Philippine economy

[EDITORIAL] When onions become luxury, where lies hope?

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[EDITORIAL] When onions become luxury, where lies hope?


Hope lies in knowing we cannot run out of it

A brutal war. Onions turned as precious as gold. An Elon Musk gone mad, a Mark Zuckerberg cutting his losses. A bruising election campaign that trumped the truth. And a Leila de Lima who is still behind bars on feeble charges after nearly six years.

We ended a year that saw yet another beating of humanity – whether in the battlefield of Ukraine or the silenced streets of Afghanistan or in the killer prices that have shrunk an already emaciated peso. Or in the ferocious disasters caused by a largely ignored climate chaos.

It’s a “tsunami of hunger,” said the World Food Programme in describing the far-reaching consequences of the Putin-instigated war. At home, inflation has reached a 14-year high. The P400-P600 ($7-$11) cost of a kilo of red onions – now more premium than a slab of low-grade steak – reflects the state of the Philippine economy: the ingredients for a recovery are out there, except that they are difficult to find if a government is in denial of the need to source them in the first place.

But it is also true that millions partied like no other in the past holiday season, the first long break sans pandemic restrictions in this part of the world. There have been causes for celebration, after all. Among others, our very own Hidilyn Diaz captured a once-elusive weightlifting world title. The spirit of volunteerism that brought back romance to politics, while not enough to make a president, shone bright in the Philippine presidential campaign. In Malaysia, Anwar Ibrahim – prosecuted, demonized, imprisoned – made a stunning comeback as the country’s new prime minister. Leftist leader Lula, also once prosecuted and jailed, defeated the authoritarian Jair Bolsonaro in South America’s largest economy. And Lionel Messi dazzled us again.

Yet, these will never be enough to carry us over this coming year.

The International Monetary Fund warned that the “worst is yet to come” in 2023, and for many people, it will feel like a recession.

Filipino families, while perennially optimistic, have lost three pandemic years of honest-to-goodness education for their children – and it doesn’t help that education chief Sara Duterte has not shown grasp or clarity of thought about the complexities of her agency’s challenges.

To this day, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has yet to name Cabinet secretaries to critical departments such as health, defense, and presidential communications. The head of the Presidential Management Staff had to take “personal time off” following reports her husband had harassed a hotel staffer in Bangkok where the President’s official party stayed for the APEC Summit. And then a holiday bang for the Department of Social Welfare and Development: out with their apparently American citizen-boss and in with yet another OIC

From its inability to put people in place to how it prematurely launched a huge but ill-timed investment project, the Marcos presidency seems to be still learning the ropes – mastering instead the “art of running in place.” 

Indeed, in most parts of the world, citizens are stuck with leaders and bureaucrats caught in performative governance that social media and money-fueled campaigns have brought about. This, in the face of intractable problems that erupt in the most ungodly hours, such as an airport shutdown on the first day of 2023.

Where lies hope? 

It lies with us – but not the kind that pushes us to take matters into our own individual hands. Our struggles are deeply collective, as sociologist Jayeel Cornelio pointed out, whether we are fighting the lies that are reshaping reality or demanding competence and genuine public service from leaders.

The past year witnessed a crack in the tech giants’ seeming invincibility, putting a dent in their massive incomes. For once, citizens online have started carving out their own spaces away from the profiteering social media machines that have had a heyday in the last decade or so. Baby steps, but not insignificant. 

Where lies hope? 

In the lessons learned from the victory over the Right elsewhere – that nothing beats fusing online tactics with a drawn-out ground game; that democracy is a jealous overlord requiring time, stamina, diligence. 

Where lies hope?

In our commitment to hold power to account – to scrutinize with eagle eye the spending of our taxes; to bring to justice the murderers of broadcaster Percy Lapid and those who wish to silence independent voices; to demand competence as bare minimum in the bureaucracy.

Hope lies in knowing we cannot run out of it.

As one of the West’s preeminent thinkers, Anne Applebaum, told the World Movement for Democracy: We will create new coalitions, we will come up with technological and political solutions, and we will find ways to carry them out together and make them work.

Here’s to a year filled with collective hope for our collective struggles. –

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