THE drug-related extra-judicial killings have been relegated to the inside pages of the major news dailies and tabloids. Old and boring stuff, from the very clinical viewpoint of the jaded editor, who had surely copyread over the past months voluminous stories on killings and drug-related mayhem. What is fresh news is more terrifying–the killing of two important revenue officers within a few days of each other.
Customs Deputy Commissioner Arturo Lachica was shot dead on Nov. 17 along España Boulevard on his way home from his BOC office. On Nov. 21, the director of Makati’s BIR office, Jonas Amora, was killed in an early morning ambush, while on his way to work.
Lachica held a post that is outranked only by the commissioner, Mr. Faeldon. Amora’s regional post is regarded as one of the two top regional positions in the BIR, along with the regional director that covers the Binondo area. The BIR and the BOC generate more than 70 percent of total government revenue. Both killings were clearly work-related.
Then, there was this often overlooked angle–the killers were bike-riding men. There is a now often-used phrase for that, “riding in tandem.” And, this class of killers operate with impunity. There is no exact data yet on the total number of people killed after Mr.Duterte assumed the presidency. But what is known is this: most of the killings, those not done by the police, were done by bike-riding men, masked men in underbones.
Unless something is done, unless the officers of the law manage to stop–or at the very least rein in–the impunity of these bike-riding killers, the central story of the nation would be theirs. Just like the drug cartels of Colombia and the drug-related killings in Mexico. And that would be a great tragedy.
The Philippines is a vast killing field. Perpetrated, using police parlance, by men riding in tandem. That would be the saddest turn for the administration of Mr. Duterte.
Do we really want the nation to take that course?
Veering into that path of impunity would indeed be a great tragedy for the nation. Because the fundamentals to move on, to grow economically and from there build a more egalitarian society are present. There are problems, yes. The foreign policy pronouncements of Mr. Duterte have been bold but scary. There is a chill at the international level on the EJKs. But overall, the potential for both economic growth and making lives better for the vulnerable through government intervention are present. And Mr. Duterte has a vast reservoir of support. He remains popular.
The political will to reform and overhaul governance-as-usual is unusually strong .
Should we allow the narrative of killers in bikes, the “riding in tandem” stories, to become the national story and dominate the national conversation?
There is empirical evidence that a growth momentum exists
The 7.1 percent third-quarter growth was not a fluke by any means. Take agriculture, the sector that languished under the previous administration. The sector actually grew, and that reversed five quarters of negative growth, including the most recent negative 4.4 percent slack. With a little more focus, agricultural growth can rally to at least keep pace with the 2.2 percent growth in the population–or even more.
Give Mr. Piñol more funding and more institutional support and we can expect a resurrection of the agriculture sector across all sub-sectors.
The $2.5 billion agri purchases by Russia will help lift the sector. The big deals with China will also involve a lot of agricultural transactions.
The two sectors most critical to the economy—going by the acronyms BPO and OFW–remain stable even with Mr. Duterte’s rants against the US. The danger faced by the BPOs, a big policy shift by the Trump administration that would make US companies stop the offshoring of voice-centric technology jobs to the country, is nowhere in sight. A tax incentive will not be enough to make US companies stop offshoring. The wage difference is, using a Trumpian word, yyyyuge! For example, a call center agent in the US gets at least $17 per hour. Here, the starting salary is from P13,000 to P15,000 a month.
The fear that the Middle East will send home Filipino OFWs in large numbers due to the low price of crude in the global market has been greatly exaggerated.
Oil prices are stable, Fed outside of Trump’s control
Oil at the $80 to $100 per barrel level will greatly disrupt the Philippine economy. Every basic expenditure will go up, from transport fare to basic foodstuffs. Those, in turn, will lead to wage increases. The cost to human lives and the cost to firms and people doing business of surging oil prices would be grievous.
The good news is oil prices are stable. Shale and fracking technologies have been going down. The OPEC’s muscle flexing can only increase oil prices by 5 percent. There are huge oil discoveries in Texas and Alaska.
The two people leading the US Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen and Stanley Fischer (sorry, DU30, they are both Jews) are both world-class economists and central bankers. They will not compromise the world’s economic health by prematurely raising the Fed-mandated interest rates. Even with prodding from Mr. Trump’s economic advisers, they won’t. Data. Evidence. Empirics. These are the operative words that dominate Fed decisions. You read the FOMC discussions and you will be in awe of the discernment and judiciousness that are ever-present in their decisions.
Sayang, if riding in tandem will be our national anthem
There are so many things going for the country and there is no reason to squander these.