The Arroyo government is running out of excuses as one survey after another shows the deteriorating state of the economy and the quality of life of the Filipino people.
BY BENJIE OLIVEROS
Vol. VIII, No. 27, August 10-16, 2008
The Arroyo government is ranting over the results of recent surveys: from the Social Weather Station (SWS) survey showing that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s satisfactory rating plunged to -38, to the Pulse Asia survey showing that 40 percent of the people do not believe in the truthfulness of the state of the nation address, while 46 percent are undecided. But the most damning surveys are the ones on hunger by the SWS, which showed that an increasing number of people have experienced severe hunger, 4.2 percent or 760,000 families, and that overall hunger statistics showing 2.9 million Filipino families experiencing involuntary hunger are still above the ten-year average; and the July survey of Pulse Asia showing that 75 percent of Filipinos feel that their life is worse off now than a year before, 64 percent being pessimistic about their personal circumstances, and 86 percent saying that the national economy has worsened in the last three years.
The Arroyo government brushed aside the president’s unsatisfactory rating by saying that it has made unpopular but necessary decisions. It ignored the survey regarding the credibility of the SONA and merely pleaded for people to listen. It responded to the results of the hunger survey by blaming the international market for the spike in oil and food prices; and saying that it has been distributing subsidies to help the poor to tide it over under these difficult times.
But the government began to complain when the results of the latest survey of Pulse Asia was released. The survey conducted from July 1-14 revealed that 66 percent or two in every three households are spending less on food to be able to make their budget fit for their daily needs. Of these, 24 percent has been reducing their rice consumption and spending while 55 percent has been limiting their expenditures on other food items.
Press Sec. Jesus Dureza said he was not convinced that the 1,200 respondents represent the feelings of 80 million Filipinos. If survey and statistical standards do not apply then we might as well forget what we learned in college.
The results of the Pulse Asia survey are not surprising Contrary to Malacañang’s claims, the results of the survey may even be conservative.
World Bank computes the percentage of the food budget to income at 50 to 70 percent. Based on the Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES) of the National Statistics Office, 80 percent of Filipino families are struggling to survive on P284.33 ($6.41 at an exchange rate of $1=P44.34) a day; and with an average family size of five, this translates into 68.2 million Filipinos subsisting on P56.87 ($1.28) a day. If these families allot 70 percent of their income to food, that means P 39.809 ($0.897) is budgeted per person for three meals. Only P17.06 ($0.38) is left for transportation and other expenses such as communications, clothing and footwear, education, personal care items, fuel, light, water, and rent. The P17.06 ($0.38) budget for these is only enough for a four-kilometer jeepney ride back and forth.
Even if we take the results of the FIES, which concluded that only 42.6 percent of the family income is allocated for food, it would still not be enough. If only 42.6 percent of the family’s income or a meager P121 ($2.728) is, on the average, spent on food for five people then P 163 ($3.676) per day or P4,890 ($110.28) per month is budgeted for transportation and communications, clothing and footwear, education, personal care, fuel, light, and water, and rent. More or less one half of this would already be eaten up by expenses for transportation alone, that is, if all the five members of the family do not travel beyond four kilometers from their house. If the workplace of the parents and the school of the children are beyond four kilometers, all the remaining budget of the family would be spent for transport fare.
With the skyrocketing prices of basic goods and services and the free falling of the real income of families, the only item left for the 80 percent of the population to scrimp on is food as too little is already allotted for other essentials.
But the people are scrimping on food that is already insufficient. The P39.809 ($0.897) per person for three meals is only about P13.26 ($0.30) per meal. Even food prepared from “pagpag” (literally to dust off) or recycled left-over food retrieved from waste bins costs P10 ($0.225) already in urban poor communities. It is worse if only P121 ($2.728) per day is spent on food, if we are to base the computation on the results of the FIES, which claims that only 42.6 percent on the average is allotted for food. This translates to a meager P24.20 ($0.545) per person per day or P 8 ($0.18) per person per meal. What the FIES did is to average the food expenditures of all Filipino families. But as one’s income decreases, the percentage of income spent on food increases.
The justification that there is nothing the government can do because the spike in prices is international in nature is a falsehood. Even the World Bank, the main promoter of globalization and the “free market” said in a study entitled, “The Impact of Food Inflation on Urban Poverty and its Monetary Cost: Some Back-of-the Envelope Calculations”, that “The relationship between international and domestic food prices is country-specific. The transmission of high world prices to domestic prices depends on the depth of international markets for different commodities, countries’ exchange rates variations against the US dollar during the period, the degree of openness of the different economies and domestic policies in response to the shock. Domestic relative food prices are affected by inflation of non-food prices, which also varies by country.”
Of course, what the World Bank is not saying is that the more open an economy is, and the more dependent it is on imports, the greater is the country’s vulnerability to increases in prices in the international market. That is why the Philippines, which is highly dependent on imports of oil and rice, among other things, is being rocked by the spike in international prices of these commodities. Nevertheless, the World Bank admits that domestic policies impact on local prices. This belies the claim of the Arroyo government that it is not to blame for the spike in prices and that it has been making necessary, though unpopular decisions.
The truth is the Arroyo government is running out of excuses as one survey after another shows the deteriorating state of the economy and the quality of life of the Filipino people. (Bulatlat.com)