Dark clouds and silver linings

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Rafael M. Alunan III

To Take A Stand


In recent days, we’ve seen the passing of high-profile personalities who I’ve known one way or the other. It’s been a sobering year as age hurtles faster at warp speed toward the inevitable. As the saying goes, “We’ll never get out of this world alive.”

• Prospero “Boy” Nograles, former House Speaker (we called each other “primo”), who I interacted with for the passage of the RH Law.

• Franciso “Bobby” Mañosa, renowned architect and National Artist, who helped me conceptualize a War and Peace Museum on Corregidor when I was Secretary of Tourism.

• Eddie “Manoy” Garcia, multi-awarded actor, director and producer; honorary member of PMA “Marangal” Class 1974 to which I, too, belong.

• Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr., former Senate President, and author of the law that founded the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) in 1991, which I headed from 1992-96.

• John “Big John” Gokongwei, Jr., nation-builder, entrepreneur and philanthropist; a businessman’s businessman. I serviced his polyester needs for Robina Textiles when I was in Filsyn.

• Ernest Leung, Jr., former colleague in the 1990 RP-US Bases Talks and in the Ramos Cabinet; a dyed-in-the-wool financial wizard, patriot, nature lover and adventurer.

Some were not high profile. They were regular folks whose passage I mourn.

• Octavio “Tavoy” Labayen, brother of the late-Bishop Julio Labayen who kept faith with before, during, and after the electoral campaigns of 2016 and 2019.

• SPO4 Jimmy L. Caguioa, my long-time security officer from DILG days till after he retired from the service last year.

As if those personal shocks were not disturbing enough, the global unrest I read about today is seemingly everywhere. There may have varying triggers but the fuel is familiar: stagnating middle classes, stifled democracy, and the bone-deep conviction that things can be different — even if the alternative isn’t always clear.

Here’s a glimpse of what’s happening around the world:

• Lebanon: protests on a tax on WhatsApp and endemic corruption.

• Iraq: protests against poverty, corruption, and a miserable quality of life

• Iran: anti-fuel hike

• China: protests against corruption, abusive governance, environmental degradation, lack of religious freedom and civil liberties, one-party rule

• Hong Kong: protests against extradition and creeping authoritarianism.

• Indonesia: protests against a proposed jail sentence for pre-marital sex

• Algeria: protests against a fifth term for its president and military rule.

• UK: anti-Brexit and pro-Brexit protests

• France: protests against fuel and other tax hikes, social injustice

• Russia: anti-corruption and anti-dynasty protests

• Serbia: anti-political violence and authoritarian rule.

• Albania: anti-electoral cheating, corruption and organized crime in government.

• Spain: independence for Catalonia

• Brazil: anti-deforestation and corruption protests

• Chile: anti-fare hike and rampant inequality.

• Peru: anti-government protests and the country’s uncertain future

• Bolivia: anti-presidential term extension (4th) for Evo Morales

• Ecuador: anti-cancellation of austerity measures and fuel subsidies

• Venezuela: anti-authoritarian rule and economic hardships

• Colombia: anti-violence protests by indigenous peoples.

Freedom of information is placing 20th-century power structures under enormous pressure. There’s a social revolution with a growing demand for participatory democracy. The widening gaps between the haves and have-nots are radicalizing the youth. Extinction Rebellion protests are gaining traction worldwide at the inaction of world leaders on the climate crisis. Over here, protests have been manifested in the form of coup attempts, rebellions and armed insurgencies reflecting the weaknesses of our governance, citizenship, moral foundations, and social bonds.

Such protests could be further fueled by more economic hardships ahead as headwinds threaten recession, perhaps after 2020. The signs are there.

• Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Analytics: “There’s an ‘uncomfortably high’ chance that a recession could hit the global economy in the next 12-18 months, and policymakers may not be able to reverse that course. It requires staying on script that includes avoiding an escalation of the US-China trade war; finding a resolution to Brexit; and central banks continuing their monetary stimulus.”

• The UN’s trade and development body, UNCTAD: “2019 will endure the weakest expansion in a decade and the slowdown could turn into outright contraction next year. Warning lights are flashing around trade wars, currency gyrations, a no-deal Brexit and movements in long-term interest rates. Yet, policymakers are hardly preparing for the coming storm.”

• National Association for Business Economics (NABE): “The risk of a recession is rising, and the main threat to the economy is the Trump administration’s trade war. The rise in protectionism, pervasive trade policy uncertainty, and slower global growth are considered key downside risks to US economic activity.”

Vice-President Leni Robredo’s appointment as co-chair of the war on drugs provides hope for unity, teamwork, and a holistic approach in addressing this grave national security problem. President Duterte can focus his attention on crushing the supply side (syndicates) while the VP Leni can address the demand side (addicts) through social transformation and performance excellence in drug rehab. As co-leaders and thinkers, they must properly select and provide their “whole-of-nation” doers the wherewithal to accomplish their missions.

But let me end on a high note. Recent news of victories and recognition in academics, sports, and the arts have reflated Pinoy pride. In times of stress and distress, there’s nothing like earned recognition for excellence to lift one’s spirit and national morale.

• Breanna Labadan, Daniella Reggie de la Pisa, Carlos Yulo: gold medals in gymnastics

• Carina Dayondon: WWF Conservation Hero award. Mountaineer (Mt. Everest, Seven Summits)

• Dr. Yanga Colleges: World Robot Olympiad gold medal

• Five Philippine Science High School-Western Visayas Campus students, Kirsten Dianne Delmo, Nico Andrei Serrato, Joecile Faith Monana, Frelean Faith Engallado, and Raphael Francis Dequilla: take the silver award at the Young Inventors Challenge 2019 in Malaysia for a device converting noise to electricity

• Fundador Supremo 18: best brandy in the world at the International Wine and Spirits Competition.

• Katarina Cruz: four gold medals in ice skating

• Andrea Robles: Macau Archery Open gold medal

• Margarita Fores: Knighted by the Italian government for culinary excellence.

• The PHL Team of 94 students: 17 gold, 14 silver, 19 bronze and 17 honorable mention awards for math and science in various competitions

• The PH National Dragon Boat Team: perennial gold medal winners

Life is bittersweet. Let’s make the most of it with good behavior, good faith, good relations, and good memories. Be good.


Rafael M. Alunan III is a former Secretary of Interior and Local Government and chairs the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations.