It appears that at the end of the day, issues pertaining to a person’s or a family’s economic condition matter most.
Despite such hot-button issues as the planned impeachment of the Chief Justice, the encroachments of China in the West Philippine Sea, or the government’s ardent push for federalism, Filipinos are most concerned with the prices of the goods and services that they need, the security of their jobs that provide them with the incomes to sustain themselves and their loved ones, and even the number of their countrymen and women who continue to live in poverty.
This was evident in the results of the recent Pulse Asia survey showing that the majority of Filipinos want the Duterte administration to focus on raising the wages of workers, controlling the increase in prices of basic goods and services (or inflation), and reducing poverty incidence across the country.
According to Pulse Asia’s March 2018 Ulat ng Bayan survey released last week, half of Filipinos and 45 percent of them believe that increasing workers’ wages and controlling inflation, respectively, are the most urgent national issues that the government should address.
These are followed by reducing poverty of many Filipinos and creating more jobs, with 35 percent and 32 percent, respectively.
Other top concerns are fighting criminality, fighting graft and corruption in the government, and promoting peace.
Also on the list are reducing the amount of taxes paid by Filipinos, protecting the welfare of overseas Filipino workers, enforcing the rule of law, and preserving the environment.
Filipinos, it appears from the survey, seem least concerned about population growth (7 percent), national territorial defense (6 percent), terrorism (4 percent), and Charter change (3 percent).
Inflation is expectedly a concern following the implementation of the first package of President Duterte’s tax reform program. Starting Jan. 1 this year, new taxes were imposed or existing ones raised on petroleum products, sugar-sweetened drinks, “sin” products and vehicles, among others.
The higher taxes on oil products have the biggest impact because these affect basic services such as transportation and electricity. Worse, crude prices have also been rising in the global markets and the peso is weakening against the dollar.
According to a survey conducted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, inflation can exceed its target range of 2-4 percent for 2018 due to the implementation of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law.
As such, analysts now expect monetary authorities to increase interest rates to prevent runaway inflation.
In a Pulse Asia report released in April 2017, economic issues such as increased salary for workers, controlled inflation and more jobs already topped the list of urgent national concerns for Filipinos.
The results of a Pulse Asia survey released in early 2016 showed that controlling inflation and increasing salaries of workers were also the top two most urgent national concerns for many Filipinos.
These survey results for the past three years should give the Duterte administration an idea of where it should focus — controlling price increases, generating jobs, and addressing poverty.
There is high optimism in the “Build, build, build” program, in which the government plans to spend during President Duterte’s term P9 trillion on more than 70 infrastructure projects involving bridges, highways, railways and airports.
These projects can easily generate millions of jobs and boost the economies in the poorer provinces and, in the process, alleviate poverty.
It may also be time for the government to consider how it can more equitably distribute the fruits of economic growth, which have been outpacing the expansion of economies in the region.
Sadly, despite the stellar economic performance in the past couple of years, poverty has hardly moved from a little over 20 percent. And the fruits of economic growth remain concentrated in the hands of a few families.