The year that was

The broader view - Harry Roque - The Philippine Star

Owing to our religiosity, sunny disposition and resilient nature, most of us are predisposed to welcome 2024 with much optimism. The poll results from Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations (SWS) show that a majority does not fear the coming New Year. Never mind that most respondents surveyed by Pulse Asia anticipated a less prosperous Christmas 2023. An earlier SWS survey disclosed that the quality of life worsened for 30 percent of Filipinos in the past 12 months.

Another polling firm, Publicus Asia, reported that most people believe that the administration of President Bongbong Marcos Jr. should focus on the economy and the problem of inflation. These are the country’s most pressing macroeconomic issues, according to 15 percent of the respondents. They also want the government to address corruption (12 percent) and poverty (9 percent). On a micro-scale, the public is most anxious about finding employment (14 percent), affordability of basic needs and fear of losing a job (12 percent). In terms of public safety concerns, nine out of 10 Filipinos are worried about the rising criminality and illegal drug use in communities. For the public, economic challenges are interconnected with safety concerns.

It seems the Marcos government has their work cut out for them in 2024. Provided that our leaders listen to the sentiments of our kababayans. It is also evident that domestic politics and external security threats, such as the West Philippine Sea (WPS) conflict, rank low on the people’s concerns. Daily survival and improving living conditions are always at the top of their priorities. And regardless if they weigh in on major issues from time to time.  

Summing up

Tumultuous. That is the Philippine political scene in 2023. The WPS issue, the widening rift among UniTeam’s pillars, the inflation problem, the assassination of Negros Oriental Governor Roel Degamo and the release of former senator Leila de Lima from detention dominated the national conversation. I will focus on two issues.

The year began with the successful state visit of PBBM to China, wherein he discussed the peaceful resolution of the WPS conflict with President Xi Jinping. Days after, the China Coast Guard (CCG) drove away Filipino fishers at the Ayungin Shoal. The CCG continued to attack government and private vessels with water cannons, military-grade lasers and blockades. From then on, the bilateral relations between our nations have gone further south.

America, the country’s Big Brother, finally broke its non-interference policy on conflicting claims to territories. In May, US President Joe Biden declared his country’s ironclad commitment to defend the Philippines against China. For now, I see this as an empty promise. Where was America when we lost the Panganiban Reef in 1995 and Panatag Shoal in 2012 to the erstwhile Middle Kingdom? Since then, what has the United States done to stop the Asian superpower from bullying us? Threatened by China’s increasing economic and military might, their leaders are suddenly invoking the Mutual Defense Treaty. In my view, the US does not believe the Philippine sovereign claims to the disputed WPS features. America is merely exploiting the sorry state of our military defense relative to the WPS conflict to curtail China’s ascendancy in the Indo-Pacific. Very simply, the US wants to impose its hegemonic influence in the region.

Our history with China through the centuries and before our colonization is one of peaceful trade and cooperation. Historically, we never had any military conflict with the superpower. During the time of president Rodrigo Duterte, we were able to maintain friendly ties with both China and the US. Why must we change the status quo to accommodate America’s vested interests? Unfortunately, I heard that the President has been receiving advice from a public relations professional with strong links with the US embassy. Thus, the balance has increasingly tilted in Uncle Sam’s favor. For our national economic interest, I urge the government to continue forging closer relations with China so that we can benefit from the country’s prosperity and development.  

Another major controversy is the internal squabbling within the UniTeam alliance. The rift between Vice President Sara Duterte and House Speaker Martin Romualdez seems irreconcilable at this point. The root cause: the Lower House leadership removed former president and current Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as senior deputy speaker.

According to my sources, Romualdez accused GMA of possessing Articles of Impeachment against PBBM, who was then concurrent head of the Department of Agriculture. It is related to the controversial Sugar Order (SO) No. 6, which became the subject of my Feb. 25 column. I wrote that the government allowed the entry of 450,000 metric tons of imported sugar to our shores sans a sugar order; favored three importers that were pre-selected in January and breached the selection process of allocation to importers. I have copies of the letters submitted by the said companies to the President through the office of Speaker Romualdez. The seasoned politician that she is, GMA would not try to unseat a popular chief executive. Further, PBBM has referred to Arroyo as his “secret weapon” in several official overseas trips. I also believe her assertion that she is not interested in becoming Speaker again. Therefore, GMA was unjustly accused and stripped of her previous post.

As a result of the Lower House drama, Inday Sara resigned as Lakas-CMD party chair and member. She also dropped the infamous “tambaloslos” word, which incensed Martin and his followers. As payback, the Lower House disapproved Sara’s confidential fund request for the Office of the Vice President and Department of Education. As early as September, impeachment rumors against the VP became rife in Congress. Later on, two congressmen sponsored resolutions calling on the Executive to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation of the drug war campaign. The representatives of the alleged victims have accused FPRRD and Inday Sara of complicity with the extralegal killings of individuals linked to illegal drugs.

Previously, I disclosed that PBBM is seriously considering cooperating with the ICC Prosecutor. Apparently, he was dismayed by allegations that FPRRD and retired military generals were plotting to remove him from power. In my opinion, the story is pure hogwash. Digong knows that if the military stages a coup d’etat, there will be extraconstitutional changes in the government. Both the President and VP Sara would lose their mandate. Why would a former president willingly destroy a nation he painstakingly brought to greater socio-economic heights? Would a loving father destroy the political career of his favorite daughter?

The state of Philippine politics in 2023 is both saddening and maddening. I wish 2024 will be a year of understanding, healing and reconciliation for the nation. A prosperous New Year to us all!

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