Surviving a challenging year

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If anything, Filipinos have an indomitable spirit.

Filipinos are not easily defeated — they rise up to the challenge in face of adversity. They are survivors and winners in the end.

“In the rural areas, life is a continuous search of farm jobs to augment foraging in small gardens.

More than their being gregarious, sociable in character, more than their industry and their resourcefulness, more than their self-sacrificing courage, Filipinos are an indomitable spirit in the face of adversity and difficulty.

The year 2018 was very trying for the Filipino in many ways than one. Prices of goods and services spiraled from the start of the year because of the implementation of the new comprehensive tax package that increased the VAT into one of the highest in Asia. As a result inflation spiked from 3 percent to around 7 percent by the end of the year.

Inflation does not hit everyone equally as the public assumes. Basic commodities, especially food and transportation/petroleum products, are more sensitive to budgets of the masses resulting in higher effective inflation up to 9 percent for the poor.

The economic run, which saw growth rates comparable to that of China and other strong economic performers, has started to wane due to global and domestic factors — weaker industrial and export performance, an increasingly unstable political situation rife with political conflict and rebellion and global tensions. As a result, job generation has declined and remains insufficient to sop up unemployment.

Concretely, this means that the past year has been more trying than previously in terms of jobs and livelihood. Most Filipino workers don’t have stable jobs. They are at the mercy of recruitment agencies under centralization schemes. They have five month jobs and they move on to the next. Without employment security, everything else in their lives suffers from insecurity — where living conditions, family, health and so on are subject to where the next paycheck comes from.

Globalization has bequeathed them a labor market that does not recognize the permanent social contract of employment. Instead everything is transitory, subject to the exigencies of the market. Workers then have to make do — whether moving to which sector has more employment opportunities, such as business process outsourcing for white-collar workers or the booming construction sector.

But the bottom-line of this situation is the explosion in the number of unemployed and the discouraged workers who have proliferated as tambays. But Filipinos don’t end up in the streets panhandling though their numbers naturally have increased this year because of the crisis. Most continue to look for jobs including abroad but also engage in various petty trades.

“Prices of goods and services spiraled from the start of the year because of the implementation of the new comprehensive tax package.

All sorts of live-out domestic work, like laundry and house cleaning, street hawking, sidewalk food hawkers, small shops or stalls engaged in all sorts of repair jobs and so on, are the livelihood that the urban poor engage in. They can earn P50 or P100 per day or more which provides for their basic daily sustenance.

In the rural areas, life is a continuous search of farm jobs to augment foraging in small gardens, thus seasonal hunger is rampant. Called tiempo muertos (times of hunger) in Negros and tingbitay sa iro (times to slaughter the dog) in Cebu, the months after harvest from April to July when rains come become more precarious when poverty and hunger are further increased seasonally.

Life remains very difficult for the masses. They make do with only one meal a day, eating small portions, foregoing meat and even fish and vegetables and also foregoing the usual merienda — the in-between meals. But in times of hardship, they display all the virtues of fortitude, gregariousness, hard work and humility. This I have learned first hand over the years of working with them.

Calamities, especially typhoons, earthquakes and volcanos, are standard annual occurrences.

We have an average of two dozen typhoons annually and super-typhoons used to come every five years — remember “Yoling” — this now happens every year, not just once, but even several times due to climate change. But this year, we have had less of the super typhoons that made landfall, like “Ondoy.” Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were also milder and devastating compared to those in our neighbor Indonesia.

But we cannot be complacent. Landslides, whether due to heavy rains, such as in the case of Itogon, Benguet or from quarrying such as the recent the devastation in Barangay Tinaan, Talisay, Cebu, have become serious forms of calamity that are more deadly and come without sufficient warning. Local and national agencies have started mapping and testing ground stability, but they were either too remiss in their work or have not covered sufficient area that could have averted what happened in Tinaan and Itogon.

Calamities add another major factor in the precarity of living for the masses in the Philippines. They may be man-made or natural, but these things cannot be left to chance or fate. It is a social responsibility that should be shouldered by the government.

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