It’s customary for newspapers and TV networks to end the year with some kind of review or assessment of the past 12 months and even to look into the next 12.

This year-end practice isn’t entirely due to the lack of anything much to comment or even report on, although the main news source in these parts, the government, is pretty much in recess. The logic of such reviews rests on what should be an old saw among Filipinos, but isn’t: it is the need to remember what has gone before, so one doesn’t end up repeating the past’s errors.

Filipinos have just had a bad year, and no doubt hope that they will not have to live through something similar. Not that every year has not generally been bad in this vale of tears since Filipino officials began running the government–like hell, as was once so uncannily predicted– but that 2004 was especially terrible.

The year is ending with thousands of Filipinos in grief over the deaths of their loved ones in the floods and mudslides of early December– and, lest we forget, in the carnage at Hacienda Luisita earlier. In some homes the death of Fernando Poe Jr. is treated as a personal loss, sometimes more than the death of a relative.

But it’s not just the death of thousands and that of a movie icon’s that has made 2004 exceptionally bad. It is also the poverty into which millions more slipped this year in the aftermath of years of government profligacy with, and mismanagement of, borrowed money; a particularly expensive election that was its own mockery; and an economy that’s cutting jobs, keeping wages low, and boosting consumer prices.

The result, when added to the woes inflicted by typhoons, mudslides and floods, is despair so palpable it defies the usual image of Filipinos as incurably cheerful and as a people who inevitably exaggerate the silver lining in every cloud.

Usually the center of cheer during the holidays, it being the most prosperous part of the country, metro Manila has been under a pall of gloom apparently since October. A Central Bank survey that month reported by the newspaper BusinessWorld found most metro Manila residents expecting increases in the prices of commodities together with either decreases in incomes, or unchanged salaries as the year ended.

The survey population consisted of 2,425 low-, middle- and high-income households in Metro Manila, which made it pretty much representative. Surprisingly, even the higher-income groups expected the last quarter to be worse than the first nine months of 2004.

Consumers also expect the next 12 months to be difficult due to worsening economic conditions, said the BW report. The CB survey found consumer expectations for next year had already turned from positive to negative last October. Some 38 percent of those surveyed expected their economic situation to worsen in the next twelve months. Only 30 percent expected improvement, while 42 percent expected it to remain the same.

As a result–an indication that 2005 will be bad for business over-all– only two out of ten households said they were planning to buy a house or motor vehicle, or even a major home appliance. The eighty percent of households surveyed who said they would not be making major purchases in 2005 cited government corruption, lack of money, more unemployment, and high prices.

Unmentioned in these responses is the widespread belief–no one would lose money betting on it–that the government either cannot or is unwilling to do anything about the continuing economic decline, or, for that matter, the worsening impact of disasters on the population.

The legitimacy as well as the track record of an administration naturally has a bearing on citizen confidence in any government. But legitimacy is precisely what the Arroyo government lacks in the eyes of 55 percent of the citizenry who believe that Arroyo cheated her way to a six-year term last May.

As for track record, the fact that the Arroyo watch has so far produced the worst fiscal crisis, the worst unemployment rates and the highest population growth in decades hardly inspire confidence.

Neither do government announcements, among which one has to include Mrs. Arroyo’s Christmas message in which she predicted brighter prospects for the country in 2005.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye, anticipating the collective eyebrow- raising and moans of disbelief that that statement has elicited among the populace, explained that Mrs. Arroyo’s prediction was based on the so-called fiscal and economic reforms she has initiated as well as expectations of cuts in the prices of gasoline, cooking gas and diesel fuel as a result of the decline in world crude prices.

Bunye predicts that, rather than price increases, the populace can look forward to lower consumer prices by January, and to more jobs rather than less as the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 opens and more tourists pour in.

Note that the Arroyo prediction as explained by Bunye is based on factors beyond government control, among them the price of crude in the world market, which is dependent on a host of other factors, and the influx of tourists NAIA 3 would make possible. Both are iffy, the last especially so. Presentable airports do matter to tourists, but are not the only things that matter. Tourists also choose destinations on the basis of the amenities they offer and their uniqueness, in both of which areas the Philippines has not exactly been number one.

But of course there is good, old-fashioned Filipino hopefulness and the capacity to laugh at adversity to keep everyone going,–to which both Bunye and his boss alluded to as allegedly positive Filipino traits. Bunye mentioned Filipinos’ resiliency in the face of death and destruction; Mrs. Arroyo referred to their “overflowing, deep well of faith”.

The Arroyo government is going to need both if it is to survive until 2010. This “well of faith”, this very resiliency among Filipinos, has been the one single ingredient that has kept the Philippine state, as decrepit and as patently flawed as it is, going.

Its institutions may be weak and its leaders corrupt, unpatriotic and committed only to personal, familial and class interests. The economic system over which it presides may be in perpetual crisis. The social system it protects may be unfair, unjust and murderous. The political system may be grossly inefficient, fraudulent and equally corrupt.

Most Filipinos themselves may believe that things are going from bad to worse, as the CB and other surveys show. But trust them nevertheless to continue to believe that they can still manage somehow, that that elusive next meal may yet be found, God will somehow provide, or that a trip to the mall can assuage one’s outrage over injustice, and that one’s misery can be healed by words.

The year just past may have been more horrible than any in recent memory, and the coming year could be as bad. But trust Filipino resiliency and “faith”. The system will hobble along. There is no guarantee that the Arroyo administration will not be replaced, probably by something as bad or even worse, as 1986 and 2001 both demonstrated. Maybe it will be; maybe it won’t. But what is certain is that the systems over which administrations in this country preside–the social, political and economic structures whose other name is crisis, injustice and misery–will endure in 2005 and beyond.


Luis V. Teodoro

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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