2023 was a year of ups and downs, peace and unpeace, the beginning and the end. We experienced and saw how state policies and events have impacted us as a nation in the past year. Some of these are ominous signs of danger if not effectively averted.
Inflation, rice, food prices, and importation rose while agricultural production declined. The resurgence of violence in Marawi City in Mindanao saw hundreds killed in local skirmishes with rebels. There began an upsurge in political killings of activists, media personnel, and local politicos. The COVID-19 pandemic officially ended with the lifting of the state of Emergency. Many applauded the end of the desolate six-year detention for former Bicolana Senator Leila de Lima. The beginning of the controversial Maharlika Investment Corporation (MIC) implementation is causing significant uncertainty on the P50 B at P25 B infused funds from the Land Bank and DBP because these are government employees’ salaries. Millions of operators, drivers, and passengers reel under painful economic pressure with the start of the jeepney phaseout and the so-called consolidation and modernization scheme.
The Duterte-Marcos tandem may be on the rocks. Is there a crack in the making? Bowing to public pressure, Congress stamped an end to the confidential and intelligence funds for the Vice President’s office, which overwhelmed the public coffers with 125 million in the VP’s secret funds scandalously spent in just 11 days in 2022! The ICC probe into the human rights violations committed in the drug war during her father’s time is proceeding, even at a slow pace. Driving a hedge further into their political relationship is the call to resume peace talks between the GRP and the NDF, which the embattled VP Sarah Duterte boldly calls forging “an agreement with the devil,” to which retired AFP officers agree, warning (sigh! irony of all irony) the dictator’s son against “colluding with the enemies of the state.” She openly urged the Chief Executive to stop the peace initiative with Presidential Proclamations granting amnesty to the rebels -members of the Rebolusyonaryong Partido Manggagawa ng Pilipinas/ Revolutionary Proletarian Army/Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPMP-RPA-ABB) and the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) and their front organizations respectively.
BBM’s so-called supermajority in Congress, composed of 280 members of 311 lawmakers led by Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, rallied behind his initiative to end the decades-long communist insurgency with a joint manifesto for “peace and national unity.” Isn’t this a slap on the face of old friend Duterte in the light of the ICC probe that BBM has not openly opposed so far? What’s the game plan, many ask? In the meantime, the West Philippine Sea continues to run its course amid the escalating US-China tensions.
Around the world, wars broke out between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine intensified. The 2023 Climate Change Conference (COP28) climate summit in Dubai ended with an agreement for the world’s countries to move away from fossil fuels. It warned that 2023 was the hottest year, making the earth the most dangerous place. On Rizal Day, December 30, a statement circulated on social media from a group of retired military and police officers of the AFP, most graduates of the PMA. It alleged that the government of BBM “cultivates a culture of corruption, deception and coercion.” Media quoted AFP Chief Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr a “coup d’etat” is brewing and that democracy is in danger.
Averting the dangerous signs ahead
We generally have a penchant to read between the lines. At the end of the year, seers and fortune tellers share fearless forecasts about “massive and worst disasters” coming in 2024.
For political observers and analysts, on the political scene, the most telling indication of danger, or a dangerous sign of political survival, may be the first significant double-digit nationwide decline in the trust and performance ratings of BBM and VP Sarah for the third quarter of 2023, according to Pulse Asia and the Octa Research. Pulling down their approval rating was an issue of inflation and high prices of goods, low wages, job creation, and poverty reduction. Corruption, farmers’ support, hunger, criminality, and business support were other matters. But in December, their approval rating bounced back a bit.
I may need to be corrected. But I see BBM as a self-conscious political player, a maverick, a man of his own whose main personal and political obsession since the 2022 elections may be to redeem his family’s name overwhelmingly tainted with brutal and corrupt legacy. He tries to dodge all punches from all perceived enemies, a toll order. He is now in his second year.
To help avert the danger signs, he may listen to the call of the times: Solve corruption in the national expenditure program (NEP) that eats up 20% of the annual budget; Remove unprogrammed funds and unnecessary government positions; Sell the GOCCs (government-owned and controlled corporations). Stop the Maharlika Investment Corporation (MIC) implementation. BBM should seriously go for a policy of national industrialization that promotes health and environment, greater access to local resources, more intensified food production rather than importation, ensure genuine land reform, boost entrepreneurship and business growth with progressive taxation, institutionalize support from science and technology, ensure participation of local CSOs and social enterprises for community-based sustainable development; and expand social services for the marginalized poor, especially in the rural areas. Pursue the peace talks and end war. Will BBM do it?