Thursday, May 05, 2016

Warning Signs

Six months ago, I didn’t think I would care so much about the elections and its outcome. Now I am emotionally and intellectually invested, and I spend spare moments checking the news and mulling the possibilities. I’ve done something I never thought I’d do, which is to campaign for a candidate – and the administration candidate at that.

And now it’s all down to the wire. In less than five days time (as I write), it will be election day. Unlike a survey where the results will simply be fodder for news and propaganda, the outcome of this will decide the direction of the country for the next six years, and perhaps longer. Unlike before where we could simply wave it of as, “Parehas lang na sila”, there are palpable differences. We could change where we are headed, the problem is that not all change is for the better.

On one hand, I’m thinking about all the challenges that the country will be facing. The global political situation is shifting, towards what configuration we don’t know. The United States, whoever wins in November, looks like it will be more preoccupied with its own domestic matters with the War On Terror changing focus to reflect this policy. Closer to home, China’s will continue its territorial expansion and economic co-optation, either through military show of force or business alliances. The threat of ISIS continues to loom globally but will exert pressure on the Middle East and Europe, through terror, war, and refugee crises. These are just the obvious challenges.

And there are other looming challenges, as well, without easy political solutions. Global warming remains a pressing concern. Changes in climate, when they don’t create havoc through typhoons and floods, will adversely affect agricultural output through drought. Yet to fuel economic growth, we are going to need to increase energy output but without sufficient contribution from renewables, we will continue our dependence on coal and oil, in turn affecting climate again. In the future, even drinkable water could be a cause for conflict.
Where does this leave the Philippines? It depends on how we act. International alliances will be key, though it will be tricky to navigate between our shared and conflicting interests, hence the need for diplomacy at the same time bolstering our military. Research, investment, and policies in renewable energy, clean water, and efficient agriculture will be key. It’s already a cliché to say it but we’ll need to have jobs ready for when OCWs return home owing to volatile situations abroad.

The point of all this being: to get us through the next six years, we are going to need a president and a cabinet that are just as attuned to external matters as they are to internal matters. It’s almost like the biblical story of Joseph the Dreamer. We have had our seven years of plenty – the Aquino administration has done a creditable job of growing the GDP at an average of 6% and our economic ranking has gone up 7 slots – thanks in part to a period of global stability. But tougher times are coming. What will happen when we encounter the seven years of want?

All the more reason that a presidency of the survey-leading candidate scares me. Never mind the sideshow of corruption allegations, reprehensible jokes, and cult-like devotion. His primary platform is the one-note tune of peace and order because “look at Davao.” He has no clearly articulated policy on international relations or on the economy and he has no agenda on research and development. And yet many buy into his campaign because “he can get things done” (but whether the thing to be done is right or not, well…) and because “he is tough on crime.” But these are issues of enforcement, more proper to running local government than a country. Perhaps it might be a suitable message if we are in a period of stability, but we are not. Focusing on crime while the bigger global situation teeters on the brink is like rearranging deck chairs on a sinking ship.

Contrary to the claim that this candidate will be a strong president, I submit that he will actually be a weak one. His plan of action hinges on action movie fantasy shootouts with criminals and dissenters – how credible and how palatable is that? That leaves him susceptible to advisers, but who exactly are these advisers? These have never been made clear either, though the past weeks have surfaced some disturbing inklings. Prominent Mindanao businessmen, surely, so we trade one set of oligarchs for another? Former GMA generals and cabinet members, so we actually turn back the clock six years for a continuation of the in-your-face graft and corruption of her term? The CPP-NDF, with whose leadership he has maintained close links? These are strange bedfellows, you can practically hear the knives sharpening on whetstones. (Or perhaps they have come to their own accommodation, a twisted form of federalism: “inyo ang NCR, sa kanila ang Visayas at Luzon, at amin ang Mindanao”.)

These are all warning signs, we would do well to heed them. Come election day, the leader we choose will be for keeps for the next six years.