A roller-coaster year
The Philippines welcomed 2015 with great anticipation for the visit of Pope Francis. The year started on that high, liberating note—the Pope’s presence among the poor and the survivors of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
Then, barely a week later, a violent scene: the killing in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, of 44 PNP Special Action Force commandos, 17 Moro rebels, and three civilians. Emotions ran high; responses to the crisis revealed extreme polarization. The Bangsamoro Basic Law, which was expected to have been passed by June, became collateral damage.
Traffic gridlock and MRT breakdowns became fodder for critics of the P-Noy administration. The “tanim/laglag-bala” scandal exacerbated the “ineffective governance” projection. El Niño threatened to last until mid-2016. Water and power shortages loomed yet again on the horizon, seemingly trumpeting the impotence of government to address the people’s continuing concerns.
Election fever set in as the Oct. 16 deadline for the filing of certificates of candidacy neared. The presidential race achieved momentum. Vice President Jejomar Binay’s run was highlighted by the Senate inquiry into alleged corruption in Makati, as well as his break-up with P-Noy, resigning his Cabinet post and lambasting the “manhid” (insensitive) and “palpak” (failed) style of governance.
Mar Roxas’ campaign assumed a P-Noy continuity stance with the “daang matuwid” mantra. The search for his running mate, marked by Sen. Grace Poe’s nonacceptance, led to Rep. Leni Robredo.
Poe’s presidential aspiration encountered a massive hurdle: disqualification by the Commission on Elections. The decision on whether she is eligible to run now rests on the Supreme Court.
Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte finally formally threw his hat into the ring, expletives overflowing for machismo effect and mass appeal.
The Asia-Pacific Economic Conference held its summit in Manila without incident amid very tight security in view of the terror attacks in Paris. The City of Light was a point of significant interest in 2015, beginning with the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo in January killing 12 including editors and staff, then escalating to the Friday the 13th massacre in November with at least 130 dead and scores wounded.
Terror, however, did not derail the climate change summit in Paris, which produced a document which hopefully will seriously deliver on “caring for our common home.”
As the year ends, focus will be on Poe’s case in the Supreme Court, which has issued two temporary restraining orders stopping the Comelec from implementing its resolutions canceling her certificate of candidacy. The aspiration of the Poe camp is to have her name on the ballot so that a possible disqualification can be judged against the will of the people.
An effective “amendment of the Constitution” by “popular sovereignty” has been put on the table. Respect for the Constitution is being set aside—a potentially dangerous precedent. The Philippines can have presidents who have been citizens of other countries if the “natural born” requirement is not deemed reckoned from birth to the time of election as president, without break.
And a yearend high: a third Miss Universe for the Philippines in the person of Pia Wurtzbach, after a major snafu by host Steve Harvey in Las Vegas.
Looking ahead to 2016 is a stark contrast to when 2015 was starting. The first six months will generally be focused on the political campaign, Election Day, and the passing of the torch from P-Noy to his successor. Whoever that may be, the Philippines must move forward as one nation. The choices may not seem inspiring as judged from different guideposts, but they are the choices. The Filipinos’ learning process in optimizing benefits from a democratic setup seems to be taking a longer time. There are many forces obstructing the empowerment of the people that will ensure “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.”
On the global front, the threat of what Pope Francis referred to as “piecemeal World War III” after the Paris attacks increases by the day. Certain world leaders are painting a “world versus Islam” scenario—an extremely divisive proposition that will work to polarize many of the more than 1.6 billion Muslims all over the planet and further radicalize their youth. Radicalization can become the norm, and violent responses will be difficult to predict and can happen anywhere, anytime.
If religion is becoming an important issue in looking at the state of world peace today, the role that Pope Francis is playing in defining a path for all peoples to consider is a phenomenon to watch. His travels outside Rome in 2015 started in Sri Lanka and the Philippines, thence to Bosnia and Herzegovina, to Bolivia, Ecuador and Paraguay, to Cuba and the United States, finally to Kenya, Uganda and Central African Republic. His message in all places is to go to the peripheries, there to encounter the poor and the marginalized in society. He is challenging all peoples of good will to act. In 2016, he will visit Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, Armenia and Malta. He intends to visit Indonesia, the biggest Muslim country in the world, in 2017.
The responsibility of religious leaders to bring real peace in the world is getting bigger. They have to be visible, to reach out to their followers and preach that the path of peace is the only option. Their followers will have to see that they shun violence. The coming year will not bring hope with traditional political leaders at the forefront. Only leaders in the Pope’s mold will make a difference in changing the world paradigm. Welcome, 2016!
Danilo S. Venida (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former president of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and is now a business consultant.
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