THE national elections next year could be the worst timing ever for the opposition to the current administration. The pandemic will be ending by that time, while an economic boom is highly likely, following the usual bounce-back phenomenon of economies in the doldrums.
Based on figures in the past few days, the pandemic is easing, with cases dropping gradually in the past month, yesterday to around 3,000 from its peak of 26,000 in September.
This isn’t a fluke, with OCTA Research recently reporting the reproduction rate to be 0.4, below 1, which means Covid-19 is, theoretically, at least not even reproducing 100 percent of itself. It is also the same trend in most other countries such as among our neighbors like Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia.
The pandemic is running its course, its spread slowed down by increasing numbers of people being vaccinated. The third and last wave is ending. It appears to be mimicking the second deadly pandemic in modern times, the Spanish flu which “officially” started February 1918 and ended April 1920, or a period of roughly two years. If the Covid-19 pandemic mimics that life span, it will be ending March 2022, or just about two months before the May elections.
Now who would voters be thanking for that? Of course, the incumbent administration of President Duterte, which means he will practically be choosing the next president. In fact, voters will likely not forget the very unprincipled politicization of the pandemic by Vice President Leni Robredo, who was doing nothing at all to help the President, and even claimed he should turn over the task to her. To completely stop her bid, Duterte could just say: “Walang naitulong ‘yan labanan ang pandemya. Nanggulo pa nga (She didn’t help at all in fighting the pandemic. She even made it difficult).” Duterte really would be speaking the truth.
Only the rabid anti-Duterte politicians and writers, or those lazy to study the Covid statistics worldwide, claimed government’s response to it was an “epic failure.” Two writers in this paper were arguing we should get instruction from such successful countries as New Zealand, Sweden and even Portugal.
Don’t they know that New Zealand’s population is a tiny 5 million, while those of the other two are 10 million, which means control of the population in order for them to follow safety measures and to vaccinate most of their citizens was a much easier task than in a country of 100 million?
To date, we have 24 million Filipinos fully vaccinated. But that would only be a fourth of the population, far from the minimum two-thirds to trigger herd immunity. That number on the other hand would cover the entire populations of both Sweden and Portugal. Our biggest problem was that the rich countries hoarded the vaccines. But the supply is easing now, and it is just a matter of ordering the vaccines.
The handling of the pandemic by the administration was very professional. Duterte put science in charge, institutionalized with the creation of the Inter-Agency Task Force, the passing of laws to empower it and, I would say, the appointment of several retired military generals who have vast experience in logistics and implementation of rules, without exception. That’s in sharp contrast to how US President Trump and Brazil President Bolsonaro totally bungled it that their two countries are the two with the most Covid deaths.
American economists, however, warn against seeing the end of the Covid pandemic as automatically leading to a US-like “Roaring 20s” spectacular economic growth. After all, that boom could have been due to the usual American war industries stimulating post-war growth, as again occurred after World War 2.
Still though, it seems to me that even with a 9.6 percent economic contraction last year, and with 4.5 million Filipinos losing their jobs, the economy appears to be better than for instance the 7.3 percent recession for two years each in 1984 and 1985. No bank has folded up. No huge conglomerate has closed down. The peso’s international value has not deteriorated.
I suspect the business magnates are bringing back their money stashed somewhere here or abroad to make up for the losses of their companies and keep them afloat, as in the case of Philippine Airlines to which Lucio Tan recently pumped in a colossal $505 million lifeline. That’s P26 billion, can you believe that? That must be the biggest capital infusion by a Philippine magnate into a single company in one blow.
Duterte should give Tan some kind of award for that. Small businessmen on the other hand have adapted so fast in the pandemic protocol, as shown in the boom of online businesses.
Duterte’s Build, Build, Build program, which would cost P9 trillion by the end of his term, has had a very beneficial impact that wasn’t its main intention: it provided employment, especially to ordinary workers who would have been the worst hit by the pandemic-caused economic downturn. In the cases of privately built infrastructure such as those of the San Miguel conglomerate, these projects served to mobilize local and foreign fund infusions into the economy, collateralized of course by its huge assets.
I may be too optimistic or lack enough data, but for the steepness of the recession and the sheer stopping of businesses due to the lockdowns, there should be by now empty grocery shelves, the homeless crowding such refuge as areas below bridges or even on the sidewalks (as even in US cities), soup kitchens, and even food riots. But no, Filipinos simply tightened their belts during this pandemic or sought other means of livelihood (e.g., my regular caddy went into selling vegetables in the nearby market).
It’s amazing that even with a 9.6 percent contraction of the economy in 2020, the number of smartphone users in the country even increased 7 percent, a lower rate of growth than the 9 percent from 2018-2019 certainly but that’s still 5 million Filipinos buying what are really nonessentials at a time when they’re supposed to have no income that government had to distribute cash or food to them.
If Filipinos survived this much during one of the most difficult economic periods of our modern history, when many were locked down in their homes, the country, I would bet, would have its “roaring 20s” starting next year.
Leni Robredo should have listened to her inner voice when she said last year she would prefer to be a judge in her home province.
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