First of Two Parts
Miriam Defensor Santiago, Mar Roxas, Grace Poe, Rodrigo Duterte, and Jejomar Binay, attention please.
With less than five months before one of you takes over the government, it’s essential even now when everyone’s campaigning, to prepare for some potentially grave threats and challenges looming in the first year of the next administration.
On national security, China-US frictions will continue rising, with serious impact on the Philippines, especially if American forces escalate deployment and use our bases under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Also affecting security, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and extremist groups could mount attacks to pressure the next government into passing the Bangsamoro Basic Law and implementing the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro with the MILF. And if terrorists abroad get into the act, overseas Filipinos especially in the Middle East may face greater risk.
On the economy and state finances, growing anxiety over loans to developing countries and rising US interest rates will constrict global credit and investment. Add to that damper the expected decline in remittances by overseas Filipino workers, especially OFWs in Arab nations hit by plunging oil revenues.
Result: slower growth as less overseas cash trims consumer spending and property sales and development — the main growth drivers under President Benigno Aquino 3rd.
Also looming are irregularities in recent years. With Aquino out, state auditors and maybe the Ombudsman would be less reluctant to run after anomalies by him, his cronies and his allies, including his P157-billion Disbursement Acceleration Program, the largest malversation in Philippine history. Expect escalating controversy once Aquino loses immunity from prosecution in July.
Then there’s the annual typhoon season at midyear. Plus the possible spread of Zika virus now afflicting hundreds of thousands in Latin America, with as many as 4 million cases feared this year. These threats would test disaster preparedness, which has yet to receive the full P2 billion in funding mandated by laws passed in 2010 and 2012.
Last but most worrisome is the determined resistance sure to be mounted by crime, corruption, narcotics, smuggling and gambling syndicates, which have flourished under Aquino. These lawless elements will bribe, lobby, fight and kill to keep and expand their unprecedented gains, including the tripling of pork barrel, crime and smuggling ( see http://www.manilatimes.net/the-battle-we-face-and-the-president-we-need/237779/ ).
Senator Poe has warned that candidates are getting money from drug dealers. Battling this lawlessness on the streets, the ports, and the corridors of power can get bloody.
Will these scenarios all happen? No. But those who blithely dismiss them are not the prudent, caring and seasoned leaders the nation needs.
Caught in the big powers’ brawl
Let’s look closely at the threats. First, the America-China rivalry. It reprises the assertion of regional power by the United States in the 1823 Monroe Doctrine telling European nations to stay out of the Western Hemisphere. With those colonial powers just ending a quarter-century of revolution and war in 1815, hardly any challenged America’s push for dominance in the Americas.
Now, it’s the Chinese seeking regional and global clout, with Americans holding the fort. On top of this big-power rivalry is China’s need to secure its sealanes in the South China Sea, where 80 percent of its oil imports pass.
Also likely to intensify confrontations are China’s economic and markets slump, and America’s presidential transition. As Chinese feel the jobs and income pinch, and the next White House occupant makes a show of strong leadership, both regimes may get even more assertive to rally their peoples behind them.
What’s worse for the Philippines, if China again encroaches on our islets and shoals, that actually helps the campaign by some US quarters to drive Southeast Asia away from Beijing and into Washington’s protective embrace. Not to mention scaring Filipinos and pressuring the next government to implement the EDCA.
What should President Binay, Duterte, Poe, Roxas or Santiago do? Over and above anything else, announce a policy of building good relations with all major powers, including China, while undertaking defense modernization. As ASEAN’s longstanding policy of neutrality shows, dwarfs should avoid taking sides in a brawl among giants.
The surge in violence and corruption
If the high seas look set to get choppy, the land may get bloody. The MILF agreement has stalled due to constitutional issues and Aquino’s botched Mamasapano commando raid. That may provoke extremist violence, with or without MILF backing, plus opportunistic attacks by communist insurgents. And terrorists abroad could target OFWs, triggering instant crises.
To counter extremism, the next President should immediately reach out to the MILF and other Mindanao groups, including the Moro National Liberation Front and Lumad communities, and work toward a pact that truly advances peace, security, the rule of law, and the interests of all stakeholders. Convening a constitutional convention to consider federalism would also help.
Crime, smuggling, jueteng and drug kingpins will escalate violence if the new leadership tries to reverse their unprecedented bonanza under Aquino. Not just attacks on police and even judges, but against the public, with the extortionist threat that bloodletting would stop only if rackets are left alone.
As for corruption, Aquino’s penchant for defending anomalous associates and appointees is largely to blame for the surge in sleaze. Grafters see that in the ruling camp they can rig commuter train and license plate deals, make 2,000 cargo containers vanish, abet prison rackets, plant bullets in luggage, and perpetrate other schemes without fear.
To rein in these forces of lawlessness, the next Chief Executive must promptly rally nation and government behind law and order. Criminals and grafters should get no signal whatsoever that they can thrive with the right connections. That includes politicos making hay under Aquino, then switching sides to evade accountability and continue rapacious ways.
Aquino let his shooting buddy off the hook in his first months in office, sparking six years of crony scams. The next leader must show that he is truly treading the right path.
(The last part covering the economy, food supplies, and disasters will run on Saturday.)