teach them the tasks that will serve them all their lives – how to clean, how to cook, how to plant, and most of all, how to make friends. When friends become essential to them, they will not want to lie or steal from one another.

The pandemic separated us from one another. Let’s reach out, engage, and ease up on our overheated relationship with mobile phones, tablets, and computers. There are little trolls in face-to-face relationships. Trolls are ashamed of being exposed as liars and slanderers to earn money. In front of each other, we will learn to need and love the truth again.

We can do little with difficult times because factors beyond our control cause many. However, we can do much by making the best of a bad situation. The answer, as many says, is in our hands.

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