We begin the new year with a mixed bag of goodies and booby traps. And, hey, before you raise your eyebrows too quickly and too high, this is a good place to start. Before, we just came from booby trap to booby trap – in all nine years of Gloria.
When did we ever begin a new year with our economy on a serious upswing? The last time we came close to this was exactly last year, when we began the year with the first positive outlooks of global financial institutions. And we proved then right and ourselves more than right – we were outstanding. Imagine being the only country in the world outperforming our economic forecasts!
We are riding that wave of unusual growth and unusual admiration – not from local economists but from international agencies that upgrade or downgrade the credit or economic status of countries big and small. Last year saw downgrades in most developed countries, including the US and Western Europe, but only the most positive ratings on performance and prospects for the Philippine economy. When in Philippine history did we ever out-perform most of the world?
We begin 2013 with the destructive impact of Typhoon Pablo – just as we did 2012 with the horrible tragedy of Typhoon Sendong. Whatever momentum we start with in 2013, there are serious challenges, too. An emerging “new normal” climate disturbs Mindanao, a national food basket and major agri export base. It is not easy to replant because it takes time, but a changing weather pattern makes everything more unpredictable. More importantly, the survivors of Typhoon Pablo have to fall in line in major rehabilitation projects because the a big percentage of survivors of Typhoon Sendong remain waiting for new, safer relocation sites and their promised homes.
The RH Bill was passed and signed into law. It was a very controversial and emotionally charged process, the culmination of an initiative started a long time ago and finally put to a vote. Many in Congress and the Senate feel victorious, and many in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church are shocked at the creeping loss of their influence. Yet, the RH Bill was an issue that pitted Catholic against Catholic more than the State against the Church. Many want to continue the fight. And on the other side, many want to tackle the issue of divorce. Pride and prejudice can usher in a dreaded schism.
Natural calamity. Religious conflict. Add China to the equation and we have a fuller sense of the challenges that 2013 brings. China has claimed many areas that its neighbors considered their own. But in key areas beginning with the Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan/Spratly Islands, China has put a little muscle to emphasize its words. The Philippine government has tried to use diplomacy, the formal and informal. China does what it wants – which means exploiting resources of the disputed areas and preventing us from entering these.
The formula for disaster is as present as the formula for progress. In fact, the same formula for disaster has been there, especially in 2012. But the right leadership with moves that turned out good for the country got us through 2012 and earned for us a growth and a momentum that provides hope and optimism for 2013. That is not just political capital – that is economic and social as well.
In a world that remains besieged with violence in many fronts, the threat of more war in the Middle East, China and the United States dancing around each other in the waters of the Pacific, economic recession or depression in Europe, the Philippines is not exempt from the pressures these dynamics impact on others. But our politics and economics not only survived last year, they performed well. They did because we, the people, performed beyond expectation. We found a formula that works, finally. We found a leadership we trusted, at least 70- 80% of us consistently, and also the motivation to contribute to the collective growth instead of creating a collective gripe.
Against the negatives that threaten us from several fronts is a new sense of freshness and optimism. This is largely the natural energy and attitude of the young, the long missing piece of the societal puzzle that is finally awakening. This is also technology of the most exciting and powerful type, a technology that fits not only the young of the world but especially the young Filipino. This technology has become the infrastructure of social media and has made the younger generations serious players of politics and economics without their intending to.
There is a lot of noise about the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill. There is a natural interest in this matter by the reform-oriented among our people. But reformists are advocates, not mainstream. The youth are mainstream, yet they have gone ahead of the FOI Bill by creating information, by accessing it with technological ease, by spreading it at will, even if there is no other reason than just wanting to do so.
The Internet, or cyberspace, has become a legitimate arena of life, as much as the physical, the religious, the economic, the political. It is virtual reality that does not stay in the imagination but drives actions. Filipinos are fortunate that this new arena of life favors our natural talents. We may not have created this dimension but we are powerful players in it. Our leaders in both the State and the Church would do well to understand the almost symbiotic relationship of Filipinos and communication technology, particularly cyberspace and social media.
While the 2013 we face may be rife with booby traps, and they are dangerous ones, the fruits of our collective labor with a leadership we find easier to support simply give us an edge that few other countries have as starting capital for a new year. Setting aside gripers and haters makes good and productive sense as we strive to build on the successes of 2012. And welcoming the young, motivating them not to wait for tomorrow but to open new trails for us and the future, may yet be the secret weapon of 2013 and beyond.