Poverty and illiteracy remain deep widespread. The high level of unemployment and underemployment may soon turn into a full-blown humanitarian crisis. In the barrios, poverty is the driving force behind killing and stealing sprees, which a strained, undermanned and oftentimes lethargic police force cannot rein in.
My sector, the peasantry, is a dead sector still planting. With no alternative, and with no trade or craft that we can move into, we are stuck in this morass.
The rich and the super rich suck most of the national income, crumbs is what is left to those at the bottom. What trickles down are the stories of their immense and ever-expanding wealth.
Zombie and mediocre ideas dominate the national conversation. The likes of Vice Ganda can grab national attention without breaking a sweat.
Conditions like these are theoretically the breeding ground for our own Pinoy Spring, cadres of discontented young people taking to the streets to demand reforms, or plant the seeds for a violent overthrow of the powers-that-be. More, the global environment favors unsettling governments and rulers. The angry ones here—the agitated locals—can just simulate what is taking place in the many troubled spots of the world.
Yet, there is a general acceptance of things. Correction. There is a general acceptance of where we are right now but without the usual angst and pessimism. In fact, Filipinos, or at least the majority, feel that better days will come, the silver linings will somehow break through the dark clouds. And, either willingly or grudgingly, they have put their faith in the president .
In fact, bashing the president is the loneliest job in the country right now. The truth is there is so much faith in the leadership that any and all serious criticism, at this point, will not wash.
Faith in the leadership in a context of unresolved, intractable poverty and with the same old, old social and economic ills still festering? What is this? What is the explanation?
The simple explanation is this: after several crooks, Filipinos generally appreciate a president who is scandal-free. No sordid trail of official corruption (yes, this is still going on) has lead probers to his office. The absence of an Imelda-esque wife and spoiled, overbearing brats that are into every shady government deal prop up the image of an almost-ascetic president.
Most people even doubt on whether he splurges on his dates. The dates have been many , but an ex-date has yet to appear on national television to flaunt a presidential gift from Van Cleef and Arpels. The truth is the public adores a cheapskate president .
While the president remains a laggard on the fulfillment of the basic mandate, which is making life better for those at the margins, he has cleverly pushed the state bureaucracy to meet the achievables that are monitored by the global bodies and multilateral institutions. Those that gain media notice—and the requisite approval from the elite.
A credit rating upgrade now is a non-event, especially in a context that no longer trusts the judgment of the three major rating agencies. After rating junk bonds and equities as Triple A, and contributing to the near-collapse of the global financial system, Moody’s, Fitch and S&P no longer command the respect they used to have.
But how many Filipinos know of the tarnished reputations of the rating agencies? Very few. The president and his men know this and the way they have used two rating upgrades to project the Philippines as some sort of investment haven. Smart and targeted propaganda work.
The fact that there has been no above-average surge of FDIs into the country even after two upgrades is unimportant to most Filipinos. The mind-set is this: upgrades had been made, those are positives for the country and let us leave it at that.
Those who can number-crunch and truly understand what anti-poverty programs make impact at ground level, are skeptical toward the CCT, or the conditional cash transfer program. They really doubt whether this P40 billion a-year program is really a life-changer for the poorest of the poor.
But multilaterals such as the World Bank, are, sadly, easy to impress and are suckers for official data. So the government people have been feeding on this to get the CCT reviews that they wanted—and which were later fed into the propaganda machine.
At the level of multilaterals and funders, the CCT program has been a successful poverty buster.
The 7.8 percent 1st quarter growth is now the clincher for making the critics irrelevant, and presidential bashing a desperate act of the sour grapes. A growth rate better than powerhouse China? Who can argue against success? The press from the developed economies now has adopted a standard adjective for President Aquino, “reformist president .”
The dying economies in Europe, the 25 percent or so unemployment rate, the triple dips , the sense of desperation that has afflicted much of the areas on both sides of the Atlantic, have all but placed the Philippines on the top tier of fast-growing economies. There is no better backdrop for the rollout of the 7.8 percent growth.
Those of us in communities with cold, brutish and short lives cannot relate to the impressive statistics, but impressive numbers are impressive numbers. Right now, pointing out the still hard truths at ground level is just like shouting in the dark.