The country’s challenges for the year
(The Philippine Star) - January 2, 2016 - 9:00am

Almost every new year, Filipinos are hopeful that the year would be better, and that their dreams and aspirations would come true. A few even said in jest that their wish has been fulfilled at the announcement of LTO chief Aljun Tan’s resignation, expressing optimism that their car plates and registration stickers will finally be available after almost a year of waiting. But as thinking Filipinos, we must seriously look ahead and be aware of the numerous challenges that our country has to face.

One of the most important challenges we will be facing is to choose the right leader who will run this country in the next six years – the man or woman who will influence, if not shape, our fate and destiny not only as individuals but as a nation. While many are happy about the steady economic growth that the country has been experiencing, there is no denying that many more are in need of jobs, and that poverty and hunger are still widespread as attested to by a Social Weather Stations survey that showed hunger incidence getting worse. 

With the population still growing at a rapid rate – estimated to reach over 112 million by 2021 according to the World Bank while Euromonitor says the total population will grow to 128 million by 2030 (a 32 percent growth from 2012) – there is a high probability that the level of poverty will likewise increase especially if the economic growth will not be sustained at a high rate for it to trickle down to the lower sectors of society.

Another big challenge would be the effects of a continuing – and stronger – El Niño phenomenon which is said to be worse than what the country experienced in 1997-1998. According to DOST-PAGASA, this could affect food security as the droughts could hinder rice and food production in the country. A Third Advisory Note on El Niño issued by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Regional Integrated Multi-Hazard Early Warning System for Africa and Asia said El Niño could be most severe in several places including the Philippines. “One of the most significant impacts is on agriculture, which is a key component of the GDP for many Pacific countries,” the report said.

Filipinos know by now that meteorological phenomena like El Niño episodes also result in erratic weather patterns, among them stronger typhoons (the Philippines in fact has been described as “the most typhoon-exposed country on earth” with over 20 typhoons visiting every year). People have yet to recover from the devastation of Yolanda in 2013 but year after year, we see more people displaced from their homes and billions worth of crops and property damaged due to typhoons – the latest of which are Lando and Nona that triggered floods and landslides and resulted in the death of 48 and 42 people respectively.

One other problem that could be exacerbated by El Niño is the tight power supply, with many still worried despite assurances from the Department of Energy that there will be enough electricity especially during the election period. Meralco, the country’s biggest power distributor, had admitted the possibility of a tight power supply with the scheduled shutdowns. Mindanao will still experience brownouts despite the anticipated opening of several power plants in the region since demand is also expected to spike especially during summer.

Infrastructure particularly in the transport sector will continue to be a major challenge especially with corruption allegations regarding big contracts such as the P3.8 billion MRT maintenance deal which has come under fire because it did not go through a public bidding. Metro Manila, which is the center of economic activity in the country, needs these big-ticket infrastructure projects to attract investors – which could in turn spread the growth outward to other parts of the country.

Peace in Mindanao continues to be elusive, with Christmas marred by the attack of Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters against civilians in Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and North Cotabato. The BIFF is pushing for an autonomous state and has also been vocal in expressing its support for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, increasing the fear among the populace that terrorist activities could escalate.

In the international front, a big challenge for the Philippines is the continued aggression of China. Just recently, the Chinese Navy threatened a Philippine military plane that was flying a military chaplain and a doctor to Kalayaan over the disputed maritime territories last Dec. 27. The Chinese Navy is imposing a “security zone” over disputed areas in the South China Sea – similar to what it did in the East China Sea where it imposed an Air Defense Identification Zone. Credit goes to Secretary Albert Del Rosario for successfully elevating our concern before the international community and winning initial rounds at the UN Arbitral Tribunal. But the problem with China is expected to continue beyond our shores.

As a democracy, we could not overemphasize the importance of the judicial system whose integrity will not be put under question. The next president will appoint 11 Justices of the Supreme Court in the next three years. This will determine how serious we are in reforming the justice system.

As the Chief Justice aptly put it: “Anyone who invests in justice invests in Filipino lives, for what is a nation without justice for its people?” Indeed as a people, we must invest in an honest-to-goodness reformist president – one who has the sincere interest of the people at heart. Are we ready to face up to the challenge? Only you can answer that question.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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