You might be disappointed
CTALK - Cito Beltran (The Philippine Star) - October 12, 2018 - 12:00am

Because we are human, we tend to hear only what we want to hear and tune out what we really should hear. Often our desperation or frustration makes us want something so much that we fail to realize it’s not what we need. Imagine yourself campaigning for what you believe is the nearest, quickest solution to a problem, only to discover that the solution is not as great as you had hoped it to be. As it turns out, that is our situation with the current gas prices and inflation we are all experiencing in the Philippines.

Many Filipinos want some relief from the out of control consumer prices and inflation that have hurt our pockets and seriously affected our consumer spending. A lot of us have the impression or have been led to believe that the government should temporarily stop collecting taxes on gasoline and diesel so that there will be a domino effect on consumer prices. A number of politicians who are once again in campaign mode to be re-elected have jumped in to make the public believe that lifting the tax on fuel is a just call and they are at the frontlines fighting for public interest. That is called taking advantage of public interest but not for public good.

Unfortunately, once President Rodrigo Duterte orders a freeze on the fuel tax, many Filipinos will be up for a very rude awakening. Yes, there is a very great possibility that the President will order a freeze on the excise tax in the next two weeks and that will surely boost his ratings and popularity but it’s not going to freeze our consumer woes!

A P3 price rollback on pump prices is not going to roll back consumer goods to previous levels because the conversion rate of the peso versus the dollar is not dependent on pump prices. The rollback may bring down prices of certain food commodities by a few centavos but the rollback will not compensate for agricultural shortages. In the Philippines, once you allow price increases, it will take an army of tax men and price cops to push back or roll back prices. It’s like going to war and no one wants to give up territory. So if like me you were made to believe that a freeze on the excise tax on fuel will save us, better wake up to reality because you will be very disappointed.

At the moment, the best shot that everybody has for a tax freeze is if the Supreme Court issues the TRO that has been applied for by two consumer groups. If the SC gives the TRO, Malacañang and the Department of Finance will save face and have no choice but to stop. Otherwise it will all be up to the next Congress and Senate to repeal or rewrite the TRAIN 1 law. We may not have to wait that long if PRRD decides to pre-empt everybody, but what happens if like I said, the medicine barely treats the problem? Will it just be a sad blue Christmas or will the public get angry or stirred up against the administration in lieu of the fact that we have officially started the 2019 election process?

I would advise the people in Malacañang to seriously work on two important things: find a better solution to address consumer woes and mobility issues and beat their drums louder in terms of explaining the whys and wherefores of the economy and consumer prices. In fairness to the government many things are being done such as rice tariffication, sourcing and redistributing agricultural products and possibly freezing the fuel tax.

However there is a greater need to arrest profiteers and middlemen, find more imaginative or radical solutions to make mobility and transport faster and more efficient. President Duterte should spearhead the development of policies and programs for a night time economy for deliveries, logistics the same way many call centers or BPOs operate at night. If the government starts a program where most deliveries are only done at night between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m., we could free up a lot of road space and that alone will reduce fuel consumption of motorists – both car owners and motorcycle riding employees.

In terms of communicating things to the public, government representatives should habitually open with a headline: these are the things we are doing to bring prices down or to make life less expensive or “para mas mura.” They need to because talking about inflation, explaining inflation is like using Latin terms. It is not the IOS or internal operating system and language ordinary Filipinos use. For them traffic means wasted time, wasted gasoline, lost opportunities. The move of taking away commercial names of rice is a move on the right path. Four types and no imaginary qualities based on an imaginary rice variety! Last but not the least ARREST, ARREST, ARREST profiteers. Saying we need to make an example is not as strong as our street term: Sampolan mo Mr. President!

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