Community Whispers: Gloomy Christmas looms

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IN THE Philippines, the joke is that Christmas is celebrated not just on December 25 but as soon as the so-called “-ber” months start. 

Christmas tunes start playing. People would immediately bring out the decorations from their attics. Lists are made, budgets are immediately allocated to ensure that family and friends will experience a bountiful celebration. 

But this year, the usual Christmas spirit seems to be missing, and we’re already in mid-October.

The spiraling cost of goods and services due to high inflation rates may have something to do with it, Philippine Star columnist Ana Marie Pamintuan wrote on her October 3 column.

The reason? With the fuel excise tax under the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) act, plus the rising prices of fuel in the world market, prices of oil products in the country have doubled – creating a domino effect that consumers carry. 

“With prices of most food items soaring to eye-watering heights, ordinary folks can’t afford to pig out on anything, before, during and after this holiday season,” was her gloomy forecast for Christmas 2018.

This is not to mention that the much-awaited remittances from overseas Filipino workers may buy less than what they can purchase last year. 

And of course, rising fuel prices mean that Filipinos may pay much more for their plane ticket home or abroad. Okay, scratch vacation plans. 

And yet, Pamintuan noted, the President’s economic managers still seem to be in denial mode. 

“People are hoping for an executive order during the congressional break, similar to the one issued for the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law while the Supreme Court and Food and Drug Administration were sitting on it. But the economic managers are sure to block the suspension of any TRAIN provision by executive action,” she said. 

It’s been proven time and again that economic woes can have political repercussions. 

And if Christmas this year turns to be, to borrow words from the musical The Band’s Visit, “boring, barren, bleak and bland,” people will start looking for people to blame.

“It may just be a matter of time…before people begin blaming his [the President’s] administration for soaring prices and financial woes,” Pamintuan warned. “Joyless holidays are bad news in an election year.”

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Disaster Resilience

There’s a lot to discuss about the recently-passed bill in the House of Representatives to create a “Department of Disaster Resilience.”

Under House Bill No. 8165, the DDR will “lead the organization and management of national efforts on the preparation and response to disasters, rehabilitation of hard-hit areas, and risk reduction related to natural and human-induced hazards.”

The bill aims to replace the current NDRRMC and include climate change adaptation in the government’s program for disaster resilience. 

Overall, this sounds good, but some issues need to be addressed, according to John Leo Algo, the Science Policy Associate and Climate Reality Leader of The Climate Reality Project Philippines, in his Inquirer column on October 4.

For instance, the creation of the DDR requires government reorganization, where functions of agencies such as the Climate Change Commission, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration, and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology will either be transferred or attached to the superagency. 

“This proposal faces opposition due to potential conflicts in the objectives and functions of these agencies with the proposed department,” he notes.

Second, the bill emphasized disaster preparedness and response and seems to have neglected climate change. As climate change will play a key role in intensified disasters, Algo fears that “resiliency will eventually run out if the hazards become too strong to be dealt with.”

And there’s the need to clarify not only how the formulation of new plans for DRR will build on existing national plans for DRRM and sustainable development but also ensuring fairness and “justice” in enforcing preemptive and forced evacuations.