The Philippines is in the throes of an historic transition. Economically, politically and societally, the Republic is undergoing the biggest reformation of its life. But while much of the country welcomes these changes – and the government initiatives that have been implemented to usher them in – there are sections of the community kicking and screaming to resist.
Generally, those who oppose change are those with vested interests in the old status quo – the ones who prospered and enjoyed life under the old system and who’ll become increasingly challenged under the new.
These, therefore, are unsettling times with everyone rushing into the vacuum to grab their piece of power or prevent others from doing so. Right now, everything is raw as the hopes of those wanting change compete for altitude with the anxieties of those who don’t.
And, while the resistance to change believes that it is possible to make an omelette without cracking an egg, the drivers of change – led by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte – believe it’s not. Furthermore, the size of the omelette Duterte wishes to serve, calls for many eggs. This isn’t the usual tweaking of a few bits of legislation which previous administrations have been involved in. This is a full-blown, high-octane-powered, unapologetic, in-yer-face, programme of nation building.
Meanwhile, the usual rash of corruption and other scandals that have run throughout the history of the Republic like letters in a stick of seaside rock, continue to vie for headlines.
This weekend’s Your Forum, then, is really a multiple-choice question and it’s this – what’s the biggest and most pressing problem facing the Philippines right now? Of everything that’s going on, what are the real priorities for the administration?
It’s a big question – and there’s much to choose from. Everyone will have their own take on this and they’ll all be relevant, because although this seems like a very simple question, it’s anything but. What it also highlights though, is the scale of what’s involved in pulling off the Philippine Reformation.
Here, then, are a few ideas to consider.
Is it the cock-up over the roll-out of a yet-to-be-approved anti-viral treatment programme for dengue fever – a potential time bomb that could affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipino children?
This – the latest scandal to hit the headlines – is likely to end up in litigation of mind-boggling technical proportions. And, given the Philippines’ legendary judicial sluggishness – and the fact that Big Pharma is involved – ever satisfactorily resolving what went wrong, who’s to blame, is about as likely as the ocean bursting into flames.
As more is revealed about this travesty of medical policy – the decision to spend PHP3.5 billion on a single drug and the possible political purpose behind it – you can bet that everyone remotely close to the firing line will be scurrying for cover like ducks in a hail storm.
Is it the plethora of political scandals that’s trussing leading members of the previous Liberal Party administration like turkeys ready for the Christmas oven? Just for starters, the impeachment complaints pending against that party’s one-time icon, former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino; the justice secretary he appointed, Maria Lourdes Sereno; the likely one against his Ombudsman, Conchita Carpio Morales; the one sidestepped by his Commission on Elections chief, Andres Bautista, who decided discretion was the better part of valour when he quit his office to avert a trial in the Senate.
Is it the widening schism within the country’s estimated 85-million-strong Roman Catholic congregation, as robed priests and mitred bishops sneer at the Constitution which states “The separation of Church and State shall be inviolable”?
Their headlong drive to restore the ‘glory days’ of the religio-political partnership they enjoyed under Aquino’s mother, former president Corazon Aquino, has unsettled much of the faithful. Yet there are those in the hierarchy of the Church’s governing body, the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, who still believe in ecclesiastical involvement in secular matters – that the Church, effectively, should be the fourth branch of government after the executive, the legislature and the judiciary.
Is it the precarious situation in Mindanao in the country’s south where the dry tinder of Islamic extremist is just a spark away from bursting into a conflagration that could envelop much of that entire region? President Rodrigo Duterte’s martial-law measures – effective in putting down the siege of a city in Mindanao’s Lanao del Sur province by Islamic State-affiliated terrorists – is under constant attack by the political opposition, the human-rights industry and elements of the media.
They objected to it in the first place, despite the army – whose men put their lives on the line to restore peace and order there – welcoming it. They objected to it being extended until the end of the year, ignoring both the military and pro-government Muslim groups who argued – based on their intelligence – that it was prudent to do so.
Is it the equally precarious situation regarding the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist New People’s Army whom Duterte has vowed to destroy – removing, once and for all this outlaw group which prays on poor farmers as it levies taxes across the countryside to build its war chest for a bloody ‘Proletarian Revolution’ and fulfill its dream of flying a communist flag over Malacañang?
Make no mistake; this organisation has its supporters and its apologists in Congress and across the mishmash of local government. It may be opposed to democracy in all its forms, but it’s certainly not above letting its friends – those elected by the people – from exploiting it for its own purposes.
And that brings us to this. Is it the need for a revolutionary government that will give the president the powers to address that last problem particularly – but many others as well?
This move has been on the cards for some time and is the biggest single fear of the opposition camp. For, if Duterte does instate a revolutionary government, the doors to the legislature will be bolted, the shutters will be pulled down at the judiciary. There will be one branch of government where he will hold the reins of power.
Emotions surrounding such a move range from untrammelled anger – that Duterte is nothing short of a dictator and a tyrant – to palpable relief at the thought that finally, unhindered by political obstruction, he can get down to delivering a crime-less, drug-free, corruption-punished, society liberated from Islamists, communists, crime bosses and oligarchs.
Like we said, it’s a big question. We look forward to reading what you have to say.