Understanding opportunities beyond politics

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase-Albert del Rosario Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies

This year, a great deal changed in the Philippines and around the world. During the first months of 2016, many of us were absorbed by the elections and the stellar performance of a dark-horse candidate named Rodrigo Duterte. In the months since his election, President Duterte has lived up to his promise of shaking up the political establishment and bringing the government closer to everyday people through his focus on law and order, eliminating corruption, and federalism.

In other countries, outsider candidates, parties and causes have seen undeniable success. The most recent and familiar example is Donald Trump, who campaigned on returning jobs to the working class, anti-Muslim and anti-immigration policies, and on “draining the swamp” in Washington, DC. There have been similar themes at work in the United Kingdom, where people voted in June to leave the European Union, as well as in France and Italy.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from ballot boxes around the world, it must be that the political establishment of any country should not be slow to recognize the currents of change and what these changes represent. In the West, as well as in the Philippines, voters are looking for effective governments that safeguard their jobs and provide safety from violence. When governments are believed to be taking their eyes off that ball, voters register their dissatisfaction—even if it means disturbing fundamentals that most people take for granted.

In these dynamic times, we are reminded of the adage that “all politics are local.” Here in the Philippines, the May elections demonstrated the importance of neighborhood politics and the day-to-day. A federal system of government may help bring politics closer to the people, and the forthcoming discussion on the merits of any new system should be at the top of Filipinos’ minds going into 2017. Although federalism is an idea that has been floated for years, it took Mr. Duterte’s election to bring the possibility to the forefront.

In line with the global “local” trend, the conversation on the West Philippine Sea cannot be separated from homegrown concerns. For many Filipinos, the maritime disputes are important because of their impacts on our economic lifeblood. For fishermen, access to Scarborough Shoal is about continuing their livelihoods and way of life. For others, the exhaustion of the Malampaya gas field by 2030 makes it important for us to survey and exploit our resources at Reed Bank. There are competitive tendencies in the region, but these can be channeled toward fair outcomes for all. In the next year, the Philippines’ leadership of Asean can be a platform for us to encourage constructive relations with our neighbors.

As always, we are interested in boosting the engines of the economy. This is the bottom line for a majority of Filipinos. While encouraging entrepreneurship and helping to connect Filipino enterprises with the global marketplace, we also need to consider how to help our firms develop both strength and resilience amid international volatility. There are uncertain futures ahead for our trading partners in the East and West.

Despite the number of changes that surround us, I am optimistic that in the year ahead our people can prosper and our government can get it right. Yet, for this to happen, we must identify the currents of change as they occur and look beyond the politics of our elected representatives.

What does this mean for an institute such as ourselves? Since its inception in 2014, Stratbase ADR Institute has published policy reports and outlooks covering topics in a wide range of issues, including foreign policy and defense, trade and investment, energy and the environment, and governance. Our objective is to contribute to strategic thinking in policy-making and to a wider and deeper awareness of Filipinos of the issues that could have a strong impact on our society. The year 2017 will be an important year for Filipinos to focus on the key issues that will shape our future.

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