‘Walang himala’

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At least the traffic, which President Noynoy Aquino once said was a sign of robust economic growth, is as bad as ever or even worse than before. But the fact is, the Aquino administration never mentions the stock market anymore, now that it is suffering almost daily reversals due to  developments overseas that the government in Manila had nothing whatsoever to do with.

Yes, the Philippine Stock Exchange, once the darling of foreign portfolio investors and the bellwether of economic growth under the Aquino administration (when the index was going up, anyway), plummeted again yesterday, shedding 201.29 points and 3.26 percent and falling through the 6,000 barrier to close at 5,980.88. The local market followed the downturn in almost all Asian stock exchanges, a phenomenon that was traced by analysts to concerns about China, this time.

Earlier, pronouncements by the US Federal Reserve about the improving American economy and changes in monetary policy sent Philippine stocks tumbling. Taken together with last June 13’s market “bloodbath,” yesterday’s market reversal debunks with finality the Aquino government’s claim that the now-forgotten surges in the stock market were the direct result of sound economic policies that it had put into place.

Of course, the upcoming State of the Nation Address of Aquino is not expected to mention any of this, just like his last two speeches at the opening of Congress no longer said anything about his supposed centerpiece economic scheme, the Public Private Partnerships that never left the drawing board. In fact, the official spin has already moved on from macroeconomic stuff like stock market surges, credit rating upgrades and GDP increases to “inclusive growth” that supposedly targets the poorest of the poor.

Not that the poor can reasonably expect any improvement from this shift in propaganda focus, any more than they felt improvement when “Aquinomics” was supposedly transforming the Philippines into a “tiger economy.” After all, with poverty and unemployment still rampant, the peso falling and the prices of gasoline, electricity, water and even mass transport steadily increasing or about to shoot up, it would take a lot more than refocused sloganeering or even a brace of feel-good, paid-for surveys to uplift the poor.

As Nora Aunor once declared: “Walang himala.” Government has not performed any miracle to improve the lives of the majority in three years in office, even if the arrival of its leader was treated by some like the second coming of the Messiah.

Now Aquino has three years left to prove that he will not merely leave behind a legacy of blaming his predecessor, claiming credit where he did nothing and doing only slightly more than eliminating sirens. Will it be more of the same?

* * *

The coming days are not going to be fun in the Philippines for the poor, who are going to bear the brunt of government moves that will definitely not ease their daily burdens. So much for inclusive growth.

The government said yesterday that it will push through with the demolition of 20,000 squatter shanties erected along flood-prone waterways in Metro Manila, an operation that is expected to be completed, by government estimates, at the end of the year. But the mass demolitions seem to be yet another unthought-out decision, judging from the P18,000 “rental subsidy” that the government is offering each squatter family that will lose its home in the process.

The subsidies appear to be a knee-jerk reaction to the worsening problem of flooding in the metropolis simply because the handouts do not solve the problem of squatting along waterways permanently, something that requires the relocation of the displaced families. What will stop these squatter families from returning to their old homes by the water, when the money runs out and they no longer pay rent – assuming that they used it for that purpose?

And what will stop local officials from allowing the squatters’ return, in exchange for their votes in the next election? After all, the Department of Public Works and Highways itself has admitted that the squatters were allowed to stay by local politicians who needed their votes last month—the same politicians who are now expected to turn a blind eye to the demolitions, now that they have been elected.

In the meantime, no one has asked Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson to identify which local officials asked him not to remove the squatters before the last election so that they may share the blame for the flooding, the traffic and the overall misery that consumes everyone who lives and works in Metro Manila every rainy season. I can only surmise that Malacañang is in no mood to prosecute these officials because the administration benefited, as well, from the squatter vote, which the local officials promised they would deliver for the Senate slate of Aquino also.

Now, of course, the squatters are just blameworthy nuisances again. Apparently, they have been excluded from inclusive growth.