This Week in Media (September 5 to 9, 2022)

Marcos visits ASEAN neighbors; peso weakens at record-low

REPORTERS were occupied with the two state visits this week of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.:  the first to Indonesia (September 4-6) and the second to Singapore (September 6-7). The media gave banner treatment to the first foreign trips of Marcos as President. Reports described the line-up of meetings and listed the subsequent business and policy agreements between the heads of state. 

Media noted the billions-worth of investment deals Marcos brought home, totaling PHP 804 B. But the aid and assistance secured will not be felt anytime soon. 

The announcement of the President’s visit to Indonesia brought  Mary Jane Veloso back in the news. The overseas Filipino worker (OFW) was arrested and detained by Indonesian authorities for allegedly smuggling 2.6 kilograms of heroin to the country and has been in prison for 12 years. Veloso had been sentenced to death, but received a last-minute reprieve from Indonesian President Joko Widodo in 2015 so she could serve as a witness in the human trafficking case against her recruiter.

Philippine media reported the renewed appeal of the Veloso family for their daughter to be granted executive clemency. Reporters covering the Indonesia visit noted that Veloso’s case was not in the official agenda. On September 6, news accounts carried the announcement that Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo had formally asked his Indonesian counterpart for  executive clemency, in a meeting that happened on the sidelines of the state visit.

Filipino communities in every country are a staple in foreign affairs coverage. For both Indonesia and Singapore, Marcos met with Filipinos who warmly welcomed him, some of them caught on camera teary-eyed. The President was heard acknowledging their hardships, promising improvements of work conditions and expressing his hopes that they can all return to the country for good. 

Media did not point to the irony of the labor export program that Marcos’ father began in his administration. Today, with limited opportunities that pay as well, human resources remain the Philippines’ top export, making OFW remittances the main driver of the economy. September marks the start of the Christmas season in the Philippines, and expectations of the benefits these remittances bring to Filipinos at home rise. 

The devalued peso a boon to PH remittances 

The peso-dollar exchange rate of $1= PHP 57 on September 7 was an all-time low, and while this works in favor of OFWs, the rate does not bode well for the majority of Filipinos in the country.

Business sections naturally picked up the bad news. Citing various sources, TV Patrol, 24 Oras and Frontline Pilipinas made the issue simpler: the high dependence of the Philippines on imported products means we pay for these in dollars, so essentially, the weakening peso buys us less. 

The rising prices of fuel would likewise drive up the prices of basic commodities. GMA News Online’s explainer cited Claire Dennis Mapa, chief of the Philippine Statistics Authority, who said, “imported commodities such as petroleum, which are bought using dollars, could impact local pump prices and, therefore, affect inflation.”

Nicky Mapa, chief economist of ING Bank Manila, told Frontline Pilipinas that one way to cushion this inflation is for the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to hike interest rates again. Some media had previously reported BSP’s statement that borrowers, both individuals and corporations, are already feeling the impact of recent increases in the benchmark policy rate. 

In an Inquirer report last August, Michael Ricafort, chief economist of the Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation, said the higher borrowing costs tend to reduce the demand for loans intended to finance businesses or economic activities. In effect, the demand for these businesses and activities declines. How, then, would the government stimulate growth, as it aggressively pushes the reopening  of the economy? The  challenges to media include presenting an overview to enable the public to understand  economic issues as they impact people’s lives. Perhaps journalists need to connect with a public burdened by the difficulties of making ends meet from day to day. Government agencies involved must rise to the media’s demand for discussion of economic policy and its impact on the people and the products and services they need.