By Amelia H. C. Ylagan
Let’s not talk about Maria Ressa. What if she was arrested for “cyber libel” at the Rappler office by the National Bureau of Investigation day before Valentine’s Day, just before 5 p.m., the cutoff time for courts to process bail payments? Harassment? What’s “cyber libel,” anyway? We are becoming inured to all sorts of fake news and bad language on social media, as we are numbed to virulent cursing and swearing, public shaming and outright accusations on national mass media.
“Now you say there is abuse of power, excuse me, Maria, abuse of power? You are the one abusing your power as a journalist,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said (UNTV News Feb. 15, 2019). “You’re marshaling your colleagues to support you, on the basis of a misplaced and baseless cause. What is the cause? You’re saying that the government is instilling fear because of the case filed against you. There is no connection whatsoever,” he added (Ibid.). These words reverberated in nationwide news of various TV and radio networks — proof enough that they were indeed said.
“The government just has one message (to Maria Ressa): Don’t fight City Hall,” advised senatorial candidate Rafael Alunan III, who served as interior secretary under then president Fidel Ramos and tourism secretary under the late president Corazon Aquino (ABS-CBN “Headstart with Karen Davila”, Feb. 13, 2019). Alunan was reportedly “banking on a possible endorsement from President Rodrigo Duterte to help him win the Senate race in 2019” (ABS-CBN News Nov. 7, 2018). Contradictory to his suggestion to surrender to the powers-that-be, Alunan conceded Ressa “should have been given some slack” (Op. cit. “Headstart”).
“You know a government is desperate when they arrest a journalist,” London-based CNN International news anchor Christiane Amanpour said (@camanpour) February 13, 2019). But the government is not desperate, and has all the confidence.
In a Pulse Asia year-end 2018 survey conducted between December 14 and 21, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte received an 81% approval rating, up 6 percentage points from his 75% mark in September 2018 (ABS-CBN News Jan. 11 2019). His trust rating rose from 72% in September to 76% in December (Ibid.).
Political analyst Ranjit Rye said the survey results were “surprising” given that the President is going into his third year. “This is quite startling for those in the opposition who are hoping that his approval and trust rating would take a nosedive by the end of the year (2018)….Apparently, a lot of Filipinos still like [him],” Rye added (Ibid.). And this will be tested in the May 18 elections. Seven of the 11 senatorial candidates endorsed by Duterte are in the Pulse Asia list of 15 “winnables”: Sen. Cynthia Villar [NP, #2 in list], Rep. Pia Cayetano [NP, #3-4], Sen. Sonny Angara [LDP, #3-4] Sen. Aquilino Pimentel [PDP-Laban, #5-7], former Special Assistant to the President Bong Go [PDP-Laban, #14-16], Rep. Imee Marcos [NP #8-15], and former National Police and Bureau of Prisons chief Ronald de la Rosa [PDP-Laban, #8-15] (The Philippine Star Jan. 10, 2019).
It seems sure that President Duterte will continue to enjoy the overwhelming support of the Senate and of the 292-member House of Representatives (no survey on “winnables” in the Duterte-controlled Lower House). See, Maria, “you can’t fight City Hall,” as Raffy Alunan exhorts. But let us not talk of Maria Ressa, nor of the forthcoming elections. It seems there can be no wishful thinking otherwise on these.
Let us talk about the economy, for this affects all of us. Where are we now and what is coming for us?
The Department of Finance (DOF) analyzed the accuracy of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth forecasts of economists from prominent institutions for the first two years of the Duterte administration, ranking these forecasts against the final and actual figures of the Philippine Statistics Authority for the same period. “From 2016 to 2018, quarterly forecast errors averaged 5.6 percent, with 13 out of 20 forecasters scoring an average error of more than 5 percent. The best forecaster registered an average error of 3.1 percent, while the widest margin was 7.2 percent during the period 2016-2018. An error of 5% or less is considered a good forecast” (DOF Press Release Feb. 15, 2019).
Good that the DOF might be trying to reinforce the sense of responsibility and integrity of these economists, whose “predictions” on the economy would be critical to the positivity or negativity of the common people on their status towards planning their lives. But the econometric or statistical mumbo-jumbo of measuring and ranking accuracy of a forecast versus actual would be counter-productive “paralysis by analysis” clouding decisions even while stirring more volatility. Further, the academics (Ateneo, La Salle, UP, AIM, UA&P, UST were mentioned in the DOF press release), must be set apart at higher respect and credibility, whose objectives and motivations in economic forecasting might be purer than those participants in finance and the economy like the banks, financial institutions and credit rating agencies, which have business interests. The DOF previously ranked economists according to their inflation forecasts and went on to conclude that “faulty forecasting” and the media exasperated inflation (Rappler Feb. 15, 2019).
So, that said, what is the real GDP growth for the Philippine economy? The Philippine economy likely grew 6.5 to 6.7 percent in 2018, maintaining one of the world’s fastest growth rates, according to Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno (ABS-CBN Jan. 8, 2019). “We are going to have something lower than 6.7 percent,” Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said in a CNN Philippines television interview (Jan. 6, 2019). The ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) sees gross domestic product (GDP) growth settling at 6.4% in 2018 and 6.3% in 2019 based on its January update of the ASEAN+3 Regional Economic Outlook (BusinessWorld Jan. 17, 2019).
It takes quite a while (years) before final economic indicators (or any statistics) are published in often un-updated government websites. The Philippine Statistics Authority is reporting “Revised Q1 2015 lower at 5.0 percent” in its website, whilst explaining that GDP growth (for 2015!) was revised downward from 5.2 percent “based on a revision policy approved by the former NSCB Executive Board, which is consistent with international standard practices on national accounts revisions” (psa.gov.ph). Meantime, Trading Economics data, updated as of February 2019, say Philippine GDP growth as of end 2018 was 6.1 percent, with GDP at US$313.60 billion, trickled to US$7,599.19 per capita GDP (tradingeconomics.com). “Trading Economics provides its users with accurate information for 196 countries including historical data for more than 20 million economic indicators, exchange rates, stock market indexes, government bond yields and commodity prices. Our data is based on official sources, not third party data providers, and our facts are regularly checked for inconsistencies. TradingEconomics.com has received more than 500 million page views from more than 200 countries,” it says of itself on its website.
And those who need true and reliable information will naturally seek those who can provide such. It is the immutable law of supply and demand even in a controlled political environment.
We cannot not talk about Maria Ressa.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.