World under attack
FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - November 1, 2019 - 12:00am

They’re going out in protest in the streets of London, Tirana, Quito, Caracas, Baghdad, Beirut and Gaza. What is going on? Should we even care?

The rioting in Hong Kong and Catalan are, on the surface ,political in nature. Although their triggers differ, their roots are the same as the protests in the other cities – a common thread of injustice and social inequality. Where these will end is still unknown, but in an interconnected world, ignoring such manifestations of global socio-economic trends and their political consequences would be at our peril.

This is the point I want to make in this column. Is anyone in government paying attention to these developments? These socio-economic – as well as geopolitical - trends should inform the formulation of our external policy – in both its political and economic dimensions. An “independent foreign policy” would be meaningless unless it is shaped as a well-thought out, deliberate – not emotive and biased – response to external developments, that will result in positive outcomes for the national interest.

It should not be conceived in some office among a small group. I believe it would be useful to have a broader conversation on the emerging geopolitical and socio-economic issues to provide our leaders with the accurate chart as they navigate the ship of state through turbulent and treacherous waters. It is in this regard that I invite our readers to share their views on these issues. I shall take this forward in workshops that the Carlos P. Romulo Foundation will conduct in December and in the next six months to move these conversations forward. Here are some of the trends and the issues that they raise.

In the geo-political realm, the rise of China, coupled with America’s withdrawal from its role as the world’s policeman, has created a multipolar world, and increasingly one that sees a limited role for international institutions such as the UN and the WTO to act as arbiter. How does the Philippines position itself between these conflicting powers where the choice is no longer just between ideology and shared values? We have seen countries use economic largesse as a tool to achieve their strategic aims and China has been one of its exponents in modern times. How can the Philippines gain economic benefits without trading off its sovereignty? What role can we play in protecting and strengthening international institutions so that they may continue their role as keepers of the peace and guardians of human rights and environmental sustainability?  And what about Russia with whom we have been flirting with recently? Would the fact that they do not have territorial ambitions in our part of the world make them better economic partners?

In terms of global economic relations, will economic interdependence continue, or shall we witness a new wave of bilateralism and protectionism particularly in light of President Donald Trump’s anti-globalist stance? In this regard, will populist politics, particularly in the West, prove long-standing, or will it fizzle out over time? Is Trump a one term phenomenon or will he be given a fresh mandate to pursue more vigorously his brand of politics and economics? This is quite difficult to forecast since as a rule, populist parties and politicians do not follow the traditional ideological divide, but rather the economic divide and hence assume an anti-elite or anti-status quo position. So as long as voters have concerns about globalization, job security, changing cultural identity, populist politics will always have a home. 

My feeling is that globalization will continue its inexorable march, particularly as the digital economy takes hold, thus bringing economies ever closer together. But the political reaction to this will likely remain mixed. Some will feel its benefits and some will feel its adverse impact. Fortunately for the Philippines, globalization is seen as a boon – with more exports, job opportunities both at home and abroad, and easier travel. It would, therefore, be in our interest to support globalization. Should the Philippines, therefore, take a more aggressive stance in pursuing bilateral and regional trade deals – including with the US? What can we do to strengthen the WTO which is under assault from the US and badly needs to be updated to accommodate new business models and the digital economy? Are we prepared to take advantage of the benefits of the digital economy, or do we risk being left behind?

Climate change will also be an ongoing, pressing issue and has become a major item in the global diplomatic agenda. Although initially President Duterte was on the Trump side of the climate change ledger, he has since embraced it, calling it a “day-to-day” problem. But on the other hand, he has placed the blame on developed economies as polluters and the Philippines as victims. Consequently, little has been accomplished to address this challenge in a comprehensive manner. What can we do to change the narrative? Access to natural resources could be a persistent source of conflict soon, not only between nations, but also among communities as well. What pre-emptive action can we take to prevent this from happening?

Finally, a disturbing trend that strikes at the very heart of democracy. Fake news, post-truth and alternative facts undermine the value of media (custodians of truth) in providing accurate information that shape public opinion, promote reasoned public discourse and make checks and balances work. Social media, which connects users with like-minded members further reinforces their preconceptions. What can be done to restore truth as the core principle of democratic values? How can technology be utilized to sift the truth from the untruth?  Who should be accountable for ensuring that the use of social media is not abused and weaponized?

My father, Carlos P. Romulo was said to be ahead of his time. He predicted the rise of globalization even before a name was attached to it. He was involved in the drafting of the UN Convention on the universal value of human rights. A Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, he thought of his mission as a teller of unburnished truth. All these principles that he stood for are now under siege. These fora will also be the occasion to re-evaluate them under the prevailing environment.  

I welcome comments/recommendations on issues discussed above.  Please send to cprfoundation96@gmail.com.

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