NORMAL activity in the country ground to a festive halt over the weekend as tens of millions of Filipinos spontaneously took to the country’s streets and shopping malls to celebrate the decision by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s to raise the Philippines’ sovereign credit rating to BBB, or one notch above rating the country has ever achieved.
“We raised the ratings because we now believe the ongoing reforms to address shortcomings in structural, administrative institutional, and governance areas will endure beyond the current administration,” S&P explained in a statement last Thursday.
The announcement had the immediate effect of eliminating the Philippines’ troubling high unemployment and poverty rates, and reducing the prices of basic commodities to near or in some cases even below zero, sparking the impromptu demonstrations of gratitude to the Aquino Administration by large crowds in hundreds of cities and towns across the country.
One celebrant, a recently homeless single mother of three who identified herself as “Aling Bhaby,” was visibly moved with thanks to President B.S. Aquino 3rd for providing the country an economic miracle. “I don’t know what he’s done, really,” she said, smiling through tears of happiness while rifling through her newly-acquired faux-Fendi bag for her iPhone, handing it to a six-month old baby slung across her chest to settle his teething pains.
“But, salamat sa Pnoy at sa Diyos, when I went to the store to make utang for some Lucky Me to feed my kids, they said, ‘hindi pwede,’ and gave me four cans of Spam and a chicken, and 300 pesos to take it,” she said.
Others echoed Aling Bhaby’s story of good fortune. Juan, a roadside vendor doing a brisk business selling sticks of Marlboro Black and cans of Pocari Sweat to a seemingly endless stream of cars headed to the Fort along 32nd Street, told a slightly harrowing tale, but one with a happy ending. “I got scared earlier, because this guy in a Chrysler kept following me,” he said. “I finally asked him what his problem was, and he said he was my driver. I didn’t know what to do with him, so I sent him over there to Starbucks and told him to stay alert, because he’ll need to take me to my lunch reservation at the Sofitel later.”
Not everyone was happy with the new and improved economy, however, as one frantic, weeping young man on the nearly deserted Quezon Avenue MRT platform revealed. “What in the hell is going on?” he asked frantically. “Three different people I don’t even know woke me up with text messages, scolding me for not being at work yet,” he explained. “My only job is helping my sister-in-law hand out flyers for real estate sometimes. How did I get three other jobs overnight?”
He scanned the platform and train tracks nervously. “Is the MRT even running today? Why are there no people here?” he asked. As if to answer his question, the city’s new, fare-free Maglev train arrived in the station, pausing for only a few seconds before whisking the confused newest member of the Philippines’ demographically advantageous workforce to his new job—or one of them, at any rate—at nearly 300 kilometers an hour.
The carnival atmosphere was marred by one minor tragedy on Saturday, however, when one of Philippine Airlines’ new Boeing 777 aircraft arriving from Incheon suffered a landing gear collapse upon landing at Ninoy Aquino International Airport, resulting in a fiery crash that unfortunately led to the deaths of all 650 passengers and crew.
The plane which had been chartered by Korean industrialists was later found to be grossly overloaded, in part because approximately 200 more people than the 777 is designed to carry had forced their way aboard in Korea due to the Philippines’ attractiveness as an investment destination, and many of the passengers were apparently carrying large bags of gold.
When asked how a continuing streak of missed revenue targets despite an increasingly aggressive effort by the Bureau of Internal Revenue, nagging controversies over big-ticket infrastructure projects, revelations of widespread misuse of government funds, and management issues in key areas such as agriculture and disaster recovery might affect future ratings, a representative from S&P was unable to commit to a firm forecast. “Those sorts of things are not really relevant to our assessment, so I couldn’t really say what the future might hold for the Philippine economy based on that,” he explained.
“From our perspective, however, the Aquino Administration’s sound fiscal management has resulted in the government being able to maintain a ready reserve to meet its short-term financial obligations, which lowers the risk rating of the country,” the S&P representative clarified. When pressed for an example of how that might translate to real-world economic benefits he added, “Well, none of their checks to us have bounced in at least the last two, maybe three years. So they’re all good, as far as we’re concerned.”