THE virus (officially called the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) could mutate to a deadlier, more communicable form, or it could dissipate as did the “Spanish flu” in 1918. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) that President Duterte had designated to handle the government’s efforts to contain the pandemic will be more efficient in its work, or it will prove powerless in the face of the tsunami of infections.
These hypotheticals will determine how our country will look like for the rest of this decade. If the pandemic is not contained either due to the virus’ mutation so that it overwhelms our health services and science, or as a result of the IATF’s mismanagement (as happened in the US, Europe and Brazil), President Duterte would be a lame-duck president.
His political support and mass popularity will collapse. When death and pestilence surrounds a people, their rationality vanishes, and they would be blaming the “father of the nation,” no matter the amount of good that he has done, and seek a new savior. Again and again demonstrated in politics, to drastically paraphrase Shakespeare, it is a president’s failures, whether avoidable or otherwise, that people remember; the good is forgotten.
If this were to happen, and it is now only 13 months to the national elections in May 2022, Duterte’s endorsement of a candidate would be a kiss of death, and the Yellows or some other opposition would assume power in July 2022, reversing all of Duterte’s policies, even his kind of strong governance.
But if the pandemic is contained in the next three months, Filipinos’ satisfaction with Duterte will hit the roof, not just because of irrational exuberance that it was all due to presidential leadership. There likely will be an economic boom – our version of the “Roaring 20’s” in the US after the 1917-1918 Spanish flu epidemic – as business capacity, idled in the lockdowns, will be exploding while consumers will be buying and traveling so much, thankful that they’re alive.
The country will then have political continuity of 12 years, something many nations in the world have proven had been key to developing the economy. Don’t think of Marcos, think Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore, the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan, Mahathir of Malaysia.
Maybe it’s wishful thinking (with several friends killed by the pandemic), but I am optimistic the pandemic will subside after three months: Filipinos, when reminded, dutifully follow rules such as mask-wearing and social distancing. Vaccines are starting to come in. After the manufacturers fill in the vaccine orders of the West, which they had cornered, their laboratories producing these certainly won’t stop production. Hopefully, having reached economies of scale, they might even lower their prices. China and India have their pandemics under control: their labs can produce all the vaccines we need.
The really colossal unknown, beyond anybody’s reach, is this virus’ virological trajectory. It could mutate into a less deadlier and less communicable form, with the epidemic vanishing or reduced to something like the seasonal flu. But then it could go the other way, mutate into so many variants that as soon as vaccines are on the assembly line, new variants emerge these can’t contain.
What’s going for us of course, is that the advanced, richest countries of the world – their economies and population hit in magnitude they couldn’t imagine before — undoubtedly will harness all the science and resources they can to discover how to kill this virus. There had been complacency before as SARS and Ebola were swiftly contained, and not even really reaching the rich countries. That kind complacency obviously is no longer there. There is some comfort in the thought that so far there has been no virus-created epidemic in the modern era that science has not been able to contain.
What is worrying though is that even as the Yellows – and definitely the Aquino-Roxas oligarchic clan – have all but collapsed, the US is still a superpower, and it knows it is locked in an epic battle for supremacy in Asia and in the world, and precisely in this decade.
With President Duterte’s ascendancy, the US has lost its hold on the Philippine presidency for the first time ever, just when that superpower very badly needs a puppet, as it had in the person of President Aquino 3rd, who could actively undertake propaganda campaigns against China such as the arbitration suit against it.
And the present time is such a crucial period when China is close to kicking the US out of Asia, with Japan its only remaining US puppet. The US, however, has managed to portray itself as the beneficent superpower because of our territorial and maritime disputes with China over the Spratlys.
The US knows that it is a very serious conundrum for China. Its control over the Spratlys (Nansha Qundao) as well as the Paracels is emblematic of Chinese nationalism and pride as a nation. These are symbolic since the archipelagos were seized by two imperialist powers, France and Japan, just before World War 2, towards the end of China’s “century of humiliation” by the West and imperial Japan. The US, the emerging post-war hegemon at the time refused to return these to the Chinese, as it saw China as the new communist partner of the Soviet Union, and the Cold War against these two was just starting. To spite China, the US even gave the biggest island in the Spratlys, Itu Aba, to the communists’ archenemy, the Kuomintang.
What is also etched in the minds of the Chinese so that they can never give up the Spratlys is the fact that the People’s Republic of China’s first premier, Zhou En-lai – second only to Mao Zedong in the Chinese pantheon of revered leaders – had declared in 1951 his country’s “inviolable sovereignty” over the Spratlys and the Paracels. For China to give up its claims in the South China Sea, or vacate the eight reefs it occupies, would stir up such an nationalist outrage that even the Communist Party of China would risk its survival. But China’s claims in that sea has made it vulnerable to the US propaganda that it is the region’s bully.
For the US therefore, stopping a “second Duterte presidency” is crucial to its global strategic interests. Even at this early stage, it has launched a trial balloon in the person of former Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, whether he could compete with a Duterte proxy.
Carpio has been, wittingly or unwittingly, the US marionette since 2013 as he has been the most vociferous Sinophobe in the country and the architect of the arbitration suit that led, among others, to the restoration, albeit in new form, of US military basing rights in the Philippines.
The US move was in what not a few Filipinos call “estilong bulok” — a move intended for something but disguised to hide its intent, though in a clumsy way as to be so obvious. To show that he himself is not seeking the presidency, Carpio is the chairman of a wacky group that appointed itself to seek the best candidate for the presidency in 2022. A few months later, I would bet, that group would claim they can’t find any candidate but Carpio.
Indeed, F. Sionil Jose, the most unabashedly pro-American novelist in this country, in the guise of appealing to Sen. Manny Pacquiao to give up his dream of becoming president, in his column yesterday, already endorsed Carpio, saying he is the best person to succeed Duterte. Another “estilong bulok.”
Isn’t Sionil Jose curious as to why Carpio, a big-business corporate lawyer most of his life until he joined the Ramos administration as chief presidential legal counsel — which was the start of the tremendous growth of the so-called “The Firm”– who has never shown any interest in social issues, much less in geopolitics, suddenly became so passionate, even fanatically against China and our Spratlys disputes with it, starting in July 2011? That was when he wrote a memo, his book-writer implied, which proposed the launch of the arbitration suit against China.
I’ll write what I think is a very reasonable explanation for that soon.