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Filipino optimism that seems to never run dry

May 26, 2019

Filipinos are a decidedly happy and optimistic lot.

Amid the political chaos and confusion “Bikoy” attempted to sow in the public mind about the integrity of the presidential family and the stability of the Duterte administration at the height of the recent midterm election period, the economic alarm sounded by the International Monetary Fund about the impact of the US-China trade war on global growth and the expected fallout on the Philippine economy, many Filipinos managed to find something to cheer about.

They say the quality of their lives has improved over the past 12 months to end-March, and they feel the Philippine economy will continue to grow well in the year right ahead. These were the findings of the last survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) released on Friday.

The SWS said the net gainers — or the resulting positive number of those who believe their lives improved (38 percent), minus those who felt their lives worsened (21 percent) — have been on the rise for two consecutive quarters, reaching +17 in March this year from +12 in December last year.

Half of the number of respondents also expect their personal lives to be even better in the next 12 months, against 4 percent who do not feel the same way.

Overall, Filipinos surveyed got an “excellent” net optimism score of +47 from SWS, with increases across all economic classes.

It is not surprising that presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo saw the data as “another loud repudiation against … the critics and detractors of the Duterte administration, who include the left-leaning groups, militant Church members and the political opposition who continuously and deliberately ignore our achievements, which redound to the benefit of the Filipino masses.”

But even before this administration, Filipinos have always been known as a resilient, positively inclined, forgiving and forward-looking people, even in the face of the most horrendous disasters or crimes. They don’t have the luxury of time and options to wallow in their misery but together they find the strength and motivation to bounce back, not too long after a tragedy strikes.

Our recent history would tell us, for instance, the departure of American soldiers from the US bases in Angeles and Subic, the sudden eruption of the long-dormant Mount Pinatubo and the great Ormoc flashflood — all happening in the same year, 1991 — caused so much devastation on lives, property and livelihood across the country that spooked investors away, many thought, for good.

But the economy steered its way through the succeeding years under the Ramos administration from 1992 to be recognized for its potential to become the “next economic tiger” of Asia in 1997, only to be dashed again along with the rest of the world in the global financial crisis that followed.

But the Filipino knows nowhere else to go from there but upward and forward. The economy had to bounce back, every time it fell whether due to domestic political upheavals or external headwinds.

Records show gross domestic product (GDP) began to really take flight as this millennium unfolded, with growth averaging 4.5 percent annually from 2001 to 2009 under the Arroyo administration, with the peak at 6.7 percent in 2004. In recent years, GDP began stabilizing near or above 6 percent, even hitting a high of 7.2 percent in 2017. The following year, 2018, the economy expanded further by 6.2 percent.

Some observers on behalf of the lowest “D” segment of respondents in the latest SWS survey would disagree with the notion of growth, especially the “trickle down” effect, and say they actually

experienced a worsening of their status in life. But that rarely translates to a rampage on the street in protest against the official data. Life simply moves on for the Filipinos wherever they may be situated.

“Fight, fight, fight,” as the millennials would say, expressing the never-surrender spirit that has served the Filipinos well in the face of adversity.

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