Inflation, Elections, War, Return of Filipino Community Events Top HFC’s Year in Review
by Edwin Quinabo
Future historians will peg 2022 along with 2021 as critical post-pandemic years.
2022’s major challenges drawing headlines, particularly those related to the economy from inflation, supply chain disruptions to demand-supply imbalances, all take root in the early global response to containing the pandemic, economists say.
There were areas that did better in bouncing back that warranted media attention like the return of live in-person events. Bringing back the annual Filipino Fiesta & Flores de Mayo on surface might not be a top, shiniest of newsworthy stories, but the relaunching of in-person events like it signaled a return to normalcy. Big news for Hawaii’s Filipino community.
The re-emergence of in-person events also made it possible for Filipinos globally to experience at theaters the first Hollywood produced and backed Filipino film, Jo Koy’s Easter Sunday. The film’s big box office theater release would not have been as attention-grabbing as a streaming release common during the pandemic lockdowns.
2022 saw major lingering problems that were top news stories in previous years like Hawaii’s critical physician shortage. Other lingering issues finally got some action on them – Congress’s historic bill enabling Medicare to negotiate drug prices and President Joe Biden’s massive forgiveness of existing federal college loans.
Seasonal cyclical news like the Hawaii and national midterm elections commanded a lion’s share of the year’s media coverage. Russia’s attack on Ukraine was the biggest single event news to be discussed in history classes well into the future. The following is HFC’s top 10 Year in Review for 2022.
1. Inflation! Inflation! Inflation!
Topping the list of news was inflation which was extensively covered by HFC in three parts –the impact it had on food, groceries and basic items, the impact it had on rent that triggered a shortage and higher rent prices, and lastly the impact it had on gasoline and energy prices. Each of these angles of inflation were HFC cover stories in 2022.
Americans struggled with extraordinary financial hardship for a third consecutive year that begun with the pandemic, but in 2022, was spiked by high inflation. COVID-19’s grip loosened, but many of the forces driving high inflation stem from the repercussions of the pandemic, economists say.
Both the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed inflation in 2022 reaching historic highs well above 7%, levels, not seen since 1982.
Inflation was more acute in major, expensive states to live in like Hawaii. In 2022, Hawaii registered the highest housing wage (cost for rent and mortgage relative to income). It had the highest food prices in the nation mostly due to the state’s reliance of imported food. It also had one of the highest gasoline prices.
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) placed Hawaii at the top in the nation for food costs. A family of four in Hawaii spent an estimated annual food cost average of $14,042 in 2022, the highest amount among states. Compare that to number two Massachusetts – a substantial drop off – at $11,674, or last place Kentucky, $8,527. EPI also lists a Hawaii typical family’s income at $97,813 (above the national average of $80,069).
Economists link the high food prices to lower supply relative to demand. Experts say the rise in rent was also a low supply-high demand issue where there is a shortage in total rental units available relative to a higher number of people scrambling to find rentals.
Michael Yoshino, Realtor-Associate, Locations Real Estate Brokerage, Esq., told the Filipino Chronicle, “When the rental eviction moratorium was in effect, rental prices were down because everyone was staying in place to stay safe. Once it was lifted, the renters quickly consumed the rental inventory and it’s been trending in this direction ever since.“So, we have low rental inventory which has been driving rental prices up over the last half year or so. Many of the renters are local and a good portion have been displaced by owners selling their home in this hot market, but we also have many renters from out-of-state who are moving to Hawaii due to the rise in the work-from-home trend,” Yoshino said.
2. Hawaii Elections
HFC did cover stories on the top candidates for governor, lt. governor and both congressional districts. It also presented candidates of Filipino ancestry in each Hawaii state and counties races.
Hope, fear, promises – these are classic trademarks of an election year. And it was no different in 2022. Hawaii held its largest election in years due to redistricting. Atypically, the entire State Senate were up for reelection last year. The State Senate races were more significant with the extraordinary large number of senators retiring that triggered major candidate movements.
For Hawaii’s Filipino community, this resulted in the highest representation of Filipinos elected to the Senate, 7 out of 25, or 28%, higher than the percentage of this ethnic group’s population in the state. Filipino American candidates elected as senators included: Lorraine Inouye, Joy San Buenaventura, Donna Kim, Brandon Elefante, Donovan Dela Cruz, Henry Aquino, Gilbert Keith-Agaran.
Many of those elected are slated for leadership and chairs of committees in the state’s highest legislative chamber with Sen. Dela Cruz to retain his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Ways and Means committee.
While highly qualified and recipients of major backing, top Filipino candidates who ran for Congress did not win. Filipinos remain underrepresented in the State House even with newly elected members.
Hawaii elected a new governor Josh Green, which polls showed a majority of voting Filipinos supported.
3. National Midterm Elections
Political fervor enveloped communities from coast to coast in yet another contentious national midterm elections. The expected red wave – Republican takeover — failed to materialize as the Senate remained in the hands of Democrats and multiple governorships flipped to blue. Republicans barely won control of the House which typically goes to the opposing party of a current president by a landslide. Republicans managed to garner a net gain of nine seats that typically would have the opposing party to the sitting president gain 25-plus seats. Republican leaders and pundits blamed former president Donald Trump for the party’s losses.
Significant national issues like democracy’s fragility, the overturning of Roe, gun control, the January 6 insurrection (all topics covered in HFC editorials) were deciding factors in many of the national races.
4. Russia Invades Ukraine, Impacts World Economy
Along with inflation and the national midterm elections, Russia’s invasion on Ukraine garnered the most media attention in 2022.
After 30 years of peace in Europe, war broke out with Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine. There were previous talks that the Russian autocrat Vladimir Putin would launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, but most had doubts that any European leader would have the temerity to exact war given the continent’s long streak of peace. But it happened. Russia launched a large-scale invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, and Europe’s – and by extension, the world’s – global geopolitical order is at a level of risk not seen since WWII.
Besides threats to global security militarily and in the worst case a nuclear war (which is why the invasion could very well have been the top news story of the year, or any other year as long as the war continues), the Russian invasion has affected global markets.
On March 8, President Biden issued an Executive Order prohibiting the importation of Russian- oil. This sanction exacerbated the already rising cost of oil and gasoline and contributed to the U.S and global inflation.
Russia is a key supplier of not just oil and gas, but also wheat, metals and fertilizers. Sanctions on Russia have led to sharp rises in various commodity prices. Both Ukraine and Russia produce a substantial amount of grain for export across the world. Since the invasion, Ukraine harvested less than half of its usual 80 million metric tons (MMT) of grain. This has impacted world grain shortages not just for direct human consumption, but animal consumption, alcohol supply and fuel production.
The impact of the war reaches communities around the world, including Hawaii’s Filipino community.HFC did a cover story and editorials on the war.
5. Philippines Presidential Election
The controversial leader of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte had his term expire after six years of mixed reviews on his policies: laudable efforts to grow the nation’s economy but abysmal track record on human rights. The country held its national election and Filipinos elected another controversial leader in Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., son of the former dictator and grifter, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.Locally in Hawaii, there was heavy support for opposition party presidential candidate Leni Robredo who was the incumbent vice president of the Philippines.
Marcos, Jr. received almost double the votes cast for Robredo. An estimated 67.5 million eligible voters flocked to precincts with a record-breaking turnout of over 81%.“Marcos is the first presidential candidate with a clear majority since 1965, the year when his father won the presidency. He will be able to take office in June because there exists no viable threat to his presidency,” Patricio N. Abinales, professor, the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, told the Hawaii Filipino Chronicle.
HFC did two cover stories on the Philippine elections.
6. The Return of Filipino Community Events
Hawaii’s Filipino community had cause for jubilation as in-person community events returned. The annual Filipino Fiesta & Flores de Mayo and the annual HFWCA Terno Ball were among many other community events relaunched after a two-year hiatus. On the charitable end, the Hawaii-based Ohana Medical Mission (OMM) did its first soft in-person mission to the Philippines just weeks ago and is set to go on a full-scale mission early this year.
2022 was Hawaii’s Filipino Fiesta’s 30th year. It has been the biggest cultural celebration for the Filipino community since its inception drawing thousands of attendees each year. The 2022 fiesta was held at the FilCom Center, which building was made possible in part due to early fundraising by organizers of the Filipino Fiesta.
Another popular annual event is the Hawaii Filipino Women’s Club and Associates (HFWCA) Terno Ball. HFC’s Carlota Ader, President of HFWCA, said the 2022 Terno Ball was its 45th anniversary.
Ader said the Terno Ball is more than just fashion and fun. “The evening is about celebrating lasting friendships among HFWCA members, giving recognition to deserving individuals, and ultimately about community empowerment. Proceeds of that evening also go toward funding our other projects.”
She said the Terno ball is also about honoring women who’ve achieved success in their respective careers. “Traditionally, women have played the supportive role in the family with being the caretaker while the men have supported the family financially. Our Terno Ball celebrates the aspirations and the successes of women who dare to dream and break the ‘glass ceiling.’ It is all about empowering and encouraging women to recognize this inner strength and abilities. More Filipino women today are college-educated and have careers. Essentially, we can have the best of both worlds — a happy family and a successful career!”
Dr. Ian E. Guerrero, current president of OMM, said two in-person missions were relaunched for a first time since the pandemic in December in the Ilocos provinces. During the pandemic’s peak, he said OMM conducted a virtual mission. OMM’s first full-scale, in-person mission will occur this January 9-14.
HFC did a cover story on both community events and published news on other community functions. HFC also did a cover story on the Ohana Medical Mission.
7. Prescription Drug Prices to Lower as Medicare Gets Green Light to Negotiate Drug Prices
History was in the making in 2022 with one of the biggest policy achievements in years as Medicare was granted the right to negotiate drug prices. This means prescription drug prices are expected to lower once the law takes effect. The Medicare drug price negotiations was a part of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden.
Pharma has fought to stave off the right for Medicare to negotiate prices for over three decades.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, prescription drugs represent 10% of national health spending and nearly 20% of health benefit costs for large employers and Medicare. With IRA’s passage, Medicare would gain the power to negotiate its costs for pharmaceuticals, initially in 2026 for 10 drugs. In Hawaii there are over 280,000 seniors who get their health care through Medicare.
Health reform provisions in the IRA also caps out-of-pocket costs on prescription drugs to $2,000 a year with the option to break that amount into affordable monthly payments. This starts in 2025. Medicare enrollees who take insulin will also pay no more than $35 monthly.IRA’s passage was a major victory for seniors. HFC did an editorial and news on this monumental legislation.
8. Hawaii Physician Shortage, Crisis Continues
The current supply-demand shortfall of physician-to-patient is still a crisis in medically underserved communities.
According to the Hawaii Physician Workforce Report the statewide physician shortage from 2019 to the present is estimated to be between 710 and 1,008. The higher number (1,008) is projected when researchers accounted for specialty specific needs.
The proportional need is greatest on the neighbor islands with both Maui and Hawaii County experiencing a physician shortage of 40%.
The report found some of the reasons for the shortage in Hawaii include the aging of physicians and retirement; not enough new physicians are coming to practice in the state; the high cost of living is driving doctors to leave the islands; insurance reimbursement is lower in Hawaii compared to other states; Hawaii lacks adequate residency training positions that forces local graduates to move; administrative tasks got too complicated; and newer technology also got too complicated for older physicians not tech savvy.
The same report estimates Hawaii needs to add as many as 820 doctors to a pool of 3,484 physicians actively providing care to satisfy the need for services.
Dr. Charlie Sonido, CEO of Primary Care Clinic of Hawaii (PCCH), Asst. Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of Hawaii John A Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) and founder of Hawaii Physicians Preceptorship Program, said “There is an acute shortage of physicians in the state of Hawaii in all specialties, especially among Filipinos. Our clinic at the Primary Care Clinic of Hawaii has been trying hard to recruit doctors who understand the language and culture of Filipinos to add to our 11-member providers across the state with little success.”
Dr. Sonido adds, “the acute shortage leads to physician overload and subsequently burnout. The insurance companies keep decreasing reimbursement and the overhead keeps going up. As a result, independent solo practice has been dwindling, physicians are retiring early or moving to the mainland. We have tried many ways to reverse the process by increased efficiency, constant innovation and working hours. But you can only do so much, it is near the breaking point.”
Health experts say the physician shortage has deepened since the pandemic and could get worse.
9. Filipinos Finally Get Hollywood Support in Major Filipino Film Release
Joe Koy’s Easter Sunday was history in the making as it presented to mass audiences (over 3,000 theaters across the U.S. and Canada, and hundreds more globally) on the big screen the theme of a Filipino family and culture. It’s the first such movie produced and distributed by a major Hollywood studio. It was produced by Steven Spielberg’s company Amblin Entertainment and distributed by Universal Pictures.
The film stars a famous Filipino comedian/actor Koy (playing himself) and a mostly all-Filipino cast including pioneering actor Lou Diamond Philipps and pioneering actress Hawaii’s own Tia Carrere. Easter Sunday — in the first two weeks with theater showings alone in the U.S. and Canada — made $10 million, coming in a respectable 7th place and 11th place in box office earnings for those weeks. The movie studio spent $17 million to create Easter Sunday.
Koy, whose real name is Joseph Glenn Herbert, told the New York Times, “So when I was thinking of a movie, I was like, how can I…talk about my culture, shine light on my ethnicity, but still tell a family story and show all the crazy characters that every family has? And I was like, Easter Sunday. That’s the day every single person in my family comes and gathers, a fight breaks out, crying happens. I wanted to be able to tell that story in one day, and that’s the one day that stands out big in my family.”
Additional revenues were earned in the film’s global release, with a large showing in the Philippines, as well as earnings from the release on digital platforms.
HFC did a cover story on Koy’s film.
10. Debt Relief as High As $20,000 Available on College Loans
Millions of young adults and families could get a fresh start under a student loan forgiveness program passed by President Biden who ordered the U.S. Department of Education to cancel up to $20,000 of federal student loan debt.“If all borrowers claim the relief that they’re entitled to, 43 million federal student loan borrowers will benefit,” the White House said in a press release. “And of those, 20 million will have their debt completely canceled.”
The initiative is currently held up in the courts. The Supreme Court is slated to consider the Biden administration’s debt-relief plan in the next several months.
If approved by SCOTUS, the program will forgive those who meet income requirements up to $10,000 in debt cancellation. Single borrowers are eligible for the relief if their adjusted gross income in 2020 or 2021 was less than $125,000. Married couples and heads of households need an AGI below $250,000 to qualify. For current students who are dependents, eligibility will be based on the income of their parents.
Another $10,000 could be waived for some people who also received federal Pell Grants, which are awarded to students based on financial need. But they also must meet the income requirements. The White House said more than 60% of current federal student loan borrowers also received Pell Grants.
In June, an NPR/Ipsos Poll found a majority of the public (55%) supported forgiving up to $10,000 of a person’s federal student loan debt. Forty-seven percent of all respondents said they supported forgiving up to $50,000 in debt, while 41% expressed support for wiping the slate completely clean for all borrowers.
While there is considerable support for loan forgiveness, some say it isn’t enough. There are others who want some kind of option for loan holders who already paid off some or all of their college loans.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Original articles appeared in HFC cover stories, editorials, news or topics written by columnists. In each article, HFC presented a Filipino-community angle reporting on and for our niche audience. Articles can be accessed on thefilipinochronicle.com.