Headwinds/sinkholes of the BBM administration

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

These are not the “best of times” for the world, politically, economically, and environmentally. There are two major wars and seven civil wars, joined by geo-political tensions in the Asia-Pacific, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The global economy and many countries are on a slow growth, and climate disasters are bigger. These dynamic conditions affect specific countries in varying degrees but all of them negatively. Geography, ideology and government capability may mitigate the impact of external factors, but inherent economic and political weaknesses may lead some countries and governments into a perfect storm of headwinds and sinkholes.

The Philippine situation while not unique is as problematic. The erratic post-pandemic economic recovery faltering with a slow GDP growth of 4%, is inadequate to improve poverty level and income/wealth distribution. The government is deep in debt and spending too much on subsidies, to jumpstart the economy with government investments. Dependence on fuel and some commodity imports is stoking inflation, increasing social dissatisfaction, and political opposition. While the Russia-Ukraine and the Israeli-Hamas wars have peripheral economic and political effects on the Philippines, the geo-political maneuvers of China in the West Philippine Sea have direct impact on the country and adding to the problematic economic/political equation of the BBM administration. Getting on the right side on these issues, along with the majority sentiment of the people are of utmost importance.

The large and steep drop in the satisfaction rating of the BBM administration in the second quarter of 2023 is indicative of the socio-political implications of the unresolved problems of the government. Dissatisfaction in the C, D, and E classes were prominent, indicative of economic disappointment of unfulfilled promises. Deterioration of the global environment and the inability of BBM’s administration to alleviate the situation due to lack of resources and competence will aggravate the situation leading to further dissatisfaction. The various subsidies to the lower classes like the fuel coupons to public transport drivers, the dedicated/limited cheaper rice prices, the food stamps to depressed areas cannot be widened in coverage and are unsustainable due to the fiscal position of the government. This administration has almost reached its borrowing limit, and taxes cannot be expected to grow faster in a slowing economy.

While the country and the government are not in a desperate situation, in fact we are better off than many countries with our OFW remittances, BPO earnings, and tourism propping up our economy, the BBM administration cannot be complacent. It has to get the trust of the people and establish credibility and confidence in its ability to address the economic and socio-political issues. Given the limited/constricted government revenues, all corrupt practices and wastage of government funds should be eliminated. No more Confidential and Intelligence Funds which are not accountable, including in the Office of the President, and no more pork barrel for all legislators. Government budget/spending should be targeted for best benefits in terms of economic and social returns. No more foreign junkets and unnecessary expenditures by government officials, but more budget allocation for food production and self-sufficiency. Accountability and transparency in government fiscal management, in other words good governance are in order.

BBM does not seem to be a “hands on” manager, as he is doing a lot of traveling and ribbon-cutting. He relies a lot on his people, mainly Diokno in the economic/fiscal side and Romualdez on the political side. Hopefully, he also listens to Gibo Teodoro and seasoned foreign relations advisers on the geo-political issues. He should be less concerned about redemption of the Marcos name and more concerned about his administration’s redemption. Let the dead bury the dead and follow the right path. Celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day in God’s way.

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