Daily Tribune (Philippines)

Bracing ourselves

- OUT AND ABOUT NICK V. QUIJANO JR. Email: nevqjr@yahoo.com.ph

Very bad, difficult days ahead. So says our country’s staid Central Bankers, no less.

Without fanfare, our Central Bankers starkly say we’ll suffer high prices of basic goods and services for the rest of the year.

High prices of basic goods and services, spiking since January, are our baneful lot since the bankers believe supplies of our key food items remain tight.

At the same time, rising oil prices are having an impact all around, from food to services. Oil prices are soaring since vaccine rollouts in many countries are reviving hopes there will be a demand for oil as the world restarts stalled economies.

By key indicators then, the coming days are blunt instrument­s hitting us where it hurts most — our guts.

Fearsome or not, we need to do the proverbial “tighten our belts” in the little time we have left to prepare in order to survive.

How long before we’re able to loosen our belts again? Nobody yet knows exactly.

But definitely big social and political storms are forming.

We don’t know yet what forms or shapes the storms will take or how they will mutate. But with whatever alarmist nightmares you can imagine, one thing is sure — all of it won’t be pretty. We need to be clear-eyed on that. Being clear-eyed, too, helps in understand­ing why this administra­tion is desperate to reopen the economy.

This week, this administra­tion’s economic planners want by March the entire country to be under a looser quarantine, the modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

National Economic and Developmen­t Authority (NEDA) chief Karl Kendrick Chua pleads his case by saying, “We want to mitigate sickness, hunger, poverty, job, and income loss that are arising from non-Covid-19 cases.”

Chua says quarantine managers are backing him “to further open the economy to MGCQ for the entire Philippine­s, especially NCR (National Capital Region).”

Concretely, NEDA says there is need to use “localized lockdowns to address the local spread of the virus,” instead of widespread lockdowns.

NEDA also wants to do the following: • Allow 75 percent seating capacity in public transporta­tion, from the current 50 percent in general community quarantine areas.

• Allow five- to 70-year-olds to leave their homes (not necessaril­y to allow them in malls).

• Resume plans to hold pilot face-to-face classes in certain low-risk areas.

Chua stresses their proposals need urgent implementa­tion as the country is losing P2.8 billion a day in wages.

He is also confident the pandemic isn’t getting worse, saying there had been no big spikes in Covid-19 cases when the country began reopening the economy in October and after the Christmas holidays.

Whether our economic planners get their way or are convincing enough for us to live down our fears of Covid-19 remains to be seen.

But no matter what happens, we still have to keep up our guards against the virus.

The advisory is sensible enough. Being careful means not only are we physically safe but also because getting sick eats up the little money we do have and which we need to survive daily.

Nonetheles­s, these same pleas expose the real tragic nature of our economy.

At first glance reopening the economy sounds nice. Striking, however, about NEDA’s plea is that it is also a plea for us to spend money and buy consumer things, mostly imported.

To revive the floored Philippine economy, there is a dire need of more Filipinos spending. It isn’t about us ramping up exports or reviving lockdowned industries, which we plainly do not have, to bring in muchneeded dollars into our country and revive our economy.

In short, our economy is a consumerle­d economy.

Economic experts say about 70 percent of the Philippine economy consist of consumer spending. Trade is a negative nine percent, which means we don’t earn enough export dollars.

Knowing this, we ran smack into an economic paradox — to prevent the collapse of the economy, we all need to spend money at a time when we don’t want to spend money unnecessar­ily, or if we do have money, we can’t spend more since prices are higher.

One remedy, says experts, is for government to give us money to spend.

True, government can give us money. But our government is also hardly in a position to go on giving us money given that it is also deep in debt.

It’s a gloomy, dark paradox which can only be resolved if the economy is massively and drasticall­y restructur­ed in the next decade or so.

So, what we are left with then is either hoping for the best, or we try hard to survive long enough, hopefully intact, the next couple of years.

Either way, we brace ourselves. It’s going to be a wild, shook-up ride.


we are left with then is either hoping for the best, or we try hard to survive long enough, hopefully intact, the next couple of years.

“How long before we’re able to loosen our belts again? Nobody yet knows exactly.

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