[EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: The bad joke that is Benjamin Diokno

Filipinos should be less of a crybaby, goes the lecture of our very own budget secretary – speaking like someone who probably does not do his own budget at home, or does not need to. 

Benjamin Diokno was addressing concerns about the rising prices of basic goods caused by what’s happening abroad and exacerbated by domestic policies that the Duterte administration has pursued.

The price of rice in the Philippines is at a 3-year high, while gas pump prices now hover between P55 to P60 per liter. Last weekend's items on our grocery list, when they sum up, now make us wonder whether the basic goods we bought have become the luxury we should return to the shelves.

Economists attribute this to 3 factors: the rise in world oil prices, the weakening of the peso, and the new tax law implemented by the Duterte government, which had the best of intentions but was rolled out in probably the worst of times. The Philippines’ new system lowered taxes on personal income but raised those on fuel, among others. 

To the economist Diokno, Filipinos should just grin and bear it. 

Under a previous administration – Gloria Arroyo’s – Filipinos even suffered much higher gas prices, “so I think we should be less of a crybaby,” he said.

Prior to this, one the eve of Labor Day, Diokno said that if only Filipinos worked harder, they would not go hungry.

Could the man be forgiven for such callous remarks because he manages a whopping P3.8-trillion national budget compared to what we scrape by every payday?

Could he be excused for his superficial understanding of reality because of his fundamental belief – from the time he joined the public sector in the Cory Aquino and Joseph Estrada administrations – in the necessity of huge government spending and the folly of scrimping? 

Or has Diokno succumbed to the ways and means of the stereotypical technocrat in a bygone era – out of touch, academic, and glued to a blueprint for progress even as he enjoys the comforts of an upscale neighborhood?

To call us crybabies or lazybones (which is what he’s saying, in effect) is no different from us calling him a cold-hearted snob for not having to worry about any budget at all – except the one he is tasked to study and paid to manage with taxpayers’ money.

Sure, there’s value in his dream of bringing the Philippines to the golden age of infrastructure.

The way to achieve that is the old but enduring Diokno budget philosophy: spend, spend, spend so one could build, build, build. It’s a philosophy that lawmakers apparently share because they confirmed his appointment to the budget and management post in 2016 in less than two minutes, no questions asked.

And this is also where he is on the same page with President Rodrigo Duterte and the entire Cabinet. 

The root of Diokno’s heartless statement that we should stop whining about the rising prices is this: they’re sacrifices for the overall goal of building modern highways, efficient trains, massive airports, and accessible ports. (READ: Diokno not alarmed over funding for build, build, build)

Pay more taxes now, reap the gains later.

He, of all bureaucrats, should know that while such sacrifices are needed, they tend to magnify in a nation already drowning in them and which has yet to reap rewards from past penitence.

Yet, Diokno, through his words, chooses to bleed us dry by mocking our labors and dismissing our real-world concerns.

Instead of hurling insults at us, Diokno should, at the very least, acknowledge the facts associated with the government's development blueprint.

First, that the new taxes could not have come at a worse time in the global economy.

Second, that the May 2018 inflation rate of 4.6% is already beyond government’s official target of 3%-4%.

Third, that it is the constitutional mandate of government to protect the people’s right to a decent, humane life and that public officials have no business complaining when taxpayers complain.

Fourth, that government’s commitment to its strategic goals should come with some agility to adjust them, especially since it has all the resources to do that.

No, Secretary Diokno, the joke cannot be on us. 

Step down from your ivory tower and embrace reality – the reality of the shrinking peso, in the truest meaning of the word. – Rappler.com