Turbulence and air pockets

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

It used to be that only political conflict could create societal turbulence. Not so anymore. Not that there are no political controversies because there are. But the totality of it all is aggravated by issues that are non-political, yet will eventually impact on politics as well. When we refer to society, politics is its nature as politics means the dynamics of the various sectors of any given society in its daily struggle for survival and progress. It is the partisan dimension of politics that really gets ugly and just makes everything else ugly as well.

Every so often in life, there are periods that are characterized by their turbulence. Today is one such moment in global life. Naturally, as Filipinos, we are seriously impacted by what seriously impacts other countries, some more severely than others. The United States and China, for example, are always important and impactful to the Philippines. The United States is automatically nuanced with Canada and Australia as far as our history is concerned. They have been strong allies and will most probably continue to do so in our lifetime. So are Japan and South Korea.

Then would be the other ASEAN states. The Middle East, the traditional source of oil and massive employment for OFWs, has been a strategic region since the 80’s. Western Europe people are relatives of the United States, genetically, economically, and militarily. That region has been a growing market for both Filipino workers and immigrants. We cannot undervalue their relevance to us. Probably the least connected to us as we are to them would be Russia, Africa, and South America.

Ecologically and technologically, the interconnectedness of the global village is undisputed today. Turbulence in key countries or key areas is automatic turbulence for Filipinos. With foreign remittances as a massive economic resource and a more critical cushion for political unrest, OFWs and Filipino immigrants make the Philippines extra sensitive to the conflicts and controversies that beset them.

The Philippines is inside a proxy war between the US and China, an apparent struggle for control for the seas around our region. China has actually invaded the Philippines – if the country seriously believes its rights and ownership of the islands involved. That island-grabbing establishes China as an adversary of the Philippines on the principle that actions speak louder than words.

Our government says that China is too big, too powerful for us to fight. Well, that is true. The question, therefore, is – what do we do?

The United States, too, is too big and too powerful for us to fight. The same question, then, – what do we do?

The thing with giants is that they hold sway over those smaller and weaker than them. Our only recourse is our willingness to take the gravest of consequences if we should decide to fight them. We do not want to, but we do not want to be their slaves either. We are not yet in a corner but the space is fast contracting. The recess will not last, though, unless the giants say so by becoming more friendly with one another. Now, how possible is that?

The Philippines has been on a good roll – economically. The past 20 years have seen steady growth and have shrugged off some dips and slowdowns. We even have the budget for a Build, Build, Build national program. And we can easily borrow the rest as our credit standing is good – like our growth rate.

Being on a roll, however, does not make us solid. Our self-sufficiency journey is far from over – if it has begun at all. We still have an ongoing insurgency in our hands, and insurgency that cannot win but cannot seem to be erased as well. I am grateful that Mindanao is now experimenting with peace instead of secession. That leaves us with terrorists and unexplained murders since these are not proven extrajudicial killings. So many other assassinations as well.

Now, the biggest scare of them all – the Wuhan virus, the novel coronavirus, and now called COVID19. The real scare, by the way, is not yet here, it is more global than domestic. The level of the scare here is really low. That is good, as panic does not help. Preparedness does, however, and that preparedness is really up to us, not to government. Not yet anyway because the epidemic is not here. The infected are not that many to qualify as an epidemic.

There is something really bad happening in China, in South Korea, and in Iran. If the infection rate they have happens here, it will be a total disaster. That is why we have to monitor closely what is happening in the worst-hit countries. We already have a problem with the transparency of China and Iran, so we can only check the developments in South Korea. There is Hong Kong and Japan, too, whose examples should be of great help to us. They are vulnerable but the will and resources to contain and cure.

With over 30 countries currently reporting to have incidences of COVID19, the Philippines is not in a safe position. We are lucky but definitely not safe, especially Metro Manila because of its abnormal population density that makes contamination easier. While we are not yet affected, the government (DOH and DILG) may want to designate quarantine areas in the most vulnerable of barangays or towns or cities. They may also want to prepare first responders in our barangays whom people can identify as those they can run to. Plus quarantine facilities. It is difficult for tens of millions to just call the DOH for anything.

We have air pockets now but not yet turbulence of significance. Our flight remains relatively smooth. Now is the time to assess our knowledge of the threats out there, to consolidate our resources, and prepare our communities. Now, more than ever, we need to be together, not against each other.

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