Christmas and hope
General public pessimism, and the high prices of basic commodities, marked the last three months of 2018, casting a gloomy effect on the world’s longest celebration of Christmas that Filipinos are known to pull off every season.
The entry of the “ber” months this year saw Filipino consumers turning more disheartened and less upbeat about their prospects for Christmas and the coming new year.
In September, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas announced that the overall consumer confidence index fell to -7.1 percent from 3.8 percent in the second quarter, and after eight consecutive quarters of positive consumer readings.
Respondents attributed their negative outlook to their expectations of higher commodity prices, bigger household expenses, high unemployment rate, low salary and no increase in income.
This was validated by a Social Weather Stations survey in the same month that showed that more Filipinos felt their lives have worsened (a score of -2, the lowest since September 2014).
The survey indicated that most Filipinos were pessimistic that their quality of life would improve in the next 12 months.
Optimism about the economy also fell across all socioeconomic classes and geographic areas in the country.
By October, the Philippine Statistics Authority would report that August inflation reached 6.7 percent, the highest in nine years, potentially resulting in slower economic growth.
At the same time, a rice crisis spawned by the failure of the National Food Authority to secure enough buffer stock jacked up the price of cheap rice consumed by the poor.
The rise in prices of basic commodities was partly blamed on the implementation in January of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Act, which imposed new excise taxes on cigarettes, sugary drinks, oil products, vehicles and other goods and services.
The payback for President Duterte was swift; his trust and approval ratings dropped in separate surveys by the SWS and Pulse Asia in September as the people reeled from economic hardship.
The Sept. 1-7 Pulse Asia survey found double-digit declines in Mr. Duterte’s trust and approval ratings, the lowest since he became President. Though still positive, Mr. Duterte’s ratings fell in all socio-economic classes and across geographic areas, with the biggest decline noted in Class D or the poor.
SWS, on the other hand, recorded in June the lowest trust rating for Mr. Duterte since he assumed office.
Not surprisingly, Filipinos wanted the President to immediately address inflation. In a separate survey, Pulse Asia said most Filipinos wanted the government to immediately address price hikes, increase salaries and jobs, reduce poverty and fight corruption, instead of busying itself trying to amend the Constitution.
Meanwhile, divisive and ugly politics dominated headlines. More cursing and promises of more killings in the bloody war on drugs continued to reverberate from the President’s mouth. And the lawmakers’ incurable appetite for pork barrel once again left the nation aghast as Malacañang and Congress engaged in a nasty free-for-all over the budget.
Just about the only positive vibes in the past few months came in the form of three historic bells that finally were returned home to Balangiga, Eastern Samar, after 117 years in the hands of the United States, and the stunning win of Catriona Gray as Miss Universe 2018, which briefly united and lifted the spirit of Filipinos in all corners of the world.
Still, despite economic difficulties and toxic politics, Filipinos can be counted on to embrace the familiar Christmas theme of faith, hope and love.
Regardless of what they have or where they are, Filipinos take the week-long holidays to reconnect with the essential — their faith, their families and their roots.
Endless reunions, modest or grand; office parties, big or small; and Filipino family bonding, personal or virtual — all these contribute to a much-needed strengthening of the spirit, a crucial break for the healing of hearts and the renewal of hope.
The birth of the “baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” conveys the birth of hope, said Pope Francis. “Where God is born, hope is born. He brings hope. Where God is born, peace is born. And where peace is born, there is no longer room for hatred and for war.”
Would that the Pope’s words are taken more closely to heart in these parts. For weary Filipinos, Christmas is that respite from gloom, and that dose of hope.
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