Economic well-being in 1983-87 | Inquirer Opinion
Social Climate

Economic well-being in 1983-87

/ 05:02 AM February 03, 2024

To get where we want to go, let’s look not only at where we are now but also at where we were before and where we were at the very beginning. The April 1983 survey done, and internally funded, by the Development Academy of the Philippines (at that time I was DAP vice president for research) is the starting point of national data on economic well-being. It found the excess of gainers over losers in quality of life over the past 12 months at -3 percentage points or practically a tie. Out of every 10 adults, four said their lives hadn’t changed, three said it got better, and three said it got worse. The latest scores are similar: “Social Weather Report: Gainers minus Losers rises from -2 in September 2023 to +5 in December 2023,” www.sws.org.ph, 1/26/24.

April 1983 was a calm time, a few months before the August 1983 assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. At that time, Self-Rated Poverty (SRP) was 55 percent for the nation as a whole. (In December 2023, SRP was 47 percent, only 8 points less than in 1983, despite the tremendous economic growth of the past 40 years—see “Poverty: the latest reminder,” 1/20/24.)

But 1984 and 1985 were awful. The Aquino assassination triggered hyperinflation in the cost of living, of about 50 percent per annum in 1984, and about 25 percent per annum in 1985. National surveys by the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development (BBC) found that the net gainers score crashed in April 1984 to -39, and even more in July 1985 to -47.

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The 1984 survey included optimists versus pessimists for the first time, to complement the gainers-losers item. It found pessimists at 30 percent and optimists at 26 percent, or net -4. Negative net optimism is very rare; it shows how dire the public mood was.

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But the score recovered to +10 in July 1985, and then really bounced to +31 in May 1986 under the new regime, and further yet to +35 in euphoric March 1987. (In December 2023, net optimism was +39, from 44 points optimists and 5 points pessimists; this may already be posted by Social Weather Stations [SWS] by the time this column appears.)

Actually, the BBC surveys drew much more attention for their political findings, i.e., that three-fifths of the public disapproved of the authoritarian powers of President Ferdinand E. Marcos (a) to legislate by decree and (b) to detain persons by his personal fiat. Hence the new constitution of 1987 was eagerly desired by the people for its pro-democracy reforms.

The BBC surveys, funded by private businessmen, were a project of its research committee, of which I was a member in my private capacity. As technical director of the BBC surveys, I did the public presentations; but having been identified in the media as a DAP vice president, I resigned from DAP in 1984, to help save it from retaliation by the regime.

The BBC’s doing a sociopolitical survey in 1984 wasn’t my own idea, but I readily agreed with it and worked on it. I was pleased to do a repeat in 1985, and this time wasn’t shy about including Self-Rated Poverty in the questionnaire. The BBC July 1985 survey found SRP at its all-time high 74 percent (although this must be qualified by SWS’ inability to do face-to-face fieldwork in the first three quarters of pandemic year 2020).

I digressed into institutional backgrounders in order to stress the methodological continuity of the surveys of economic well-being from 1983. The survey questions have been the same, but more questions have been added. The sampling system is unchanged. The area coverage, into the National Capital Region, Balance Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, has been the same. All the original raw data obtained by SWS, since 1986, are archived for further study; I don’t know the whereabouts of the raw data of DAP and BBC.

Then there was a radical recovery in 1986-87. In May 1986, in the first survey by SWS (founded in August 1985), the net gainers score was at +2, an improvement of 49 points from the previous July. By March 1987, after the ratification of the new Constitution, it was at +11. The SWS indicators, both political and economic, were euphoric at that time. The taming of inflation in 1986 and 1987 helped very much, of course.

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In 1986, Self-Rated Poverty simmered down to 66 percent in May and 67 in October. Then it fell dramatically to 43 percent in March 1987! But then it slid back to the 50s, 60s, and occasional 70s. The 43 stayed as the record low for decades, until the 38 percent in March 2019, the only break into the 30s so far. From 1988 to the present, movements in Self-Rated Poverty have been very bumpy, with downward bumps only slightly outnumbering upward ones. In our preliminary analysis, reductions of inflation and joblessness are effective in reducing poverty, but mere acceleration of economic growth is not.

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