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Opinion

Hello, 2023!

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

The first day of the rest of our lives is a chance to restart and recover. But first, let’s allow ourselves to heave heavy sighs of relief. The year that was had not been easy and it’s not just because of COVID-19.

It was all about facing new challenges that came our way including skyrocketing inflation, oil prices, Russia’s war against Ukraine, election grief for many of us and, of course, the still lingering pandemic.

For those who lost loved ones last year or even before, moving on won’t be the same; worse even.

How then do we move forward to 2023?

We can only hope the government addresses the serious problems we faced last year which are still very much present but which, if left unresolved, will continue to give us throbbing headaches this year.

Inflation

The monster inflation is one. President Marcos keeps saying the factors driving inflation are imported. True to a large extent but supply pressures such as boosting agricultural productivity have also yet to be addressed significantly.

Oh and by the way, we still don’t have a full-time agriculture secretary.

Against this backdrop, inflation likely quickened and peaked above eight percent in December after accelerating to a 14-year high of eight percent in November from 7.7 percent in October, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

The central bank said inflation in December likely settled between 7.8 and 8.6 percent, with upward price pressures emanating from higher electricity rates and an uptick in the prices of meat and fish products as well as liquefied petroleum gas.

From January to November 2022, inflation averaged 5.6 percent, already well above the BSP’s two to four percent target range.

The BSP’s Monetary Board sees inflation accelerating for the second straight year to average 5.8 percent in 2022, from 3.9 percent in 2021 and 2.4 percent in 2020.

What does this mean? It means for 2023, inflation will remain elevated, staying above the government’s two to four percent target range. Ordinary Filipinos will continue to feel the impact of this – from dizzying prices of food to skyrocketing transport costs.

BSP Governor Felipe Medalla is not discounting the possibility of more rate hikes even after the first quarter of 2023 with inflation still above expectations.

Other challenges

Inflation, as I said, will give birth to other problems if the government is unable to address it properly.

Shops will close, Filipinos may lose their jobs, families will struggle to put food on the table and they may not be able to send their children to school.

Against this backdrop, we are really still recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Social justice

I fervently hope to see our country move forward – in big ways this year – from the debilitating pandemic.

In a study by the Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) I came across, the state-owned think tank recognizes the importance of social justice in crafting and implementing the country’s post-pandemic recovery plan and thus selected it as the theme of its 2021 to 2022 Economic Policy Monitor (EPM).

I find the PIDS report ambitious but I very much agree with it – that our policymakers and leaders should make social justice the front and center of the country’s post-pandemic recovery plan to ensure that no one is left behind as the Philippines recovers from the pandemic and builds resilience to future shocks.

The concept of social justice is not new in the Philippines. It is in our 1987 Constitution, which underscores social justice as a commitment to create equitable opportunities and reduce socioeconomic and political inequalities.

PIDS, in particular, highlighted the disproportionate impacts of the pandemic on the marginalized.

“The adverse effects of the pandemic transcended the country’s systems and sectors. It tested the health system to its limit, especially health facilities in poor areas with scarce supply-side capacities.

“At the beginning of the crisis, employment rates abruptly declined and tormented informal sector workers with no-work and no-pay arrangements. The unemployment rate hit a record high of 17.6 percent in the first quarter of 2020, eliminating 1.7 million jobs in a year,” PIDS said.

I do believe that the government should provide people equal opportunities to recover from the pandemic.

This means creating economic opportunities for everyone – from access to jobs, shelter, food and, more importantly, opportunities to reach one’s full potential.

Social justice is also in many international declarations to which the country is a signatory, as PIDS pointed out, such as the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, the Copenhagen Declaration and the United Nations Millennium Declaration.

“These declarations push for equality in political and civil rights, particularly in eliminating all forms of discrimination and allowing for equal access to opportunities and acceptable living conditions,” PIDS said.

Moving forward

It’s exciting to imagine what we all can achieve as a country this 2023.

Wouldn’t it be great if we have a society that is efficient, altruistic and one that works for the benefit of each and every Filipino and not just for a powerful few?

Wouldn’t it be greater if this becomes a reality and not just aspirations that are perennially in our thoughts and dreams?

Let us wish for more of these. We really need to move forward, not in circles and not backwards.

Indeed, let us long for a better tomorrow and let’s start working on it today and everyday after that.

I wish everyone a prosperous new year filled with peace, love and health.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen on FB.

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