To Take A Stand

Filipinos are being destabilized by all kinds of risks — political, safety and security, economic and external. It’s not that we’re new to it but we’ve never been through all that’s happening at the same time in rising intensity, real or imagined. What am I referring to? Hang on to your seats as I run through my list.

• The Trillanes flap — was his amnesty a sham, defective or not?

• Red October — will the CPP-NDF-NPA’s planned chaos and violence in various parts of the country, as revealed by the AFP in a preemptive move, still pan out?

• The President’s health — what is the real state of his health and to what extent could it destabilize the country all the more?

• Election fever — the contending parties are fielding their candidates but are stuck with old paradigms and internal divisions.

• The stock market plunge — we’re just hovering around the 7,000 index down from over 9,000 early this year, and approaching January 2017’s index below 7,000.

• Inflation — the battering continues that’s digging into shallow pockets; it hit 6.7% in September and is the highest in ASEAN.

• The falling peso — as of this writing it’s 54.25 Philippine pesos to the US dollar versus 49.71 a year ago.

• Global recession looming — the International Monetary Fund is warning about a potential global recession due to rising financial risks, trade wars and global debt.

• South China Sea — the US and security allies are increasing the tempo of “freedom of navigation operations” and China is responding aggressively.

• Cybersecurity — the Western world reports increasing cyberattacks by Russia and China that could potentially compromise global safety and security across -the-board.

• Natural and ecological disasters — the recent typhoons took a heavy toll on human lives and the loss of agricultural output

• Reduced economic forecast — from 6.7% to 6.5% for 2018 as a result of the battering from all of the above, still good but with the potential to dive some more by year’s end.

It’s disheartening to see that we’re still rooted to the kind of divisive self-serving personality-oriented politics that has seriously impaired the country’s competitiveness, moral compass and national spirit. Recovering the economy’s attractiveness for profitable long-term investments will largely depend on political stability and predictability. Politicians behaving badly at the national and local level should be charged with national sabotage at this precarious stage, not idolized and given all the time and space in media to wreck the state of the nation.
To its credit, this administration has provided us with silver linings like the 2040 road map to liberate ourselves from unjust exclusionary practices and move us to a national interest-common good mindset; and the all-important National Security Policy and Strategy papers to guide implementation, grounded on firm national values. It must now ensure its proper dissemination to the “whole-of-nation” for us to break free from the gloom and doom blanketing us and rendering us vulnerable to all kinds of risks.
Inflationary pressures can be eased if we take hold of those factors we can control. While we can’t control the oil price hikes, we can opt to withdraw the irrational fuel tax that has raised the cost of electricity, transportation, production and household expenses and, instead, replace it with a defense tax to generate ROI from credible deterrence in our EEZ where we lose billions of dollars to poachers, pirates and other thieves annually. We should also clamp down on hoarding and lingering wasteful, inefficient and corrupt practices that boost the cost and ease of doing business that unjustly burden the tax-paying consumer.
The supply and demand for dollars fundamentally regulates the foreign exchange rate. Capital flight to my mind — from hot money to diverted investments to money laundering — is running at a faster clip than our dollar inflows from exports, OFW remittances and BPO earnings. While the peso’s devaluation is favorable to them, inflation is wiping out the upside. In the meantime, imports are becoming more expensive and pushing up the costs and prices of consumer goods. A better policy environment plus appropriate Bangko Sentral interventions should decelerate, arrest and, hopefully, reverse the trend.
Leading figures in the World Economic Forum and the International Monetary Fund have been warning about a looming global crisis. They say the US failed to fix the problems that triggered the global financial contagion ten years ago, and that the signs are pointing to a repeat. Then there’s the ongoing global trade war being waged by America on both friend and foe, tired of being leeched at its long-term expense, and seen to be going against the very democratic and capitalist values that made it a great nation. On top of that, leading economies are saddled by serious debt problems. The collapse of one could trigger a domino effect.
There are rising security concerns that are complicating the already complex global situation. Strategic rivalries are heating up between the U.S. and its traditional allies on the one hand, and an increasingly belligerent array of foes like China, Russia and Iran (North Korea is still not out of America’s crosshairs) on the other. Strategic national interests remain firm and divergent in the South and East China Seas. Preventive diplomacy is falling on deaf ears. Cyberattacks are exponentially rising to steal data, cripple systems and dominate the information stage. The world is worryingly headed toward a major all-out war at the rate it’s going.
We’re being battered by strong headwinds, but we must steer our ship of state out of trouble, united in common purpose, to survive the serious challenges facing us. National survival depends on decisive leadership and hands-on management to get us out of harm’s way or, at least, mitigate the impact of those risks that could turn into crises and man-made disasters. We have no choice but to close ranks and forge national unity to be a better Philippines for all Filipinos in the crucial days, years and decades ahead.
Rafael M. Alunan served in the Cabinet of President Corazon C. Aquino as Secretary of Tourism, and in the Cabinet of President Fidel V. Ramos as Secretary of Interior and Local Government.