2019 geopolitical predictions
BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - January 3, 2019 - 12:00am

At this time of the year, most publications and columnists normally will develop space to forecasting major developments and trends for 2019, the coming year. But as the Financial Times recently wrote: “In the era of Donald Trump and Brexit, protectionism and populism, is the world becoming harder to predict? For Financial Times’ forecasters, it seems so. We got eight of last year’s 20 questions wrong, our poorest result for several years.”

There are normally two types of forecasts – economic and geopolitical. Economic forecasting is much easier – although also difficult – because it can always fall back on statistical methodologies which, at the very least, will sound impressive to readers. Geopolitical forecasting, however, will ultimately rely on judgmental methodologies.

Philippine geopolitical forecasting is even more difficult because of the volatility of Philippine politics; and, the fact that our geopolitical environment is heavily influenced by external factors beyond our control. For example, one of the most important issues confronting us is the situation in the South China Sea. The Financial Times makes a prediction about the South China Sea issue.

“ Will the disputes in the South China Sea blow up? No. Beijing is preoccupied with the trade war with the United States and does not want to provide Donald Trump any more excuses to lash out at China. No other claimant country is likely to antagonise China in the disputed waters because of the overwhelming asymmetry of force that exists. Beijing will continue quietly to build up and militarise the artificial islands in the South China Sea but will not make any bolder moves, at least in 2019.”

I notice that there was no direct mention of the Philippines; but, the FT did mention “...no  other claimant country” – which includes the Philippines –will antagonise China because of its overwhelming force.  

A US based think tank, Stratfor Worldview, has a more specific Philippine-centered analysis. It says: “Increased competition between China and the United States is creating headaches for the countries caught in the middle. Still some states are finding ways to advance their interests by playing the two great powers off one another. The Philippines is a key ally in the US strategy for the Asia-Pacific region, but Manila has sought closer ties with Beijing over the last two years in the hope of economic gain. However, as China continues its territorial expansion in the South China Sea, the Philippines is now looking for stronger security assurances from the United States.”

The other question in the minds of businessmen and decision makers is the state of the global economy in 2019. Again the Philippines is heavily dependent on globalization considering our biggest dollar earners are BPOs and overseas remittances. The dismal performance of Wall Street has caused a lot of people to worry about the possibility of a recession. The FT does have a prediction: 

“Will there be a financial crisis? No, if we define a financial crisis as one in which policymakers need to rescue or resolve, more than one globally significant financial market at the same time. But we will see periods of turbulence in financial markets and a number of national economies. A reason for optimism is that global financial institutions’ balances have strengthened since the 2008 crisis. Reasons for pessimism are that interest rates remain low, debt levels exceptionally high and many asset prices high. Vulnerabilities include several emerging markets, China, Brexit-hit Britain, Italian sovereign debt and US stocks.”

It seems that the FT is playing it safe with its economic predictions. While it does not foresee a financial meltdown similar to 2008, it does see the strong possibility of slower economic growth, inflation and continuous fall in the stock markets. In fact it says: “But the positive factors behind one of the longest Wall Street bull runs are fading.”

In 2019, the Philippines will have midterm elections to elect 12 senators, all the congressmen and all local government officials. Attention will be focused on the senatorial elections. Its results usually forecast national political trends. There are still several major political developments I am waiting to see unfold.

Firstly, will  Sara Duterte’s Hugpong coalition and the Koko Pimentel-led PDP Laban finally agree on a common 12-person senatorial ticket? If they fail to agree, will President Duterte endorse one ticket or will he select candidates from different groups?

There are major senatorial candidates who have not yet said whether they are running with a group or running as independents. This list includes names like Grace Poe, Nancy Binay and JV Ejercito.  Since the campaign season is about to start, they will have to make their decisions soon.

Then we have an intriguing remark by Budget Secretary Ben Diokno who said that he expects a “friendlier” Congress after the elections. If I misquoted him, I apologize. But, if my quotation is right, this brings about a number of intriguing questions. Does this mean that this present GMA- led Congress is not a “friendly” Congress? How will they ensure that the next Congress will be friendlier? While attention is focused on the senatorial candidates, I feel one of the most intriguing political questions is, who will be the next Speaker?

The Catholic Church has had a difficult year worldwide because of all the findings of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. I predict that one of the biggest stories in 2019 will be the summit conference of all the national bishops’ conferences all over the world to discuss “.the protection of minors in the Church.” This will be held in the Vatican from Feb. 21 to 24 and will focus on three main themes of responsibility, accountability and transparency. The leaders of the Church must go beyond contrition and promises and initiate the radical reform needed in the Church hierarchy today. 

Happy and Peaceful New Year to the Filipino people!

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on Jan. 12 and 26 (1:30pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC.  For details and registration,  email writethingsph@gmail.com.

Email: elfrencruz@gmail.com

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