Looking forward to 2015

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

I do not pretend to be a prophet or  soothsayer. I have no intention of making any specific predictions. There are, however, several potential developments that are worthwhile monitoring since they could have long term impact on the Philippines.

The Filipino public will naturally watch the preparatory campaigns for the 2016 elections. The most awaited story is the final cast for the coming presidential elections. I still maintain that it is too early to predict the final list of contenders.

I had a chance conversation with Congressman Roland Singson of Ilocos Norte who belongs to the Nacionalista Party. According to him, their party head – former Senator and presidential contender Manny Villar – has cautioned party members about rushing into choosing a candidate. Citing personal experience, Senator Villar said that many unforeseen events could change the existing political scenario. Their party would probably make a decision around the middle of this year.

There are  stories going around that Senator Villar would consider running for the president if there is an opportunity. But from my point of view, a Villar candidacy for the vice presidency is out of the question.

While attention is focused on the presidential and vice presidential elections, the coming senatorial elections could be an exciting race. There are several  re-electionists — Drilon, Guingona, Recto — who are politically  strong candidates. Kiko Pangilinan, who has already unofficially announced, looks like another sure winner. Then there are several newcomers who seem to be testing the field like Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, MMDA Chair Francis Tolentino, former  Secretary Rafael Alunan, and Albay Governor Joey Salceda.

I have been asked for my own list of preferences for the different elective positions in the coming elections. I always say that almost all my preferred candidates are the types who do not want to run in a political race. For example, everyone agrees that education is the most important factor towards ensuring that economic growth will be inclusive and will give the poor the opportunity to have a life of human dignity by acquiring the skills needed to get a decent paying job. DepEd Secretary Armin Luistro has proven that he has the vision and the program that the Philippines needs to achieve world class public education. He has proven that he is willing to accept the challenges of introducing radical reforms like the K to 12 program in the Philippine education system. He is the type of leader this country needs. But will he be willing to get involved in electoral politics?

In terms of politics in 2015, the most awaited news will be the  decision of P-Noy as to who he will endorse for  president and vice president in the 2016 elections. This will be the biggest game changer in 2015. But P-Noy’s most important challenge is to ensure that the Yellow Coalition will be united in supporting his endorsed candidates.

It is a maxim in Philippine politics that local government officials and politicians are not dependable forces in national politics. They are  too concerned with their own local races. Their tendency will be to ignore national political races and focus on their own candidacies.

It is also true that it is the national politicians who donate resources to local candidates and not the other way. Any national candidates, especially the presidential candidates, will have a distinct advantage if he or she has a personal political organization that is nationwide and capable of raising its own resources in terms of funding and manpower. The largest and most potent of these organizations is the Yellow Coalition.

In past elections, from the 1986 snap elections to the presidential runs in 1992, 2001, and 2010, this political power was proven. When the Yellow Forces were divided  in 1998, Erap Estrada was elected president. While political stories will probably take center stage in 2015, there will be other topics that will be worth public attention.

Bangsamoro peace agreement

The passage of the Bangsamoro agreement in the Senate will be  a monumental achievement of this administration. Already, there have been  promises of funding from international institutions like the World Bank and other countries like Japan and Muslim oil-rich states. There is also a group of Japanese and Singaporean business entities that are seriously considering putting up an industrial estate in Cotabato once the the agreement becomes a law and a duly elected government is in place. Peace and economic development in Muslim Mindanao will make this accord a role model for all Christian countries with Muslim minorities.

Philippine economy

After Marcos made the Philippines the “sick man of Asia,” the Philippines is now one of the fastest growing economies in the world and its international credit rating is now in the same level as even European countries like Spain and soon Russia. Our credit rating is one grade higher than Indonesia which is the largest ASEAN economy.

Economic growth slowed in 2014 as government spending slowed down because of the Supreme Court ruling on DAP. But the new Philippine government budget and the recent approval of several major PPP infrastructure projects should bring back economic growth to 7% GDP. The continuing drive against corruption will also need to be maintained.

The Philippines was also the world’s leading beneficiary for the unexpected steep drop in the price of oil which has reduced gasoline and diesel prices. The good thing about this is that the beneficial effects are felt by the average Filipino people especially the middle class. This is unlike the stock market where only the very rich benefit from the record breaking increases in stock market prices.

Judical reform

Slow pace of justice is so unfair to the poor who must wait for years for justice simply because they cannot afford these expensive lawyers who hire themselves to the highest bidders. But there are now concrete indicators that the executive and judicial branches of government are  cooperating  at realizing the vision of a nation where the Rule of Law is institutionalized. Among those who have been very vocal about the need for these reforms are Chief Justice Sereno, Justice Brion, Justice Leonen and Secretary De Lima.

This year I am looking forward to the final settlement of the Ampatuan Massacre and other cases like the Fertilizer Fund scandal of Jocjoc  Bolante. Whatever happened to the smuggling case filed against Phoenix Petroleum?

These are just some of the developments I will be monitoring and writing about in this coming year. Some people will  ask why I have not included the visit of Pope Francis. I have written several columns about this pope including his call for just wages. I have admired his condemnation of income inequality, idolatry of money, and trickle down economic philosophy.

While he has received worldwide praises, I do not see much evidence of people, even members of the clergy, following his example and actually doing those things he asked the world to do. Unjust wages, income inequality, idolatry of money and luxury goods and capitalism continue to be widely practiced even by those who publicly praise the words of Pope Francis. I will wait to see if his visit will have any real impact on the lives of the rich and the powerful.

I want to thank all my readers — those who have agreed and those who have strongly disagreed — for finding the time to read my column and sending me their reactions. I look forward to the privilege of exchanging views again  with my readers this coming New Year.


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