Wednesday, March 07, 2007

It's not the economy, stupid

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

Because it is election season, candidates are expected to indulge in political tirades meant to prop up their political stock. Certain issues such as fitness for office or morals are highly subjective and open to debate and interpretation. But the performance of the economy is not.
Sometime last week, the Genuine Opposition came up with a full-page advertisement in some newspapers to make mincemeat of the economic gains being trumpeted by this current administration.

In so many words, the opposition said that the country’s much-vaunted economic progress is a mirage and that the administration is making false claims, particularly about its role in the bull run of the stock exchange and in the appreciation of the peso. From the point of view of the Genuine Opposition, the current administration is simply lucky to be sitting in power at a time when all these good things are happening in the economic front. That like a natural phenomenon, economic progress is bound to happen anyway regardless of what this administration does or does not do.

This latest tirade is expected. The whole point of being in the opposition is to attack those who are in power and show the people why they are the better alternative.
Thus, efforts to refute the so-called economic gains is par for the course given the fact that even the economic managers of the country admit that so much more needs to be done before any economic progress can be felt by ordinary people.

But then again, the apparent lack of connection between economic figures and public perception is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to the Philippines. The latest issue of Time Magazine reports that the same phenomenon is shaking up the whole of Europe. While most countries in Europe are riding an economic boom, most Europeans are of the impression that they are worse off today than ever before. Discontent is a worldwide phenomenon brought about by increasing cost of living.

The opposition’s simplistic spin, however, is insulting because economic figures are difficult to fudge and our economic performance is subject to close scrutiny by a number of international agencies who are all in agreement that the economy is indeed picking up. More importantly, attacking the economy is counterproductive because quite frankly, it is not the issue. Politics is the issue.

Simply put, it is politics that is weighing down heavily on the economy, not the other way around. We should all be rallying around the economic gains and pushing these further upstream rather than tearing these apart.

The claim that the performance of the stock exchange is simply brought about by a general upsurge in the capital markets in the region is ridiculous because it assumes that international fund managers simply invest their money where the wave leads them. It doesn’t work that way and as someone who spent eight years in the local capital markets, I know that attracting foreign capital into the country is never that simple. God knows how hard the local capital markets people have been trying to entice foreign investors into bringing their money into the country. So once again: The upsurge in the local capital market is caused by increased confidence in our economic fundamentals.

To attribute the surge in the local stock market to sheer dumb luck is to spit on the faces of these people. In fact, the local market was able to recover within a day after a steep fall last Wednesday brought about by an external glitch, proof that our economic fundamentals are strong enough to withstand external factors.

But I just wish they stopped there. Unfortunately, the real intent of the ad became painfully obvious when it tried to make comparisons between the supposed economic gains under Joseph Estrada’s watch as president and those during Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s. All those previous assertions that this election is not a contest between Estrada and Arroyo has just been shot down by that ad.

To say that we were better off during Estrada’s time than we are today is ludicrous. The Genuine Opposition is indulging in fallacious debates because to begin with, the context is not the same. The time gap between Estrada’s short-lived reign and the present is also a major factor that needs to be taken into account as people do tend to look at the past more kindly than they do the present.

Let’s shorten this pissing contest by simply stating the obvious: By no stretch of the imagination can Estrada be considered the better economic manager. How can a regime that plotted its economic programs during midnight meetings over bottles of scotch and which involved suspicious characters be any better? Of course his supporters say otherwise and they are entitled to live in their own mythical world where Estrada is a hero and maybe even perhaps a god. But I am aghast that the more learned people in the opposition seem unable to make these distinctions anymore perhaps because they can’t seem to see through their hatred for Arroyo.

Of course, this administration is guilty of so many sins and deserves to be made accountable for them. But let’s cut this BS about Estrada being the better leader. Let’s not rewrite history in an effort to topple this administration.

And more importantly, let’s not drag the economy into the fray. Whatever growth we are experiencing in the economic front deserves to be nurtured and supported regardless of where our political affiliation lies. It’s a given that sustained economic growth is bound to enhance our prospects as a nation in the long term. To do otherwise is akin to sabotage. Could it be that is exactly what the opposition is doing?

Any effort to undermine and sabotage the economy is counterproductive because it is not only Arroyo’s fortunes that are at stake here. If the GO wants to get the business sector and the working class on its side, it had better get its act together and leave the economy alone. The GO had better focus on more substantive issues rather than attack the economy. It seems to forget that there are so many among us who are working so hard to keep the economy afloat.
By attacking the economy, the opposition has only succeeded in alienating the business sector and the middle class.

More than two decades ago, just before Marcos was kicked out of power, the businessmen and the middle class rose up in arms over Marcos’ tirade against the business sector. At that time, the slogan of the businessmen and the middle class was “The issue is political, not economic, Mr. President.”

The Genuine Opposition had better brush up on history. It’s not the economy, stupid!

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

...and, let's not forget. When the country is in economic misery, who gets blamed first and foremost by the opposition? 'Di ba ang presidente? When the economy fares well....hindi na ang presidente! How rational can we all get!!

Sa Wari Ko said...

Oh my God!

I cant stop laughing. Very nicely written!

tagaiyam said...

Tama ka na naman, and the way you addressed it is sure funny...." It's not the economy. STUPID.....!" Sana mabasa ito nang opposition.....

You can tell how some people use their personal agenda to confuse others..... Sana marami pang mga botante diyan sa atin na may wasto pang pagiisip...... Talagang ang goal nila ay patalsikin si PGMA hindi para sa bayan.

Nag-iinano ka ba said...

You hit the nail right on the head Bong.

Nag-iinano ka ba said...

You hit the nail right on the head, Bong.

snglguy said...

Since when did ERAP and his ilk care about the economy anyway? They wouldn't give a rat's ass even if it goes down the drain... so long as the moolah keeps coming their way, everything's fine.xhzyhtp

exskindiver said...

nicely done.

lateralus said...

The opposition is in a lot of ways very much like the democratic party - on the verge of having an identity crisis and are very much disunited.

tagaiyam said...

Did you watch the Forum on ANC? It was 4AM our time when it was on TV here.....Cayetano has so much of his agenda focused on PGMA to be out and punished.......talagang kita mo hindi siya titigil unless he can get it across to people that PGMA is the problem.....he sure found ways to get personal....IT IS POLITICS STUPID !

Sison was so lost.....whatever he was saying and pointing out again, boils down to....Manong, it is Politics.....stupid....!

Pangilinan was the only one who was able to communicate his message without having to criticize anyone.....Malaki pa ang pag-asa nang bansa......kung ang katulad niya ang magtataguyod nang ating mga adhikain.....very mature.....at walang bitterness.... he continues to see how Politics can bring down the country. I hope he will stay focused and true to his words. Paano kaya para ako ay mag volunteer to be one of his watcher......!

ben.teehankee said...

Dear Bong,

You said that "attacking the economy is counterproductive because quite frankly, it is not the issue. Politics is the issue."

I don't favor attacking the economy although I'm for making it more equitable. And this is where the economy and politics are quite interrelated. Politics involves how power is gained, distributed and wielded in the country and how economic gains are shared is a function of politics. I invest in the capital market and I enjoyed the 40% returns last year. Still, I would prefer that the financial gains in the corporate sector are made more accessible to more people starting with the employees of corporations many of whom are contractualized with no pension or health benefits to look forward to.

So I think we really need to look at politics and economics in an integrated manner so that we can better understand what our country needs to develop. PDI today quoted GMA as saying that "As long as there's one person who is hungry the government should do something about that." Now that's something a leader would say! She is aware that waiting for the economy's vaunted financial gains to trickle down is not acceptable. I think it was Keynes who said that "people don't eat in the long run, they need to eat today!"