It’s the economy, stupid!

By Artchil B. Fernandez

“The economy, stupid!” is the phrase that won Bill Clinton the US presidency in the 1992 election against the incumbent George H. W. Bush. It is also in the economy where BBM flunked in the Pulse Asia survey conducted on Sept. 17-21, 2022. The survey was released at the time BBM marked his first 100 days in office.

In the survey, BBM got good approval rating in eleven issues, namely: calamity response (78 percent); controlling the spread of COVID-19 (78 percent); promoting peace in the country (69 percent); protecting the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (68 percent); fighting criminality (67 percent); law enforcement (62 percent); creating more jobs (59 percent); increasing workers’ pay (59 percent); fighting graft and corruption in government (58 percent); environment protection (57 percent); and defense of the country’s territorial integrity (52 percent).

In two areas concerning the economy, BBM got low approval rating – poverty reduction (39 percent) and control of inflation (31 percent). In the survey, almost seven in ten Filipinos were most concerned about the soaring prices of food and other basic commodities and services. Nearly half of Filipinos (42 percent) disapproved of the administration’s performance in addressing inflation and only 31 percent were in favor. This gave BBM a net approval rating of –11, the lowest among the 13 issues rated in the Pulse Asia poll.

Across geographic areas, a high majority of Filipinos said controlling inflation is their main concern. In Mindanao, 81 percent said curbing inflation is their concern and 71 percent in the Visayas expressed the same sentiment. Over two-thirds (68 percent) of those surveyed in Metro Manila and more than half (56 percent) in Luzon outside of Manila also consider inflation as a top national issue.

Inflation is also the concern of almost three-fourths (71 percent) of those who belong to Class D while majority (58 percent) of those who belong to Class E said the same. Increasing workers’ pay is the concern of over half (55 percent) of the Class ABC.

Filipinos at present continue to groan at the skyrocketing of prices of goods and services.  Inflation is at 6.9 percent this month, the worst in four years, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and is not expected to ease anytime soon.

Aside from inflation, unemployment continues to rise. From 5.2 percent in July, the number of jobless Filipinos increased to 5.3 percent in August. This means 80,000 more Filipinos lost their jobs or are jobless. On the whole, 2.68 million Filipinos were without jobs in August.

Adding to the woes of Filipinos is the steady plunge of the value of the peso against the US dollar. This month, the value of the peso reached a new historic low at 59 against a US dollar. It is projected that in the coming weeks, a US dollar will value at 65 or even 68 pesos. With the country’s imports paid in US dollar, prices of basic goods and commodities will reach new record high in the coming months as the peso plummets.

The economic outlook of the country appears grim in the near future. Filipinos face the prospect of shrinking income and high prices – a serious belt tightening. Many Filipinos are losing sleep over the soaring prices of basic goods and commodities and it is not surprising that in the latest Pulse Asia survey, inflation is a chief worry among them.

In other areas of the economy, the situation is not rosy either. Foreign investments continue to dwindle. The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) reported that net inflow of foreign direct investments (FDI) into the Philippines decreased for the third straight month to $460 million in July, a 64-percent drop from $1.3 billion in the same month last year.

As foreign investments decline, the country’s trade deficit continues to widen reaching new record.  Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data reveal that in August the import bill exceeded export earnings by $6 billion.

The state of Philippine economy is bad at present. It is being battered by inflation, peso devaluation, rising unemployment, declining foreign investments and widening trade deficit. Add to the mix is the rising debt of the country, now at 13 trillion pesos.  Recently the administration proudly announced that it borrowed US$2 billion.

Troll farms working overtime are quick to deflect the blame on BBM claiming he did not cause the current economic crisis. Nobody is saying the current economic difficulties are caused by BBM (although his family is part of its historical roots) but the question is, what is BBM doing about it?  Is he doing something to solve the problem?

In his inaugural address BBM declared that the dream of Filipinos is his dream. What Filipinos want now is controlling inflation, proper handling of the economic crisis. BBM told Filipinos during the campaign that he is the answer to economic malady inflicting the nation. His jubilant supporters proudly declared that prices of goods and services will go down drastically now that their idol is president. What happened is the exact opposite.  The administration of BBM will rise or fall on the economy.

He may score good ratings in law enforcement, calamity response, etc. but it is the economy that matters to the vast majority of Filipinos – the issue of the stomach. This is the gut issue for most Filipinos and BBM is failing big in this area. Nothing was heard from him on how to ease the economic hardship of Filipinos. No legislative or executive action is initiated (will there be subsidy to the poorest section of the population?).

All Filipinos got from BBM are vlogs trumpeting how nice and likeable he is and his family. But fantasy is not an antidote to a dire economic reality. BBM will find this out sooner than later.