THIS is the time of the year, according to the Standard Calendar of Things Columnist Should Write About, when we reflect on the year that is almost over and begin making our predictions for the year to come.
For the first time in the years I have been doing this in one form or another since coming to this country, there is no good news on either end of that spectrum, and my advice, if you care to have it, is to run. Run as fast and as far as you can from the Philippines to some quiet place with not too many people in it, because 2016 is going to be a disaster.
There are four broad factors that grew to unmanageable problems in 2015, and while they are all interconnected—each one making all the other ones worse in some way, which means that not one of them can be addressed without addressing everything else—to minimize confusion they can be described in a rough order of relevance: Major government breakdowns or shifts; large-scale migrancy; climate; and armed conflict, which is primarily characterized by, but not limited to, terrorism. The stew of global havoc these four developments are brewing this year is going to boil over in 2016 and cause grievous harm to the world economy and peoples’ lives, and we will see and feel the effects in the Philippines.
In The Times’ editorial yesterday, we openly wondered if the disturbing chaos that the campaign for the election on May 9 of next year, with more than a month to go before the ‘official’ campaign period even begins, was a signal that the election is a preordained failure.
As if on cue, Comelec commissioner Bautista suggested over the weekend that the election could be postponed if the recent restraining order by the Supreme Court against the poll agency’s “no bio, no boto” was not lifted soon. The scheme appears to be little more than unnecessary red tape designed to prevent poor, rural voters—the ones who would be most likely to support candidates other than the one fielded by the ruling Liberal Party—from being registered. A failed or postponed election would bring government activity to a near-standstill and would have a chilling effect on economic activity.
Even if the election goes ahead as planned (which seems more and more unlikely with each passing day), and even if it produces a believable result (which seems virtually impossible with the jerry-rigged system the government plans to employ), the sharp divisions among at least three candidates mean that the eventual winner is probably going to take office with a mandate of something less than 40 percent of the vote. Having minority Presidents has been a near-constant obstacle to progress in this country since the Marcos era, and the next President is very likely to have the smallest mandate yet, with consequently poor prospects for launching and maintaining any sort of growth and development programs.
The Philippines has been fortunate, so far, to have only been a spectator to the alarming displacement of people in other parts of the world—Syria, central and northern Africa, parts of South and Southeast Asia—but in 2016 will have to contend with a large internal displacement, some of which is already happening.
Climate will be the biggest cause; the El Niño phenomenon, which causes drought in this part of the world, is wreaking havoc on the country’s farm population, and the government has been caught woefully unprepared. Even though everyone knew it was coming and the first effects of it were felt in July or August, as recently as last month agencies like the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were still doltishly discussing vague plans to react to it as though it were some future event.
Farmlands rendered dead even for just a season are going to force many people to move toward Metro Manila and other population centers that are already overcrowded. To that shift a displacement of people in Mindanao will also likely be added, when conflict increases as a result of the Aquino Administration’s abortive effort to create “peace.”
If the enabling law for the peace agreement with the MILF passes Congress at all, it will be the more sensible version written to replace the Administration’s version that virtually surrendered a large chunk of the country’s territory to the insurgents; said insurgents have already condemned the alternative, and have vowed to resist it.
That outcome will, unfortunately, provide an opening for the expansion of the extremist terrorism spreading in the rest of the world. There is already evidence the Daesh group is making small inroads in Mindanao; the coming disorder is only going to make the country an even more attractive target and recruiting ground.
The good news is that it will all be temporary; a disastrous election may very well shock the nation into finally making some structural changes to prevent the same thing from happening in the future, the El Niño will eventually run its course, and the terrorists—whose extremism, whatever else it may be, is ultimately self-destructive—will eventually lose their bite.
But it will take at least a year for all that to come about, a year in which the Philippines is going to present a very poor environment for investment or any sort of long-range planning. 2016 will be a good year to keep your money in the bank—preferably a bank on another continent, if that opportunity is available. Come back and see what’s happening this time next year; things may be a little more promising then, or at least we can hope so.