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Tokenism too late

It is last two minutes, and the slippery ball is hardly in the hands of the administration. Hounded by prices of oil, rice, food, etc, that have shot through the roof of the coliseum, the astounded administration people can only stare, and wonder, why 2010 is still two years away.

Last two minutes and the endgame is near.


By Lito Banayo

ALL these bleeding heart "solutions" of the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to the problems of soaring prices in almost everything smack of after-thought. Tokenism too late, to quell the restlessness of the masa. To prevent such restlessness to escalate into protests, and those protests to reach gale force proportions as to destabilize her insecure regime.

When the price of rice started moving up last March, and everybody scrambled for subsidized cheap rice from the sparse warehouses of the National Food Authority, they went direct to the people, and asked them to queue for cheap rice. When the rice queues got longer and longer, and an inefficient NFA distribution mechanism caused tempers to flare up, and television crews to document these each night, government announced that they will start issuing "access cards" that would identify the poorest of the poor. Those identity cards will allow them exclusive purchasing rights for low-cost, heavily subsidized NFA-imported rice with 25 percent or more broken grains.

The whole scheme distorts the workings of the market. But it creates what the Boss Woman hopes would make for good propaganda spin. "She cares for the poor" is what she hopes the masa would say of her. Unfortunately for her, survey after survey says the people do not react positively. Her trust ratings continue to dive.

Simultaneously, she vents her fury against "hoarders" of rice, and herself leads NBI and police agents at "raiding" suspected warehouses. She even makes a show of going to the DOJ every day to make "kulit" the prosecutors, and ensure they file charges against the "hoarders". The result? The market mechanism gets distorted all the more. Palay traders refused to buy palay from the harvests of Central Luzon, lest they be raided and tagged as hoarders. Supply tightens all the more, and prices of non-subsidized commercial rice hits the high 40"s. This is your president, "the economist", at work.

Then there is oil, whose price defies the world’s supply and demand situation, and keeps rising, with producers and commodity traders making barrels full of money. As we import oil, our pump prices keep going up, up and away. The Boss Woman is pressed by the Senate to consider reducing or suspending the collection of the expanded VAT on oil. She would not. Instead, her LTFRB grants a provisional fifty-centavo price increase. Commuters understood. But the Boss Woman says wait, and her clueless DOTC secretary says "halt"! A day after, when the cabinet decided that there was nothing so objectionable to a fifty-centavo hike in fares, she finally says "Go". By which time the price of oil had soared to higher than 130 dollars per barrel, and the local oil companies, deregulated as they are, hiked prices at a peso, then a peso and a half, each week. Caramba!

Now the jeepney and other transport operators who are suffocating from the weekly increases want 8 pesos to become 10 pesos. Fifty centavos is even less than a token. Now government will have to grapple with 2 pesos more, and soon, 3 pesos. Yet it will never let go of the VAT that it collects.

The Boss Woman would rather collect and make plenty, plenty for her chest, and then, out of her "kindness," her "generosity." her "bleeding heart," grant leavings, such as access cards, special discounts, a token here and a token there. The spin is what matters more than simple, measurable and controllable decreases in the tax take.

But likely she worries – how would the balance sheet look like? What would the multilaterals and the lending agencies, and Fitch, Moody’s, Standard and Poor, decree? After all, they praised her for the E-VAT, never mind if it was at the expense of everybody, including her "beloved" masa.

Then she takes on another giant, the Lopezes of Meralco, to show the people that "she cares" and she "fights for them." Along with her bulldog, el Cebuano Winston of the state pension fund whose billions are all locked in the bank of her "amigos," los Aboitizes de Cebu tambien.

She blames the Lopezes for the ever-increasing costs of electric power that "her" Napocor generates and "her" Transco transmits which the Meralco distributes to you and me. Sure the Lopezes also buy half of their power from IPP’s, which include some of their own family corporations. Every spin from Winston and Luis Villafuerte in "her" House (never mind su hijo Mikey, who chairs the Energy Committee without knowing a single damn thing about it) blames Meralco for "hidden charges" and "hidden costs" and systems losses, but every thinking being wonders why, if these were so unlawful, so excessive, then what was "her" Energy Regulatory Commission doing all this time? Accepting bribes from the Lopezes or natutulog sa pansitan, or simply following the EPIRA law that "her" House rushed upon "her" pro-active bidding (with bribes from "her" National Electrification Administration to ensure congressmen’s attendance) in a special session called by her, tambien.

So why aren’t Filipinos cheering her? And when "her" SEC (correction: one commissioner) mysteriously and swiftly ordered Meralco to cease and desist from electing its directors in the annual stockholders meeting last Monday, why were people still booing her Winston? And why do her minions have to pay "her" people’s organizations, some instantly created, to say hallelujah to her and Winston and say f—k you Meralco? And pay for full-page ads that only makes those pesky Inquirer people happy?

Now comes another token. Her DSWD wants to get 2 billion pesos from the coffers of "her" National Treasury, so they can subsidize the electric bills of los pobrecitos "la masa".

It’s all tokenism. And too late. Because even los pobrecitos, "la masa" can see through her attempts at last-minute heroism to cover up for governance so bad and corruption so gross. And everybody, including los pobrecitos, la masa, realizes that things would not be as bad as they are, and as hopeless as they have become, were it not for her bad governance and corruption. That, no matter how many tokens she gives like leavings from her personal table of plenty, is the Filipino people’s unshaken and un-erasable belief.

"What’s the problem?" Ask anyone in the streets other than Pampanga’s. "Gobyerno", they will answer. "Who’s to blame?" ask next. "Gloria," they will chorus.

"So what’s the solution?"

"Alisin si Gloria".

As simple as that.


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