Stumbling to the finish line

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    ‘Bottom line is it’s no longer a rosy outlook, folks. Tighten your belts and seatbelts. If things do not miraculously take a turn for the better any time soon, it seems that the first Duterte administration will be stumbling to the finish line.’

    HAPPY 29th birthday to my niece Joanna, who was born Canadian to Filipino parents and has married an American of Mexican descent. It is a global world — as is the coronavirus.

    Joyous moments like birthday celebrations aside, we are indeed stumbling to the finish line. It seems that for every step forward that we take in these days of the virus, there is always something out there that makes us lose our sense of balance and causes us to trip and stumble.

    We have a President who, admirably, stands by his men — unfortunately even if they should have been jettisoned some time (a long time!) ago. Yes, he stumbled by keeping them around him.

    We have a Health Secretary who now admits that the principal problem of the Philippines is its testing capacity, which was his lookout from Day One. But he is wrong: testing capacity is NOT the number one weakness of the Philippines’ health system: he is. As a result our “model of containment” fight against the virus has fallen flat on its face.

    In a country teeming with doctors, if the current secretary is so irreplaceable, then we should all prepare to get infected with the coronavirus.

    We have a PNP leadership that has a crisis of credibility, when credibility is one of the most important ingredients in law enforcement. But why should we be surprised when one of its top officials was caught figuratively with his pants down; instead of resigning, all sorts of excuses were concocted to try to explain away the incident, and it even took the President of the Philippines to zip him up. Now this same official is sneered at when he admonishes the public to follow lockdown restrictions. And the overall credibility of law enforcement is tripped up when ordinary citizens are dealt with harshly while VIPs get a pass.

    Tell me: with over 1,800 men and women among the ranks of the PNP, why would you risk damaging the reputation of the institution by arguing that someone is irreplaceable? And isn’t that an insult, too, to everyone else?

    We have over 300,000 OFWs, long touted as the “new heroes,” who are set to come home to a bleak future. There are no jobs waiting for them here — the virus has wiped out over one million and counting, we are told; and whether they will still have jobs abroad to return to is another uncertainty. (Heck, who would want to take a coronavirus cruise?) So what of the remittances they are known for, the lifeblood of our economy? Note that in 2019 they sent home $33 billion — $25 billion from overseas workers with contracts of more than one year, and the balance from those with contracts of one year or less.

    If (or maybe when?) that dries up, it will leave a gaping hole in our national coffers.

    Bloomberg TV repeatedly shows clips of an interview with acting NEDA chief Karl Chua who cites our debt-to-GDP ratio as providing the government some elbow room to deal with the virus. And it has been a good ratio, at 39% one of the lowest in decades. But wait: we now know for sure that the GDP will fall. And at the same time our debts are rising. Add to this the decrease in the FX income from OFWs and, immediately, the picture that inspires confidence changes.

    Our long-awaited economic boom gets tripped up.

    And then we hear a peep from the DILG about, of all things, Charter Change? Now? Jeesas. More than ever it smacks as an attempt to keep people in power beyond their term.

    Why don’t we do this: let’s all agree that a year after we elect a new President in 2022 we bring a Constitutional Convention together. It will have five years to work out a new Charter and by 2028 we can make whatever adjustments are necessary, electing either a President Isko Moreno or a Prime Minister Vico Sotto. (Or the other way around.)

    But Charter Change, now? Amid all the uncertainties of the virus? You got to be kidding, right? Or desperate?

    Given all of the above — Duque, the PNP, the OFWs and Cha-Cha, I sometimes find myself wondering if God is punishing us.

    Bottom line is it’s no longer a rosy outlook, folks. Tighten your belts and seatbelts. If things do not miraculously take a turn for the better any time soon, it seems that the first Duterte administration will be stumbling to the finish line.

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