Meeting expectations?


One cold afternoon, two friends are hotly debating their government. One is a staunch supporter, while the other is a skeptical critic. Exasperated over his friend’s skepticism, the staunch supporter evokes the old proverb “You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs!” To which his skeptical friend retorts: “All right. I can see the broken eggs. But where is this omelet of yours?”

One can have many readings to this old political joke, but I’d like to focus on one possible reading: people usually forgive a government’s excesses, including fondness for violence, only if that government meets their expectations.

This political fact holds true for any regime, including our going-on-three-year Duterte regime. So, the inevitable question is — Has the Duterte regime met the challenge of meeting people’s expectations?

Regime apologists, as a matter of course, say the question is irrelevant as Mr. Duterte’s has high approval ratings and that means the regime is meeting people’s expectations. As a matter of course, too, regime dissenters scoff at this outlandish assertion.

As to what those expectations are, no one has exactly spelled them out as the Duterte administration suffers from a dismal lack of intelligent ideologues. Still, some apologists say those expectations are moored on Mr. Duterte’s no-nonsense governing style.

Regime dissenters, on the other hand, say Mr. Duterte’s style is demonstrably authoritarian. A style, which when stripped naked, is an ugly sight, as the style unabashedly smashes down all institutions and unashamedly renders inutile government legal processes.

In the shouting match over governing style, however, the debate inevitably turns to whether people are better off in this regime than in previous regimes. And when this crops up, it usually revolves around on how the economy is faring.

Straight off, troubling signs bedevil the economy. Last week, the country’s chief economic planner Ernesto Pernia confessed the economy this year is headed for another year of slowing down.

Pernia blames the economy’s forecasted doldrums on the big challenges economic managers had to contend with last year, challenges which included high world oil prices, which in turn affected imports, food and gas pump prices.

Still, controversial budget boss Benjamin Diokno happily says things will still be fine “despite the looming economic slowdown because our economy is driven by internal demand like ‘Build, Build, Build’ and investment in human capital.”

Whether we can go along with Diokno’s rosy predictions is altogether another question, however. Many are still asking where the omelet is, even as many are asking at the same time why is there still so much corruption and pork barrel scandals attending the many things being built.

Anyway, in the meantime, all of us have no choice but to contend again with higher commodity prices, particularly after last week’s rise in the prices of oil and the implementation of the second part of the pocket-emptying Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law.

This, even if we had a respite last December when inflation slowed down. Critics, however, insist there is nothing to cheer about slowing inflation as last year’s overall inflation rate was still higher than 2017 or 2016.

Outside of growth and inflation, another unsettling economic indicator is the roller-coaster fortunes of the peso. Number-crunching analysts say many pressures will batter again the peso. Among those buffeting pressures are the worldwide economic slowdown, rising inflation, worries over government funding more of its operations on borrowed money and, surprisingly, the midterm elections.

Analysts are not forthright on why the May midterm elections threaten the peso. All they say is that Mr. Duterte needs to pack both houses of the Legislature with avowed allies for his economic programs to take off — an alarming diagnosis which somehow means administration loyalists are facing difficulties of getting themselves elected.

Nonetheless, most of us do find difficulty on what all these troubles in the economy mean. In fact, despite the rising prices and shocking pork barrel scandals, most of us go on with our normal lives. We are like the coyote in the Looney Tunes cartoons who continue walking in the empty air, after leaving solid ground. We don’t worry so much about our future well-being so long as we don’t look down on the canyon below.

Anyway, going back to my earlier theme, it has been proven time and again that people don’t revolt because “things are bad.” People revolt only because their expectations are not met.
But the trouble with expectations is that it keeps on changing, an uncatchable chameleon. If an economy is doing well, it will still give birth to new instabilities and antagonisms and they will generate new expectations which cannot be met. That’s why even stable governments get replaced.

Now, what more when there’s economic troubles? Last week House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo probably sensed the problem when she strongly urged economic managers to take advantage of easing inflation.

It is easy to dismiss huckster Arroyo as she is busily creating alternative money and power centers, all blatantly. But her political instincts is spot on when she says, “Agencies must act quickly on the implementation side, to get the plans and programs going on the ground and produce results our people will feel in their day-to-day lives.”

The political cautionary lesson, therefore, is that the real impact of all these economic troubles is not yet properly felt. But the impact will come and it will come silently and will change everything.


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