‘The best political adviser is the stomach’
That’s a statement blurted out by my wife during a dinnertime conversation. We were talking about the rising prices of basic food items patronized by the poor and the higher transport fare paid by the commuting public.
Our conversation was triggered by bits of information filtering in from family and friends living in the provinces. Since the passage of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, people in the rural areas have been jolted by a sudden increase in their daily expenses.
The price of canned sardines, the poor man’s protein, has increased by at least P6 in several towns in the northern Luzon provinces of Cagayan and Isabela. The price of pork and bangus (milkfish) has increased by an average of P20 per kilo, while the price of a kilo of rice has increased by about P7 in both provinces.
In Cagayan, the fare for a 100-kilometer trip in public utility vans has doubled from P100 to P200. In certain barangays, tricycle and jeepney fares have increased by at least P3 for short-distance travel.
These increases have not been approved by the government, but such are the ways in the provinces where manipulation and speculation of market forces result in a defiance of government commands.
Economists explain that these increases are largely the result of increases in the world prices of fuel, which are beyond the Philippine government’s control. But the political reality in the provinces is that these price increases are being viewed as a result of the passage of a new law mandating an increase on fuel taxes, which triggers the resulting increase in the prices of basic commodities. This is the explanation or excuse given to the masses by merchants, and this is the reason the masses hear on radio and television.
Besides, even if world fuel price increases are largely the culprit in the sudden upsurge in the prices of commodities, it is hard for the masses to understand why their government worsens the burden by still imposing higher taxes. The precipitous increase in the prices of commodities —regardless of cause—makes the lives of the millions of poor Filipinos even more desperate, at a time when they are already fighting for daily survival.
The government explains that higher tax revenues are needed to finance the construction of highways, air and sea ports, subway trains, among others. But why the heavier burden on the poor to build these projects when it’s the moneyed class that will mostly benefit, with added convenience for their travels and efficient air and sea port services for their businesses? The sales tax paid by the poor represents a substantial percentage of their income. In contrast, the same sales tax represents only tolerable or negligible fractions of the respective
incomes of the middle class and the rich.
Why are these projects not being financed instead through schemes that will make the eventual users and direct beneficiaries pay for their construction through toll fees and usage charges?
The government trumpets the TRAIN Law as reducing, if not exempting, the income tax liability of an expanded class of taxpayers. But this benefit is meaningless to millions of farmers, fishers, small vendors, seasonal workers, and members of the underground economy. Instead, the TRAIN Law brings hardship for the toiling masses because of higher costs of food and transportation. Already, there are rumblings among wage-earners shocked by the sudden price increases.
President Duterte’s mass support has hardly been dented by the thousands of extrajudicial killings, his use of vulgar language, and his friendliness with China despite the Philippines’ territorial conflicts with that country. But the economic hardship brought by his administration’s policies will reconfigure the political views and reshape support of the masses for it.
As it was in past dispensations, the Duterte administration refuses to recognize that the best political adviser is the stomach.
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