BY MARLEN V. RONQUILLO
The 7.3-percent growth rate for the first quarter of 2010 happened under Mrs. Arroyo’s watch. It is hers. And nobody is saying it is not good for the country.
Still, the propagandists of Mrs. Arroyo have no right to make the growth rate a public relations peg—as in challenging the next administration to duplicate such supposed feat. The truth is the growth surge was bound to happen and Mrs. Arroyo’s leadership had nothing to do with the growth rate.
The analysts are right on the mark. Higher remittances from overseas Filipinos, election-related spending, last-minute fund releases for administration favorites which translated into public works projects and additional employment resulted in welcome injections into the anemic economic mainstream.
The third can be supported by empirical data: the heaviest spending for public works and related projects took place in the turfs of political favorites of the Arroyo administration. The areas controlled by the leading opposition figures had not been boosted by the unprecedented release of funds.
Because Mrs. Arroyo had uncontested control over releases of public funds, it was the provinces of her allies that mostly benefited. Woe to the provinces represented in Congress by the opposition.
The analysts, while essentially right in their assessment on the whys and wherefores of the economic surge for the first quarter of 2010, missed other issues—the intangibles that led to the inspired growth rate for the year’s first quarter.
What they failed to point is this: the C factor. C as in change.
The feeling that Mrs. Arroyo and her allies would be gone by July and Noynoy Aquino would be in the seat of power was truly liberating. Instead of adopting a wait-and-see attitude and instead of being gripped by uncertainty, those with investment plans started spending in pursuit for their business plans.
Demand rose, production surged and the whole economy—buoyed by anticipation of leadership change—opted to do something instead of waiting for the election results. Most Filipinos did something productive in that quarter.
The burst of activity did not come from the truly wealthy and the capitalist class. The Filipino Everyman did his or her share. Taking stock of that quarter, here were two major items that I did:
• Get a bulldozer to clean up the lagoon for my hog waste. I spent P200,000 for a full week of bulldozer-cleaning work.
• Plant yellow corn despite the harsh and brutal drought. This helped generate economic activity in various ways. I purchased certified seeds from a dealer. I bought fertilizer. I needed diesel for the shallow tube well-type of irrigating the yellow corn. During the yellow corn’s mature stage, two people were needed to guard the crop on a 24/7 basis. You have to tell the kids who wanted to sample the corn that such variety were not for human consumption. It would be a waste if they just plucked up non-edible corn.
Farmers in the neighborhood did the same thing on larger or smaller scales. Every activity from hopeful Filipinos,whether big or small, added up to produce the 7.3-growth rate for the year’s first quarter.
Again, the growth rate happened under her watch. It is hers and nobody is taking away the credit. But the administration should rein in its tendency to unnecessarily gloat over what was clearly a collective product of hopeful Filipinos. The leadership had nothing to do with the growth surge. If it were a movie, it was entirely a production of Filipinos from all walks of life and from across the economic classes.
The last few weeks before leaving the Palace must be very tough for Mrs. Arroyo and her allies. They have been in power for so long—and what they enjoyed in more than nine years at the Palace was close to absolute power.
The pre-departure blues are understandable in this context. And aggravating this exit from power are two sad developments. allies exiting from the ruling coalition to join the new powers-that-be and the sudden realization that the perks and trappings of power are all over.
But coming down to earth, despite the tough adjustments, has to take place. More so because the next leadership would be unfriendly to her at the very least.
She should come down to earth and also prepare for a grueling probe by a commission that the new president will create to inquire on whether she abused presidential powers or was indiscreet or both during her years as president.
The truth of the matter is Mrs. Arroyo (and her inner circle) does not have the luxury to indulge in pre-departure blues.