FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - November 12, 2019 - 12:00am

Never has the world’s economy been so vulnerable to the fickleness of one man.

Several times over the past few months US President Donald Trump sounded optimism about the proximity of a new trading deal with China. Each time, the global economy responded with vigor. Stock markets jumped. Investments were encouraged.

Yet, each time, Trump pulled back, taking back his words and throwing cold water on the markets. At each instance, the market surged pulled back and a new round of gloom enveloped the global economy.

Last week, Trump did it again. After speaking of an imminent deal with China, he quickly reversed by declaring the US is not about to lift tariffs imposed on Chinese exports. The markets surged and then retreated once more.

It seems Trump does not fully grasp the full range of consequences the trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies bring forth.

The intermittent surges and retreats reflect on the volatility in oil prices. The volatility shortens the planning horizon not only for investments in new fossil fuel sources but also for investments in a broad range of industries.

An incalculable volume of potential Chinese investments in the US and American investments in China was redirected. Numerous US companies are pulling out from China to relocate to nearby economies on expectation the trade war will drag on.

Some of China finest companies such as Huawei and America’s best companies such as Apple have become major victims of the trade tensions. Some Huawei products have been restricted in the US while patriotic Chinese consumers have effectively boycotted Apple products.

The trade tensions have contributed in a major way to the slowdown of the global economy. That translates into so many opportunities lost to get people employed and pull families out of poverty.

 As a general rule, political leaders keep quiet while trade negotiations are underway. The Chinese leaders have scrupulously done so. But Trump in a different sort of leader. He is disposed to constantly chattering about the ongoing negotiations – often with very little basis in fact.

Trump makes those noises in a sophomoric effort to bamboozle the Chinese side. But the noise he makes puzzles the Chinese negotiators and confuses everybody else.

At these point, no one is really sure if we are closer or farther from a settlement of the trade issues between the two countries. No one is really sure if the global economy is closer to recovery or nearer a recession.

No one is really sure about anything, it seems. Welcome to world of Trump.

Against the backdrop of a sluggish global economy, the Philippines is trying to regain its growth momentum largely on the basis of strong domestic demand. We wish we had strong global growth to drive our own expansion. But that is not possible, it seems, for as long as US economic policy remains vulnerable to the whims of a fickle leader.


This whole business about Vice President Leni Robredo leading the war on drugs has transformed quickly into a public diversion, a conversation without any real direction. Somehow all the talk surrounding this development seemed to skirt around the harsh realities of the plague of drugs.

Over the past week, after Robredo accepted President Duterte’s appointment to serve as co-chair of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti-illegal Drugs (ICAD), the public hung on every word the Vice President uttered. Last Friday, Robredo convened the ICAD and listened to briefings from all the agencies involved in the drug war. She said very little after that meeting except to repeat her general preference the killings be minimized.

The Palace has asked the public to give Robredo space to think through possible alternative paths to combatting the drug menace. Politicians across the spectrum offered unsolicited advice. Kibitzers in the whole range of media have made their own suggestions.

Many are fearful that if Robredo insists on restraining the law enforcers more than running after the drug dealers, the anti-drug effort might suffer. This is after she spoke of requiring law enforcers to wear body cameras during anti-drug operations.

It is easy to sympathize with Robredo’s desire to make the drug war more humane. That is an ideal that even our law enforcers hold dearly.

But any war offers little space for the humane. Law enforcers, driven by fear for their own safety against armed criminals, often end up using excessive force. Criminals, expecting they will be given no quarters by police operatives, choose to fight it out to avoid arrest.

Then there is the violence happening far outside the reach of our law enforcement agencies: criminals killing criminals, syndicates killing snitches, gangsters shooting down unfriendly village leaders. The plague of drugs creates its won vicious cycle.

Last Friday, leaving the Southwoods golf course, I was caught in stalled traffic. A motorcycle rider was just shot a few meters from the Southwoods gate. On the road, cordoned off by police officers, the victim’s blood was running from the pavement to the gutter.  

It was a stunning scene. I froze in my car seat. I have never witnessed such a gruesome sight.

As the police officers waved us through, I had no opportunity to interview them about what happened. I suppose the police officers on the scene had no idea yet about why this happened. They looked just as flustered as I was.

I surmise this was another drug-related incident. As I drove away from the scene, I wondered when and how this scourge would end. I hope Leni helps.

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