Government News Analysis

Philippine Year of the Rooster

At the weekend, the Chinese people – both on the Mainland and across the Chinese diaspora – will start their celebrations of a new Lunar New Year. It’s the biggest festival on their calendar, the Spring Festival, and in all things it marks a new beginning.

Certainly, it will be celebrated in the Philippines – home to around 23 million Filipinos who can claim some degree of Chinese ancestry. They constitute approximately 22% of the country’s population. These are the Filipino-Chinese, or Tsinoys. A smaller number (around 1.5 million) have pure Chinese lineage.

Many in the Philippine Chinese community, as elsewhere, will consult the tellers of fortunes to discover what lies ahead in their year – in love and health, travel and wealth. They’ll be out in force in Binondo, the world’s oldest Chinatown whose roots trail back to 1594. There, in the capital, Manila, as around the country, there will be lion dances to scare away bad spirits and dragon dances to bring in good luck. There will be noise – firecrackers and drums – and plenty of colourful lanterns. In the Philippines, as in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, Chinese New Year is a national holiday. And it will be celebrated.

Many will visit the temples and offer incense and flowers. At the likely packed Taoist temple in Quezon City, people will put their requests to the gods on paper, before burning them and offering them up. And everywhere they’ll eat dumplings, glutinous rice cakes and spring rolls for wealth, carp, pomeloes, tangerines and oranges for good luck and long-life noodles.

And we’re sure that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will also be celebrating – after all, as he’s said: “There is a bit of Chinese blood in almost all of us Filipinos”. And this year, perhaps more than most, there is much to toast with the normalisation of Manila-Beijing relations after four years of bitter contention. The two countries have come close over the past few months and the emergence of the new moon will be an appropriate time to reflect on that.

Born on 28 March 1945 makes Duterte a Rooster in the Chinese Zodiac. And this year his birthday is even more propitious as it falls on the second day of Chinese New Year in the Year of the Rooster – and the Fire Rooster at that, an animal/element combination that only occurs once every six decades. All that would seem auspicious – a day of double celebration for the president. But, apparently, it’s not and in Chinese feng shui this confluence doesn’t augur particularly good fortune.

According to Chinese astrology, those who find themselves in their own zodiac year – pigs in a Pig Year, snakes in a Snake Year, rats in a Rat Year and so on – are believed to upset Shou Xing, the God of Age, and incur his wrath. This – so goes the wisdom of the feng shui masters – means that roosters in this Rooster Year will not be graced with great fortune in 2017.

That said, Duterte’s Rooster traits – loyalty, commitment, industriousness and the love of family values – will not be diminished. They’ll be as strong after the Rooster lands as they were in the Year of the Monkey whose mischief ends at midnight on Friday. And that goes for another Rooster quality – constancy of purpose.

As we’ve seen, nothing can deter Duterte from delivering what he promised during his election campaign. He’s stuck to his guns in his War on Drugs, his fight to defeat criminality, his efforts to bring peace to troubled Muslim Mindanao, and has never waivered even in the face of massive internal and international opposition.

Furthermore, 1945 was the Year of the Wood Rooster, which endows those born in that year with more specific virtues – honesty and reliability being among them. They’re also known for setting themselves high standards and for working well in a team dynamic. They can, however, become ensnared by bureaucracy and sometimes attempt too many projects at the same time.

Having watched President Duterte very closely over the past year, we can identify how the wisdom of the ancient Chinese sages and zodiac scholars line up with his personality and the agenda he’s laid out in his ambitious plan to restructure the Philippines – its economy and its society.

That plan is rooted in the bedrock of his commitment to the nation and the way it’s being applied with tremendous industry – not just by him but by the team he picked, leads and inspires. There’s no question, too, that in all this effort he’s displayed sound leadership and an unwavering resolve to get the job done. And that’s very much the stuff of Roosters.

Certainly, he seems to have placed a great deal on his plate – that trait of attempting too much at once. But in the context of these times, Duterte had little choice.

Of course, it would be ideal if he could tackle one at a time the large systemic problems of illegal drugs, entrenched criminality, Islamist terrorism and rebalance those parts of the economy that continue to struggle through lack of investment and sheer bad planning and management, not least in terms of the country’s horrific infrastructure deficit – all legacy problems which he inherited from a series of previous administrations. The problem is that to some degree they’re all interlinked. The economy and those investing in it require stability – law and order – and they require ports and airports and roads.

The fact is all those problems have been on the plate of government for a long time. It’s just that before they’d been pushed to the side. And leaving them there isn’t the Rooster’s way.

Two other aspects of the Rooster character worth noting are that those born under this 10th sign of the zodiac are forthright and outspoken. Soft speech is not their style, even if at times that may come across as brash or less than diplomatic – a trait that has brought Duterte plenty of criticism; not least from an international media ready to jump on any indiscretion. But while that may be the cover of the book, what it represents is the Rooster’s uncompromising honesty and inner passion for fairness.

The other characteristic is the Rooster’s skill of communicating – and Duterte was certainly a recipient of this Rooster gene. He speaks directly to the people and he hears their hopes and fears. That’s what brought record crowds to his election campaign as it toured all parts of the country. It’s what continues to keep people engaged; politically probably more than they’ve ever been. It’s also what’s keeps his approval ratings above 80%. They hear him.

The Volatilian™ offers its wishes of good fortune and good health to President Duterte in this coming lunar year and to all his people everywhere. In all likelihood it’ll be a tough year, but those qualities of industry, commitment and determination will be enough to see that the work started by this administration last July will remain on track. There’s a Rooster in Malacañang who’ll make sure of it.

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