By Digoy Fernandez WITHOUT doubt, we now live in interesting times. In fact, the venerable Chinese -- who have seen many civilizations come and go over their long and storied history -- sometimes use the term in a euphemistic manner, akin to wishing that someone, perhaps an adversary, live in interesting times. A relative tells of her own well-to-do siblings taking off for a vacation in the US and then Europe. It seems that, in the case of the former, most stores still open are on Sale Mode, offering up to a solid 70 percent off on all goods. Problem is, there are no takers, leading one to realize that genuine belt-tightening is going on. This is not surprising given the problem of lay-offs and company closures that have been taking place in an accelerated fashion. To make things worse, even companies able to weather the economic storm find themselves with dwindling sales as less and less people commit to purchasing anything unless absolutely necessary. The consumer-led US economy is fast sputtering to a halt, and the new president will have his hands full trying to jumpstart the engine by building up buyer confidence by creating new jobs and opportunities for others who have already been laid off. Despite naysayers who claim that the US is no longer the world’s economic locomotive, it is pretty clear that this malaise has began to seep into the other main economies of the world, from Europe, to the Middle East and its oil riches, to the East with “ChIndia” (China and India) and Japan slowly sliding into the morass. An interesting footnote to that trip taken by our intrepid band is that they found themselves buying a lot of the bargains being offered, proving once again that Cash is King these days. It is a well known fact to many local country and corporate planners that the saving grace of the Philippine economy has always been the Value Added Tax and the foreign exchange inflows generated by our army of overseas workers. Unfortunately, the spread of economic gloom and a general decrease in economic activity worldwide will probably result in some diminution of the foreign exchange remittances currently propping up the economy. The government, probably prompted by the need to show some backbone in the current crisis, has mapped out a program for public sector spending meant to inject funds into the economy before it throttles downward. Unfortunately, there is little or no surplus to spend, and any program aimed at propping up the economy may be just a short-lived and expensive exercise as we poach into the largesse generated by VAT. I know of families that have recently gone through a series of sales of family properties, some through the Voluntary Offer to Sell (VOS) program under land reform (deformed?). Many of these people believe in paying the right taxes and fees. It is interesting to note that they have always had to pay much more just to get proceeds into their hands. What galls one is that the VOS is supposed to generate tax-free revenues for the selling party, and yet, functionaries find ways and means to make the transactions interesting. It is precisely this type of practice so prevalent today that screams for structural reform. A philosophical observer of the scene once said that, to get rid of corruption in this country, one would have to eliminate almost everyone above the age of 30 and start all over again -- hopefully in the right direction. The coming year promises even more of what will really be interesting times. The country will have to come up with creative ways to beat back the economic malaise that threatens to seep into our own fabric. It does not help that the political process is being thwarted yet again by people who hold on to their public offices like leeches. Like the true parasites that they are, they only know how to suck blood and do the country a disservice by coming up with new-fangled ways to cling to power beyond the mandated election year 2010. During these interesting times, we are tempted to take a page from our Chinese friends and wish the very best of these interesting times on those who seek to thwart the will of the people and the constitution. Perhaps, in the next process of reviewing the constitution -- for it does need some tweaking -- it may be wise to put in a provision that NO ONE who has ever held the highest position of the land can ever take on a similar top position, e.g., prime minister or chief janitor, even if the constitution were to be changed a thousand times.
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