Editorial

Reality knocks

THE latest Consumer Expectations Survey (CES) conducted by the central bank reveals a heartening fact: more Filipino households are hopeful about the economy this quarter than the number of those who were optimistic in the last three months of last year.

Yes, there was an improvement in the overall consumer Confidence Index (CI) to a minus 10 percent at the time of the survey, from Jan 26 to Feb 5 this year, than the minus 21.8 percent recorded in the fourth quarter of 2014.

To be simple about it, the pessimism has been reduced to more than half.

In spite of that, overall consumer sentiment remains in negative territory. This means, in the central bank’s own words: “The number of households with an optimistic outlook increased but they continued to be outnumbered by those who think otherwise.”

That is not really the sad fact of the survey, however, because going forward, the results also show that consumer expectations continue to be more favorable, pushing the confidence index into positive territory at 4.4 percent for the next quarter and driving it further up to 17.3 percent for the year ahead.

Mid-income earners have no problem being able to afford the necessities of daily living, with some among them even left with extra provisions for indulging in the little luxuries of life every now and then in a Third World setting, such as for travel or a replacement of the family’s old, undependable car.

They are happy that fuel costs have been dropping and prices of commodities have rather been stable since last year. Much more so if they belong to a household whose income has gone up due to a recent job promotion or another member just got employed.

According to the first-quarter CES, the percentage of households that considered the current quarter as a favorable time to buy big-ticket items increased to an all-time high of 28.4 percent (from 24 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014). “The outlook on buying conditions for real estate was the most optimistic, followed by consumer durables and motor vehicles, which all posted record-high indices since the first quarter of 2007.” Buying intentions of respondents for all big-ticket items for the year ahead improved, with the index increasing to 11.6 percent from 10.4 percent a quarter earlier.

But the sad reality about the economic conditions around us is the burgeoning mendicancy on the streets regardless of what the statistics show about growing consumer confidence in the future.

The middle-income or higher-income worker-consumer goes out for dinner on a weekend and at the street stoplights, child beggars come knocking at his window, or as he gets off his car until he reaches the door of the restaurant, he gets approached (some feel “assaulted”) by all sorts of vendors and mendicants.

Begging on the streets is a problem seen largely rooted to poverty, rather than a culture of mendicancy. In the absence of immediately available updated statistics on the number of beggars in the Philippines, let us turn to data on poverty released early this month by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), covering the first semester of 2014. Poverty incidence rose to 25.8 percent of the population during the period from 24.6 percent a year earlier, it said.

Local laws prohibit and penalize mendicancy, as well as the exploitation of children for this purpose, which is tantamount to child abuse. “Due to the sheer magnitude of the problem, the government’s power to influence the situation and to protect the innocent is limited,” a social worker at the Nayon ng Kabataan-Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) once commented.

We see them begging everywhere, ever increasing in number. Juxtaposed to this are predictions and perceptions of better things to come.

The Philippine economist of the global Standard Chartered Bank said on Friday he sees the country remaining as Asia’s “bright spot” in the face of global uncertainty, with already solid growth prospects showing further upside as more investment and exports are expected.

Jeff Ng forecasts 6 percent growth in gross domestic product for the Philippines this year, and although below the government’s projected range of 7 percent to 8 percent, assumes ample room for further expansion toward the official target when investment and export prospects are realized.

“The PH economy is still likely to outperform the rest of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and remain the bright spot throughout the whole of Asia,” Jeff Ng told reporters.

But unless such sparks of optimism slash poverty for the millions of homeless families, many of them with babies in arm used for begging on the streets to survive, rosy economic statistics and predictions of progress will remain another meaningless mumbo-jumbo of illusion for a nation already full of contradictions.

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