What a country!

Jihadist terrorism has stricken the West with fear and anger, and the battle they fight is a kind of war taken straight from the medieval ages that modern society may not be equipped to confront. How can you fight a people who believe they are warriors for God, who see the innocents as infidels and the murderers as heroes deserving of precious rewards in the hereafter?

And whether we like it or not, the tide of blood poured onto the ground will soon spread to our shores. We have a significant Muslim population—a mostly poor one as in Syria and Iraq—living in their own world and territory. Let’s not kid ourselves—we’re the only country in Asia with an independent Islamic army that runs its own armed camps, thanks to the delusion of this President that he could win the Noble Prize by fooling the rebel troops into surrendering their arms.

The US invasion of Iraq had unleashed a Pandora’s box of sectarianism and religious fanaticism in the Middle East, creating a condition in which incidents such as Turkey’s shooting of Russian jets could get out of control and lead to regional, or even global, conflagration. How much could the price of oil jump if that happened, and how could our industries survive, given that 70 percent of them are dependent on that commodity for fuel?

Ok, forget the rest of the world. Just take a look at our country. Every decade, a neighbor in Asia overtakes us in terms of prosperity, measured as GDP (gross domestic product) per capita.

South Korea and Malaysia overtook as in the 1960s, Thailand in the 1980s, Indonesia in the 1990s. In the past 14 years our GDP per capita grew by only 50 percent; that of Vietnam by 100 percent. Yet, idiots like the foreign news reporters and this President keep boasting that we are Asia’s emerging tiger.

Vietnam will be overtaking us soon. To teach us a lesson for being the vanguard of the fight against its territorial claims in the South China (West Philippine Sea), China has been and will be pouring billions of renminbi in aid and investment in Vietnam, a suitable replacement for us as a market similar to ours in size.

Vietnam is also fiercely nationalistic and has been formulating and implementing the kind of national economic plans similar to what Asia’s economic tigers, China and Malaysia, have done.

Here in our own land, leaders and economists are all free-market believers, even if the UNCTAD and such former neoliberal zealots as the World Bank’s chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, about a decade ago debunked that old “privatization, deregulation, and liberalization” paradigm.

The OFW Dutch disease
Worse, our growth has really been an artificial one, and even carries a certain economic disease. Our economic growth has been due to OFW remittances for more than two decades now. Such inflows account for about 10 to 12 percent of GDP, more than Pakistan’s 7 percent, India’s 3 percent, and in Indonesia, which used to be a big labor exporter, less than a percent as of 2014.

The impact of OFW remittances on our economy is much broader as it funds the huge consumer power that explains why SM malls, Jollibee restaurants and Megaworld condos have been sprouting around like mushrooms.

Did you foolishly think it was due to increased incomes of workers employed here, or to a booming export sector? Which leads us to that “disease” I referred to, called in economics as the “Dutch disease.”

That is the negative economic impact of anything that gives rise to sharp inflows of foreign currency, in our case the OFW remittances, where other countries would, instead, mostly have the discovery of large oil reserves. The currency inflows have led to the strengthening of the peso, weakening our export sector – the undisputed engine of growth for the so-called Asian economic tigers.

What exactly do we do to fix our economy when our manufacturing, and especially the export sectors, have become anemic – the result not only of OFW remittances but of the laissez-faire policies we have adopted since 1986?

The Supreme Court decided that the law that could have helped us mitigate our runaway population was unconstitutional. So what do we do, forget about it?

No way that the Bangsamoro Basic Law will be passed now with its lies exposed. So what do we do with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, to which this inane President promised the moon? The insurgents will definitely retaliate, and pretend a fury for being betrayed. Are we planning for that?

A metropolis of 12 million, and probably a further 10 million traveling through during the week on infrastructure basically vintage 1990s; a deteriorating quality of education, partly another result of the OFW phenomenon given that many of our teachers have left abroad to be the world’s most qualified domestic workers – what do we do to solve those huge problems?

And more: A crime situation so prevalent that TV news could only rely on video provided by private closed-circuit television for public broadcast. A legal system so bad that a regional trial court judge has a backlog of cases of at least 1,000, many for crimes alleged to be committed ten years ago. The Ombudsman keeps filing cases at the Sandiganbayan, whose case-backlog, however, is even worse than that of the trial court, that its statistics show it takes seven years on average for a case to be resolved.
 
A depressing litany
I can go on and on with a litany of the country’s problems that will ruin your day.

What’s more depressing, though, is that our economic elite don’t seem to care at all, as long as people are buying their products. If the market becomes saturated, then they move on to other countries, as Henry Sy has done building several malls in China; Carlos Chan constructing Oishi noodle factories in that country, as the Ayalas are building property projects in Vancouver. There can only be so much cheap-whiskey addicts in a poor country, so whiskey magnate Andrew Tan has bought renowned European liquor companies geared for the global market.

But there is another depressing thought, which is really the point of this column:

Are such problems as these discussed in this political season when we are soon to choose leaders who are supposed to lift the country out of its poverty, so that at least the children and grandchildren of millions of Filipinos now living a life of hell on earth can hope for a better future?

Are our candidates for the highest posts in the land discussing such areas of utmost concern to us the same way the US presidential candidates tackle key issues confronting America today as migration, health care, strategy to combat Islamic jihadism?

I don’t think so.

Damn her. Because of her own unique problem, our brightest minds and writers have been forced to debate obscure issues such as the difference between a natural-born and naturalized citizen, the nature of international laws, and even the relevance of DNA analysis on citizenship. Does she have a very special quality or magical skill to give her the right to mess up political discourse for the 2016 elections?

She offers a list of 20 things “na aayusin niya,” as if running a government was a simple matter of coming up with a list of household to-dos.

Damn them. Duterte has taken us to the really sophomoric discussion of whether it’s better for us to just kill to get rid of all suspected criminals. Hasn’t that issue been settled at least a hundred years ago? He spices up the campaign by disclosing his sexual abuse under the Jesuits, burying his advocacy for a federalist form of government, which is a really important issue, or his plan on how he would deal with his MILF and NPA friends if he wins as President.

Binay focuses on his being the only real candidate who came from the poor. But we know that. What we don’t know is what his program of government really would be.

Roxas just intones the yellow party’s sickening Tuwid na Daan mantra as if he were high on hash, and simply lies about his boss Aquino’s past five years. Will he just carry on Aquino’s huge dole-out and vote-buying scheme called the conditional cash transfer? (Local political operatives are now cleverly, or sarcastically, telling CCT areas that the program will be “conditional:” on Roxas’ victory.

Meanwhile, with hundreds of millions of pesos (where did he get that?) he buys off celebrities’ favor to endorse him: celebrity politics to the extreme. That seems to be Roxas’ real strategy to win in 2016, even as the veteran of a hundred election contests, former Comelec head Sixto Brillantes says quite seriously, really, that even a nuisance candidate can beat him.

Don’t bother to ask Roxas what, if he becomes President, he would do with the MRT-3 mess, or if, as a former trade and industry secretary, he thought we should adopt what the Asian Tigers and the emerging cubs have been doing: to direct industrial policy. He’ll just say “bahala na ang tuwid na daan diyan.”

What a country, indeed. The word that best describes our exercise in democracy next year is Duterte’s favorite expression, that which he will be known for in the annals of our history: putangina.

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