Thursday, July 14, 2005

Ad Maiorem Dei Gloria - 1

Category: [Filipino Politics]

Her name is Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA in short, Wikipedia), and she is the 14-th President of the Republic of the Philippines (RP). She had everything going her way. She was born in 1947 as a daughter of 9-th RP President Diosdado Macapagal. (1961-1965). An economist magna cum laude at 21, she went to Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Washington DC where she was a classmate of ex US president Bill Clinton.

After her return to her homeland, she obtained a PhD in Economy from the prestigious University of the Philippines, and she assumed an academic career. She entered politics as a Senator, where she filed over 400 bills and authored or sponsored 55 laws of economic importance during her tenure as senator.

Rich, beautiful and bright, what a contrast with 3 previous RP presidents (1965-2001) (Marcos, Ramos, Estrada) who were dictators, generals, or retired movie-stars, and were all ousted from office by popular revolts or irregularities after massive corruption charges. Aquino (1986-1992) didn’t fit the herd, but she was plagued by military coups and she was defeated by yet another movie star that bribed his way into Office.

The mellow and friendly Pinoy (Philippine People) are mesmerized by show business and romantic drama, by machos, by glitter and glamour, by Karaoke, by singing and dancing, by illegal gambling (Jueteng), and by richness and corruption. And their presidents give them value for money. They aren’t lucky with their presidents, or rather, they tend to elect the wrong ones. Economics and politics are boring: not a single political magazine in the newsstand, but a plethora of showbiz, lifestyle, and automobile mags. It pays off to shed tears in public about the people's poverty, to be tough, and tap into the magic-realistic Filipino soul. And the disposed ex-presidents? They don't fade away but keep meddling under their beloved spotlights like the Monster of Loch Ness.

The year 2005 started well for GMA. On May 10, 2004 she was re-elected after stepping in (2001) for her predecessor Estrada (ERAP) who was impeached for plunder and corruption (how bizarre) and driven from power by the EDSA II people’s revolution. The economy went quite well, with an annual GNP growth flirting with the 5% threshold yearly since her entry in Office, and a rising positive BOP (balance of payments) which kept the Peso strong. A strong Peso is vital to pay the higher oil bills in dollars, since the RP has no oil of its own. Industrial export is strong, and about 50-70% of it is electrical equipment, only 19% is agricultural. A fact not easily suspected in a developing and largely rural nation, where labor employed in agriculture is as high as 41%, and in industry only 16%.

At second sight, the picture isn’t that favorable. The BOP is sustained by the record number of 7 million OFW’s (Overseas Filipino Workers) (8.5% of the total population) sending 19.1% more money back home to their ailing families, accounting for almost 10% of the GDP (Gross Domestic Product). The picture is also troubled by a strong and rising inflation from 5% to 8% in 2005, that continues to curb real wage growth and is sparked by rising oil prices. Increasing and uncompensated cost of essential living (food, transport) especially hit the poor hard, and there are many of those, with about a quarter of the population below the poverty line. Support for GMA dwindled rapidly in early 2005.

The major economic problem in the begin of 2005 for GMA seemed to be the fiscal crisis with a budget deficit of 3.4% largely balanced by foreign debts. RP Ratings by Moody went down, then up again as GMA managed to pass her 2% VAT increase bill (from 10% to 12%) through the Senate and the Reps. House last April. Passing the bill was a show in itself, with drama, tears, coups, nightly meetings, compromises, but she managed. The continuing soap was all spread out in the newspapers, but it worked. The ratings went up again.

Little do the Makati (fancy diplomats' area in Metro Manila) based analysts know that VAT, personal income and company taxes are hardly collected in the Provinces: the RP's vast hinterland behind the Manila navel gazers. Who visits the exotic Visayas anyways, with its frequent brownouts and no Internet? And frightening Mindanao, the gate to hell, full of rebels and bombs-producing Muslims? But the drama continues, like the nightly procession of corrupt officials' and businessmens' and old money kids, proudly and shamelessly showing off their expensive 4x4's on Remedios St. in Malate.

To be continued.

Photo (click to view): statue of Filipino independence hero dr. Rizal exiting Fort Bonifacio in Intramuros, Manila (May 2005), on its way to his execution in Luneta Park. Ramos' head and GMA on top have been added.


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