Selling illusion

By Artchil B. Fernandez

BBM is already one year in office. Election was over a year ago. Yet in his second State of the Nation Address (Sona), BBM is still behaving as if he is on campaign trail. He remains a snake-oil salesman, selling illusion to the public, not a president.

The second Sona is peppered with figures, many of them questionable and twisted to fit into BBM’s illusion. The claims are so divorced from reality, so out-of-touch with the current factual state of the nation that the lies easily stood out.

To fool and mislead the audience, this year’s Sona did not provide context for the figures cited to create an impression the country is on its way to paradise.

For example, BBM claimed that the Philippines is “considered to be among the fastest-growing economies in the Asian region and the world” citing last year’s impressive 7.6 percent economic growth rate. He deliberately omitted the fact that the economy crashed during the pandemic, contracting (negative) by 9.5 percent in 2020.

The “acclaimed” growth rate is a recovery, a rebound from the pandemic and is not a true indicator of economic growth if the pre-pandemic rate is the benchmark. Economists said that to return to pre-pandemic growth rate, the economy must expand by 9.4 percent annually until 2028. Given proper context, the 7.6 percent BBM boasted actually missed the target for real, actual growth rate.

Another questioned figure BBM rattled is the employment rate. “As of May this year, our employment rose to 95.7 percent, a clear proof of the improvement from the severe unemployment we experienced during the height of the pandemic. Employment then was at a low of 82.4 percent,” BBM bragged. Some senators quickly questioned the data and expressed their discomfort.

If what BBM said is true, this implies that 48.26 million Filipinos are employed according to Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III. “Practically we have full employment…96 percent, that’s practically full employment. And I do not believe it (because) I can see unemployment all around us,” Pimentel doubted. Even the chairman of the Senate Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development Committee, Sen. Jinggoy Estrada expressed disbelief, suggesting that the data need to be counter-checked.

But it is in the core message of BBM during the campaign which resonated well with the electorate where the illusion was highlighted by the Sona. BBM vowed that should he win prices of basic goods and commodities will go down, concretely illustrated by the “20 pesos per kilo rice” promise. In the Sona BBM announced that the promise has become or is turning into reality.

“Sa mga nakalipas na buwan, nakita natin ang pagbaba ng presyo ng bilihin sa iba’t ibang mga sektor,” BBM declared. “Napatunayan natin na kayang maipababa ang presyo ng bigas, karne, isda, gulay, at asukal.” (In the past few months, we’ve seen prices of goods go down across various sectors. We’ve proven that we can lower the price of rice, meat, fish, vegetables, and sugar.)

This portion of the Sona made the listening public squirm. The lie is brazen and shameless. A quick check to the supermarkets and wet markets across the country reveals the prices of basic goods did not go down since BBM assumed office.

In BBM’s first year in office, inflation skyrocketed to a 14-year high at 8.7 percent although it eased to 5.4 percent last month. Economists however are quick to point out that the easing of inflation is not synonymous with prices of goods going down but indicates the increase in prices has slowed. Consumer Price Index shows the prices of basic good have either increased or stayed the same during BBM’s first year in office. For example, a can of regular sardines was priced between 14 to 17 pesos when BBM assumed office. Today, the same can of sardines has a price ranging from 22 to 25 pesos depending on the brand.

Everybody, especially the mothers know prices of goods have not gone down but have even gone up. Neither is the cost of services. The cost of services remains high and has not decreased. How much was the minimum jeepney fare last year?  It was 10 pesos and now its 12 pesos – increasing not decreasing!

Where is the lowering of prices of goods and services that BBM crowed last Monday?  His illusion colliding with reality is easily shattered.  Yet BBM and his propagandists had no qualm lying before the public.

BBM’s way out from the lie about the prices of basic goods is the Kadiwa centers.  The Kadiwa centers were the brainchild of Marcos senior now copied by junior.  They are government rolling stores, selling basic goods priced below the prevailing market price due to government subsidy. These Kadiwa centers are illusions since the low prices are artificial, not real, actual, factual market prices.

Two questions on these Kadiwa stores. Can the government sustain the artificial low prices through subsidy? Their impact to the public is minimal since they are not able to distort the market prices of basic commodities. Second, how many Filipinos benefit from these Kadiwa centers? There are no Kadiwa stores in every street in towns/ cities or in every barangay throughout the country. Only a miniscule segment of the population gets their basic goods from Kadiwa stores. When BBM mentioned them in his Sona, the public is even not familiar with what he was talking about.

BBM wrongly assumed running the government is the same as campaigning during election. Selling illusion is one reason he won the election and BBM thought the same with governance. In the coming years, BBM will discover that no amount of lies can conceal the facts.  Illusion, no matter how grandly packaged is no match to reality.