FOR candidates, the most important numbers are those that end elections. Those of us who participate in politics in other ways—though we shouldn’t think of ourselves as mere spectators—find those numbers relevant, too. But these aren’t the only numbers that matter.
Today begins the third year in office for those elected in 2016. For local government incumbents and 12 senators, the year ahead will be one of preparation and exposure, at least for those seeking reelection or running for another office in May 2019.
Those of us who aren’t running for office will have other numbers on our minds, among these the prices of fuel and household staples. Yet we, too, have access to the numbers that help us see how well or how poorly we are being governed.
In at least three areas of public life, recent numbers bear watching.
First and most obvious is the economy. In a post last Tuesday, June 26, the Department of Finance explained that the 4.1 percent average inflation from January to May “was more than fully offset” by the fact that workers had gained an average of 15 percent in disposable incomes, thanks to tax reform.
The finance department was responding to a piece that Richard Heydarian wrote for the Nikkei Asian Review, in which he urged the President “to restore business confidence by avoiding abrupt policy decisions.”
The finance department countered that the numbers continue to speak of growth: by “6.7 percent in 2017 and 6.8 percent in 2018.” Foreign direct investment inflows, at US$10.05 billion in 2017, were up by 21.4 percent from 2016, it added.
The second area rich in numbers is peace and order, particularly the administration’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Last week, three universities in Metro Manila and one in New York City reported that researchers had collated the information on 5,021 deaths linked to the administration’s campaign against drugs. These deaths in The Drug Archive’s dataset occurred from May 10, 2016 to Sept. 29, 2017. About 55 percent of the deaths were linked to police operations.
Of the 5,021, at least 460 persons were killed in Central Visayas, more than half of them in police operations. This placed the region third highest on a list of communities where most of the deaths occurred. Metro Manila topped that list (2,000 persons killed, 49 percent of them in police operations). Central Luzon followed (916 deaths, 70 percent of them in police operations).
The Drug Archive (drugarchive.ph) is a project of the Ateneo School of Government, De La Salle Philippines, University of the Philippines-Diliman, and the Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.
The third area concerns the use of scarce public resources, and here the Commission on Audit does indispensable work. Among the details that surfaced in the latest audit reports is that P1.475 million in expenses in the Central Visayas police force in 2017 were not explained adequately because supporting documents, such as boarding passes, had not been submitted.
Yet the same audit report also contained some numbers that show the Philippine National Police (PNP) in a positive light. It quoted the PNP’s declaration that index crimes (or crimes against persons, such as physical injuries, homicide or rape) dropped by 8.65 percent nationwide last year.
Numbers are not foolproof. Nor do they show us the full picture. Inflation we know intimately, nearly every time we face a cash register. Other numbers, like the faceless tallies of those killed in this brutal war on drugs, are harder to grasp. Or perhaps it’s some of our friends and loved ones’ indifference, in the face of these numbers, that troubles us.
But numbers, when honestly presented, help us begin to measure the quality of public life in a verifiable way, for as long as we let go of our blinders. Viewed against the targets our public officials have declared, certain numbers can reassure us we’ve chosen wisely as voters, or remind us to choose better at the next opportunity.