Article of trade

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It was as if she had planned it. Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may not have succeeded in electing all 12 of her anointed to the Senate this year. But she did succeed in (1) confusing Filipinos about when the 109th anniversary of Philippine independence was being celebrated; (2) reducing the number of people who attended the usual events—flag-raising, parades, etc.—that commemorate Independence Day; and (3) diminishing the significance of June 12 by implying that it was just another day in which to sleep late and spend at the mall.

Mrs. Arroyo achieved all three by the simple expedient of declaring June 11 a holiday and June 12 a working holiday this year, in accordance with her “holiday economics” policy.

The policy is based on the theory that long weekends and extended holidays could result in Filipinos’ spending more, which in turn should lead to an increase in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Which is to assume that Filipinos have the means to spend more: it’s not that they don’t have the money; what they lack is the opportunity to spend it.

Before anyone mounts the usual soapbox to decry most Filipinos’ limited buying power, however, let’s keep in mind that some Filipinos do have the means, even if others have to burrow through garbage for the next meal.

We call those Filipinos with means Overseas Filipino Workers. The families of OFWs—and they’re growing in number– frequent malls so often they might as well live there. You can see them at MacDonald’s or Pizza Hut or Jollibee at all hours of the day, at the appliance stores trying to make up their minds on what humungous TV set and roof-raising stereo system to buy, or at the furniture shop choosing between the red velvet sofa with the gold-plated legs or the purple one with wooden armrests inlaid with faux mother-of-pearl.

This year the surge in dollar remittances—driven by further increases in the number of OFWs and the weakness of the dollar (Mama, send more dollars; your $100 is worth only P4,500 this year) — should show in increased spending. But note that the families of OFWs don’t necessarily frequent malls only on holidays. For most of them every day is a holiday, and one holiday more hardly makes a difference, except that it does mean that the children can tag along to the mall to make nuisances of themselves.

In crafting the holiday economics policy, Mrs. Arroyo and her advisers must have had the many Philippine holidays in mind, thus their calculation that long weekends would result in this or that much growth in spending and GDP. After all, the country does have more holidays than most other countries in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines also has half-holidays and spur of the moment holidays. In addition to the regular holidays– New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Araw ng Kagitingan (Day of Courage). Labor Day. Independence Day, National Heroes Day, the Feast of Ramadan, Bonifacio Day, Christmas Day And Rizal Day– Wednesday during Holy Week is a half holiday, as is Christmas and New Year’s Eve, meaning that offices are open only from 8 a.m. to 12 noon.

There are also those other, spur-of-the moment holidays (like EDSA 1) that aren’t on the calendar, which drive business firms mad– and which have led some of them to petition the government to schedule extended holidays six months in advance each year. And let’s not forget the four-day workweek, which this summer meant that certain government offices (for example, the University of the Philippines) were closed one day during weekdays.

Holiday economics does make some sense, however. The estimated increase in GDP, as a result of increased consumer spending during extended holidays and long weekends, is 3.5 percent. But it also has its downside, the unpredictability some business firms complain of being one of them.

There’s more. The flap over June 12’s being a working day this year focuses attention on something neither Mrs. Arroyo nor her advisers seem to have considered at all. It is the extent to which the government can move the celebration of holidays around for the sake of economic gain. What about Christmas, for example? One can argue that the commemoration of some holidays can be moved without much harm to their significance. But some, and Independence Day is one of them, can’t.

The reason is primarily contextual. Independence Day should be an occasion for the country not only to recall the aspirations that drove its patriots to rise against Spain and to resist US colonialism. It should also be a day for national examination and, if need be, rededication to the ideals of freedom and authentic development. Both are indivisible from the day itself, meaning June 12 and not 11 or 13.

Despite its frequent lip service to freedom and independence, the Philippine political class has been the last to make Philippine independence meaningful. A hundred and nine years after the proclamation of Philippine independence, poverty and its handmaiden, injustice, haunt the country still, thanks to the incompetence, dishonesty and corruption of a political class that in furtherance of its interests is prepared to trade the country’s sovereignty for aging US helicopters, and the degradation of its environment for the promise of Japan’s hiring more caregivers. It’s no surprise that it doesn’t want to talk about the meaning and responsibilities of independence, which after all it regards as an article of trade.

(BusinessWorld)

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