2019 trends
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - January 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Which events stood out in 2019?

One development – unusual in my entire life – is the mushrooming of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators, the POGO service providers and of course their Chinese employees. Today it seems there are Chinese everywhere, who don’t speak Hokkien, the language of Tsinoys, and who don’t mingle with the natives except to transact business such as buying and selling grocery items and renting condo units.

The Chinese, who secure tourist visas on arrival before working in the POGOs, undoubtedly padded tourist arrival figures to a record high eight million for the year.

China has tried stopping the POGOs since gambling in any form, whether on the mainland or overseas, is illegal for its citizens. This, however, is one area where President Duterte isn’t bowing to Beijing’s wishes.

But in other areas, thanks in part to a policy of capitulation and kowtowing to Beijing, even when our fishermen were seeing their boat rammed in the high seas, China remained a big winner this year in asserting its claims in the South China Sea. 

Another disturbing first: “unli” rice importation kicked in, pulling down rice retail prices but also the palay buying price below farmers’ production cost. With rice farming no longer a viable source of livelihood for small-scale farmers, 2019 could go down on record as the year that heralded the demise of local rice production.

Equally disturbing, and let’s hope it won’t be a growing trend: suicide bombers, including the first Filipino, struck in 2019. So far the attacks have been confined to the conflict areas of Mindanao. Will the threat spread this year?

Another unusual event in the past year was the return of measles and polio – illnesses that should have been eradicated by vaccines. I’ve seen how debilitating polio can be and it’s sad that some kids might be physically impaired for life because of it.

There was also the arrival of African swine fever, which devastated the swine industry especially backyard piggeries – although it looked like the scare did not stop people from buying lechon and ham during the holidays.

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Another remarkable development was the acute water shortage in the eastern service sector of Metro Manila, which affected the west sector because water eventually had to be shared. Experts have already weighed in on this issue, blaming a combination of El Niño, corporate weaknesses as well as the failure of the government to deliver on its promised development of new water sources. 

Like the POGOs, the water issue is expected to persist through 2020 and beyond.

In the wake of the water shortage, it was awful timing for an international arbitration court to hand down in November a ruling requiring the Philippine government to pay Manila Water P7.39 billion in indemnification for losses due to its failure to raise its water rates.

This brings us to another significant development in 2019: President Duterte launching a harangue against the “oligarchs” and vowing to cut them down to size. Surveys indicate that he has public support in this battle.

With two-and-a-half years left in his presidency and the campaign for 2022 already starting informally, how far can Duterte take this war against the country’s fabulously wealthy? This new year, will we see an “oligarch” ending up behind bars, as desired by the President? Will the new oligarchs take over?

And would it make a difference to ordinary Pinoys, considering that the country has always had only .001 percent of the population controlling power and wealth?

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There were other noteworthy developments during the year, although not first-time-in-my-life events.

The war on drugs, believe it or not, slowed down on the killings this year. There were still drug-related deaths in police operations, but the numbers are down dramatically compared to the shock-and-awe of the first two years.

In the 18 or 19 days that Vice President Leni Robredo served as anti-drug czar, there was not a single case of nanlaban killing. This has been confirmed by the Philippine National Police. That was the Leni factor at work – she had warned that every drug killing would be duly investigated. But the PNP was also correct in pointing out that the killings had in fact been on the wane for some time.

The shift began when Oscar Albayalde took the helm of the PNP and the lead role in the drug war was handed over – as required by law – to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. This was why it was such a disappointment that Albayalde was brought down by the “ninja cops” controversy.

Will we see another shift in the drug war this new year? There is speculation that Duterte hasn’t named a new PNP chief yet because all the candidates are averse to renewing the brutality of the initial phase of the war. It’s significant that the PNP’s OIC Archie Gamboa has warned that the days of tolerance of recalcitrant drug personalities are over.

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The other noteworthy development was the continuing popularity of Duterte. The midterm elections provided a resounding affirmation of his public support. The outstanding performance of Pinoy athletes in the Southeast Asian Games rubbed off on his popularity. And his fury at the water concessionaires, unfortunately for the owners and their bottom line, resonates among his mass base, especially the waterless.

The year closed with Duterte enjoying a dizzying 87 percent approval rating in the Pulse Asia survey.

Midterm polls usually herald the informal start of the next presidential race. After the May elections, certain persons have unabashedly and openly started their campaign for higher office, unmindful of Filipinos’ record of rejecting the overeager and the shameless epal. Manila Mayor Isko Moreno, a big winner in 2019, is aware of this, and frets that speculation about his possible presidential run could spell his doom.

There are enough politicians who are still licking their wounds, and who can tell you about the wages of peaking early in this country. In this, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo got it right: you can dream and work your butt off all you want to attain the dream, but the presidency is a matter of fate. Noynoy Aquino and his late mom Corazon would agree. So would Rodrigo Duterte.

The presidency dropped into the lap of GMA, our own Destiny’s Child, and she held on to it for nine years.

Some call it fate; the bishops call it the will of God.

Here’s hoping God loves us in 2020, and that our fate matches our boundless optimism, as reflected in surveys, in the coming year.

Have a prosperous, joyful New Year, everyone!

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