The celebration of Christmas is usually associated with bright lights, special treats, good food, and gifts for family and friends. But this is not real for many Filipino families who have little to celebrate Christmas with. And this season, they will have even less.

It has been a very difficult year – the prices of food, water, electricity, gas and oil, clothing, and other basic needs have increased several times. And the coming year will bring more of the same.

This year, the government in one rare moment of honesty finally acknowledged that the country is undergoing a serious fiscal crisis. It is a crisis that saw 80 percent of national government revenues go to debt service, with interest payments amounting to more than the allocation for all social services combined.

But rather than standing up to creditors, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – like all Presidents before her – chose to exact more sacrifices from the people and sink the country into deeper indebtedness.

This year, the Arroyo government imposed yet another round of power rates increases so that the National Power Corporation can continue to meet its obligations to onerous and unjust contracts with private power producers, and also so that NPC will prove to be profitable enough as to convince these very same private power corporations to buy the NPC Generation Companies.

From an average rate of P2.44 per kilotwatthour in September 2004, prevailing NPC rates now amount to P3.42 per kilowatthour as a result of the P0.98-per-kilowatthour average price hike that the Energy Regulatory Commission provisionally granted to NPC.

On the water front, the situation is as bleak as the power situation.

This year, the Arroyo government tried to trick us into agreeing to accept shares in a bankrupt company in exchange for the billions of pesos that Maynilad owes to the government, therefore to the Filipino people.

But because the attempt did not work, it is now granting to Maynilad the privilege of paying its unpaid bill of more than 10 billion pesos on a staggered basis over a period of several years. It is as if the government is not desperate for cash! Meanwhile, the water and power services of ordinary consumers are cut when payment is delayed by two weeks.

Indeed, most consumers will find neither peace nor prosperity this coming Yuletide season nor in the coming New Year, as the Arroyo government tells us to expect more water and power rates increases early 2005.

Next year, NPC is expected to ask for another rate increase by an average of P1.50 per kilowatthour. This will bring generation rates to a record-high of almost P5 per kilowatthour.

Further, water companies will start raising their prices starting January 2005. Lopez-owned Maynilad will hike water rates by as much as P10 per cubic meter, while the Ayala-controlled Manila Water will increase its rate by P2.18 per cubic meter.

As we find comfort and solace in the company of family and friends this Christmas, let us also renew our strength for the battles to be fought the coming year!

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