Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Pinoys spending this season: P1.2-P1.5 billion daily transaction in ATM alone

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers.  May this beloved season of grace fill you and yours with the choicest of God’s blessings---joy, love, peace and lots of harmonious family and clan get-togethers that we Pinoys deeply relish.    

Buoyancy of Philippine economy

Commentators have spoken about how well the Philippine economy is doing, compared to those of many European countries and the US.  Among the indicators often cited are the rise in our international reserves, boosted mainly by the heavy flow of remittances from overseas Filipinos, and the strong stock market.

 Another handy index was the heavy shopping in the malls, and one reason for this was that folks were beguiled by the wide variety of goods flooding the markets, much of them imported from our Asian neighbors, including our fellow Asean countries and Asean's four partners, namely, Japan, Korea, China and Australia.

As business executive Fernando Peña, guesting in our year-end dzRH program, noted, goods from the Asean countries and our partners are now much cheaper, and this is due, as this pro-Noynoy business exec grudgingly admitted, to the fact that former President Arroyo signed the treaty last Jan. 1 which effectively reduced tariff duties from the region by 5 percent, especially on electronics.

A holiday spending spree

In fact, noted Fern Peña, such was the holidays spending spree that the DAILY withdrawals from ATMs alone during this holiday season amounted to a whopping P1.2 billion; this was expected to rise to even P1.5 billion daily as the shopping frenzy climaxed.

This is quite significant, considering that the ATM is the office workers’ and market vendors’ vehicle for business, and that this huge daily ATM transaction does not include business via credit cards and other forms of payments. So people have money and are spending and the retail business is brisk.

P-Noy's popularity remains high

As the SWS surveys indicate, the President’s popularity remains high at 79 percent, although it has taken a slight dip from his starting score. That popularity is sustained at the moment by symbols readily grasped by the man in the street, such as the abolition of the wang-wang, visible efforts to cut down on government expenses such as purchases of new vehicles and P-Noy’s meeting returning OFWs. The surveys showed the ordinary Filipinos' optimism about their economic well-being, with money in their pockets for Christmas. 

 Unfortunately, however, on other fronts things are not moving well, and this could dampen the euphoria and disillusion could set in even among the masa that P-Noy has courted assiduously, if certain situations are not addressed.

LEDAC still hasn't convened

For instance, senators are listless and rather bored after passing the 2011 budget, their only preoccupation before the holiday break being to focus on executive officials facing the Commission on Appointments. I’ve heard complaints from some of them that five months have passed since President Aquino took over and still he has failed to convene the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac).

Ledac was set originally for last month, but it was moved again to next month;  and until all its members finally sit down in the Malacanang State Dining Room for its maiden session under P-Noy, it’s hard to tell when this would transpire.

Ledac should meet at least once a quarter

Created in December 1992 by RA 7640, Ledac is a consultative and advisory body to the President who chairs it, and is attended by the Vice President, the Senate President, the Speaker of the House, select Cabinet officials led by the NEDA Director-General and the PMS Chief, select members of the two chambers of Congress and an LGU representative, among others. Under the law Ledac meets at least once every quarter, but may be convened as often as the President deems necessary.

FVR constantly convened LEDAC

Veteran palace reporters recall how President Fidel Ramos convened Ledac virtually every week, which may help explain the close cooperation between the executive and legislative branches and the economic progress of the country during his term. Since August 2002, President GMA convened  Ledac at least once a month, on every first Tuesday,  resulting in her getting  pretty much what she wanted in terms of economic bills.
P-Noy plans to convene Ledac next January yet. Obviously, until he became President by a fluke of history, he led a charmed life and still has to approximate the work ethic of FVR and GMA, who were notorious workaholics. There’s talk that the bachelor President cannot be disturbed before 10 am. or after 5 pm.

LEDAC crucial to government

Senators I’ve talked to point out that Ledac was designed to determine and recommend socio-economic development goals to the President, and integrate the legislative agenda as well as regional development plans with the national development plan. Ledac members recommend to the President and Congress sources of revenues and measures to reduce unnecessary expenditures in government---a function so critical to a cash-strapped government such as P-Noy's.

Most important function

But the most important of Ledac’s functions is the “common legislative agenda” (CLA) for both chambers of Congress, which sets down the President’s priority measures for her allies in Congress. The CLA is almost always the first agenda item in every Ledac meeting, but five months into the P-Noy administration, there is still no CLA.

 For instance, we have been hearing P-Noy talk a lot about the “private-public sector partnership” (PPSP) to jumpstart the economy especially in the countryside, now that the budgets of a number of major line departments  have been drastically cut. To promote P-Noy's reform agenda, especially his anti-poverty program, the PPSP has to be top priority in the CLA, but until now Congress has yet to see how the Executive plans to flesh  it out in terms of urgent legislation

  With no legislative agenda from P-Noy to take up and discuss, before the X'mas break the senators were said to have run out of jokes or chismis to regale one another with. They may be depending on Sen. Antonio Trillanes to perk up the sleepy chamber when they return next month.    

Importance of LGUs

If nothing much is happening in the Senate, the same can be said in the various local government leagues. Recall that GMA survived a number of attempts to oust her and one reason was her ardent cultivation of the LGUs’ support in her nine years as President. There was no week in those nine years that she wasn't in the provinces, exhorting the LGUs to get those local projects cranking. Few local execs could fool her with stats, as these were all in her computer.

 One can remember in the previous administration the likes of Bohol’s Gov. Erico Aumentado of the League of Governors, Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardone of ULAP, Mayor Ramon Guico of the Municipal Mayors’ League and Mandaluyong City Mayor Ben-hur Abalos of the City Mayors’ League, among the dynamic leaders who provided a counterbalance to treacherous executive officials and their Congress allies who sought to kick out GMA.

No evident leadership

One reason the LGU leagues are in the doldrums may be that P-Noy put his LP lieutenants in charge even if they don’t have the evident leadership. Or he hasn’t spent much time with the locals, as he and his Palace officials quickly got mired in various controversies or in  power-struggles among factions supporting him.    Thus reports of a revamp early next month in his official family (beginning with DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo?) are very much welcome.  

 For instance, LP Governor of Mindoro Oriental Alfonso “P.A.” Umali Jr. was elected president of the League of Governors but until now quorums can’t be mustered there. But the spark is missing even in non-LP leaders. Lakas Trece Martires Mayor Strike Revilla, brother of Sen. Bong Revilla, handily beat Palo, Leyte Mayor Matin Petilla, who was P-Noy’s candidate for president of the City Mayors’ League;  but so far nothing much has been happening in this League too.
On the regional level, things are not moving much either in some areas. For instance, LP Gov. Agustin Perdices of Negros Oriental was handpicked by P-Noy to chair the Region VII Development Council, instead of Cebu’s dynamic Governor Gwen Garcia, simply because Gwen went all out for Lakas presidential candidate Gibo Teodoro last May. But Perdices is old and ailing, so nothing much is moving in RDC VII.   

Ultimately, everything boils down to the top leadership, which still has to crank.      

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