In the last quarter of 2008, three attention-worthy events heralded in the region and the globe: an economic recession, Bangkok’s airport take-over/ standoff, and the Mumbai terrorist attack that panicked the Asian neigborhood. The Philippines, as part of the table of nations and of an emerging region, is never isolated from the events that knock its awareness and participation in pursuing a more secure, cooperative, and dynamic environment. Tangible and intangible factors categorized into political, economic, and socio-cultural aspects (ideas, principles, economy etc.) all contribute to how a state’s foreign policies and external relations are being shaped and likewise shape other states’ relations.
Melt. Global Economic Meltdown.
The recent global financial meltdown has caused panic to states especially those who have close economic ties (having interconnected markets, dependent to each other). The Philippine government however tried to calm the public by asserting that the country’s economic measures will surpass the financial meltdown. But IBON, a think tank, has an opposite view –it supposes that the administration’s economic strategies are precisely what have made Philippine economy so vulnerable to such factors.
There are three (3) important aspects of Philippine economy that may be directly affected by the global financial crisis recession: migrant workers, exports, and industries established by foreign investors (labor, trade and industry sectors, respectively).
Slow global growth may curb OFW deployments while those who have already been working in the US and other countries which have been worst affected by the meltdown may suffer from massive layoffs. As a result of slow deployment as well as of the layoffs, remittance slowdown may decrease domestic consumption thus making the economy quite dormant at a time. The government’s manual labor export-oriented courses of action and reliance to sustain the presently gasping economy should not be maintained for a long term basis. In time, change of policies in recipient countries may directly affect hiring of overseas workers. Competency in skills are not solely endowed to Filipino workers; if other equally skilled but less English-fluent laborers will emerge as parallel to Filipinos in terms of efficiency and competency, then recipient states may do the necessary measures to save up for their economy by laying off less-competent workers. Creating domestic jobs and producing quality goods by building competent local industries may be a feasible first-step solution to this problem. Indeed, overseas remittances to the country are vital at present. Foreign reserves are hardly needed by the economy during these critical times. But the government and the families of OFWs must already take advantage of remittance influx by investing on long tem businesses. In doing preventive actions, the country’s labor export may be reduced to an alternative solution to the country’s economic problems.
The credit crunch and financial mess may result to drops in large markets’ consumption of exports, while foreign investments in the country may be harshly affected. Some twenty (20) percent of the Philippines’ exports go directly to the US, 50 percent flow to Japan, China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia but a large part of these exports are actually components for manufacturing whose final destination is also the US. As slower growth in these markets continue, it is most likely that exports from the Philippines could suffer declining rates too.
Meanwhile, foreign investments could probably be pulled-out or uprooted from the country as a result of these companies’ gross and net losses. In the Philippines, for instance, where the BPO and IT industries mushroomed and served as few of the important solutions to the then soaring unemployment rates could face unpleasant results if the recession will worsen this year. These industries may be hit hard by the economic recession because of their considerable dependence on the US market. Given such, any gradual or sudden decrease on their revenues from could affect local telecommunications and marketing industries.
The Philippine economy, like other state economies, is linked to a large network of regional and international trade relations. Active and thriving trade relations may give way to a more productive and healthier economic enviroment. But in this time of trade deceleration, relatively less vigorous states in terms of economic perfomance could suffer the hardest hit of the global recession. Intense endurance and willingness to emerge from this anticipated global mess are therefore required in order to surpass the worst of economic odds. In addition, the government should push through with the decoupling effect where the country’s economy is supposedly much less dependent on the US. Self-determination is a very important key to attaining progress and success.
Tumble. The Bangkok Airport Take-over
The Bangkok airport stand-off reflects not only political instability but also irresponsible democracy tumbling the Thai people into their own socio-political mess and pulling the nation back to square one.
In late November, an anti-Thaksin group called People’s Alliance for Democracy blockaded Bangkok’s two important airports by surrounding each one with a 3-km long barbed wire fence. Stranded passengers initially found ways to find some comfort inside the airport until they were accomodated to hotels.
Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat, an ally of the formerly and now exiled Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, landed on Chiangmai instead in oder to escape the tension in the Thai capital city. A temporary government seat was set up in Chiangmai. The rallyists were indirectly supported by an army chief who likewise asked the prime minister to dissolve the parliament and leave his position. Somchai, as a response, fired the national chief instead who was an ally of the general. The tension grew and burst in days.
In the first week of December, the Constitutional Court dissolved the three political parties identified with Thaksin for electoral fraud in the most recent elections. Somchai resigned. PAD triumphed, but not yet completely.
This is so reminiscent of the People Power Revolution which ousted a two-decade authoritarian government under Marcos and brought democracy back to the islands. The only difference is that PAD preferred rallying at the airport than in the streets. Although this may be a good showcase of the advantages of people power, it may not be a perfect testimony to the advantages of democracy. In EDSA, the people triumphed in bringing back democray but years after the restoration of popular democracy, coups began to disturb and set the economy in shaking motion. After more than a decade, history “repeated” for in the same highway, people rallied for the resignation of then president Joseph Estrada, bringing with them only the values and principles of popular democracy which in my interpretation is a kind of democracy that is capable of toppling an unpleasant government. So is that what we call democracy?
In contemporary times particularly since the historic and significant people power revolution, people try to topple their governments through this “soft power” backed up only with reason and advocacy for socio-political changes at the national level. The Philippine example has become an inspiration to fellow Asians and other nations, showing that collective efforts backed up with a reasonable cause may bring a significant change with an impact to other peoples. But democracy Filipino style is not actually the democracy that the Thai populace represented in the Bangkok standoff.
Comprising PAD protestors are middle class Thais whose goal is to depose all of Thaksin’s allies in the government. For two years now, political violence and instability has set the country’s economy into gradual decline. PAD has succeeded at this certain period in ousting a Thaksin ally but they might flood the streets or repeat an airport takeover if another ally takes the always vacated prime position in the limited monarchy state. PAD’s actions do not just unnerve the foreigners, on whom Thailand’s economy depends, but also Thaksin supporters and proxies.
They may not have been fighting for democracy like what the Filipinos fought for in EDSA. They fight for mere change of government – one that may have been a threat to their interests as an emerging elite. Does this mean that not all protests by the people equates to democracy? What then is necessary? Responsive and reasonable democracy. With no easy fix for Thailand’s leadership woes, the cycle of suffering continues (quoted from TIME, December 2008 issue).
Burst. The Mumbai Terror
In the last week of November, India shook in terror as Mumbai, one of its major cities and the country’s financial hub, was attacked indiscrimately resulting to the death of less than 200 foreigners and domestics in a supposedly secure district of the city. That fateful day sort of ignited India’s kept grief and anger towards their inflictors and may soon explode into a threatening nuclear war between it and Pakistan, its neighbor and long-time rival on the disputed Kashmir zone. But more than just the Kashmir conflict, a deeper and wider divergence roots from something intangible –the issue of socio-religious gaps between the once single nation.
Majority of Indians blaze in anger towards their minor Muslim counterparts suspected of propagating terrorist activities in various parts of India. But Indians do not only put the blame blatantly towards their former nationals, but also towards their government. They see their government lacking effective security services and appropriate attention to settle their long-time dispute against Pakistan. As one Indian scholar expressed, “There is a pervasive feeling of massive government failure (in India).”
So do the Filipinos think of their intelligence, defense and police units. At a larger scale, they see their government being incapable of taming terrorist attacks spurred by socio-religious problems between the Christian majority and Muslim minority. Like India, there’s this long time and widening divergence of beliefs and principles between two peoples in the Philippines. If the gap continues to widen, and feelings of separation grow worse, things might burst into flames and eventually result to the collapse of intranational relations (in the case of the Filipinos and Muslim separatists) and international relations (between Indians and Pakistanis). The escalating emotions of grief and revenge from the unattended and less powerful party could provoke enormous damage towards innocent people. It is therefore the military’s responsibility to prevent such harm towards the inhabitants. Defense and security should be upheld in order to avoid enormous casualties.
In the surge of the Mumbai attacks, the Philippines must learn from the lesson. It had its own stories of terrorist attacks which for quite a time have declined. The government must tighten security, provide better intelligence, stronger defense and more responsive police departments. At present, the Mindanao conflict has been absent from daily broadsheets yet the problem hidden in the outskirts of the center may continue to intensify. If such happens, things may be too late for another hundreds of innocent victims would have bore the irresponsiveness not just of the government but of the two peoples too in settling their differences. Doing so is no easy job but looking for patches of common similarites may bring the two people closer and eventually cover the horrors of their past.
As the year draws to a close, the Philippines finds itself in a very dynamic international environment. The above-expounded events may have direct or indirect implications to the country’s external relations. External relations does not just pertain to how the Philippines conduct and practice diplomacy with other states but it also carries the idea that events occuring among these states influence and affect perceptions of each other – its peoples which then shapes international relations.
Critical times like this will surely measure how effective, efficient, and responsive the Philippines’ external relations are, and if not much so, there is always a bulky room for learning and improvement. Meltdown, tumbling and bursting may face the neighborhood next year and even in the years to come (I’m not being pessimistic but rather realistic) but an efficient and ready state would know how to attend to such crises. On a personal tone, I wish the world will someday wake and realize that it has brought itself into this mess because of its pride, and that unless it bends down on its knees and ask for God’s blessing and salvation from such corrupted and wrecked global setting, it will continue to tumble, melt and burst into pieces.
TIME magazine (December 2008 issue)