From politics to planet, 2015 is year of big decisions

Ayee Macaraig

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From politics to planet, 2015 is year of big decisions
With major decisions, deals and deadlines coming up, 2015 is a make-or-break year for the Philippines, the region and the world

MANILA, Philippines – Decisions, decisions, decisions. Who will vie to succeed President Benigno Aquino III and US President Barack Obama? Can Southeast Asia become the community it set out to be? Will the world decide on a path to growth that won’t cause its own doom?

2015 is a make-or-break year. As a prelude to the 2016 polls, it will determine the final list of personalities eyeing the nation’s seat of power. Beyond positioning, this year will define the issues and challenges the country’s next leader must face in an increasingly interconnected and complex world.

The world’s deadline is up. After years of preparations and negotiations, 2015 is the culmination of global initiatives like regional integration, the development agenda for the next 15 years, and a climate change agreement. Successful or not, experts say the outcome will “shape the course of human history for decades to come.”

Forget resolutions. For such a crucial new year, we give you a countdown of 2015 in decisions, deadlines and deals. Don’t let the ball drop.

1. Post-Aquino Philippines: Binay, Poe or Roxas?

The Teflon of 2013 was the magnet of corruption scandals in 2014. Vice President Jejomar Binay’s sky-high lead over his rivals came crashing down last year, while Senator Grace Poe emerged as a viable challenger to his candidacy. How aspirants make their moves in 2015 will set the stage for an intense race to Malacañang.

Political firecrackers will greet Binay in the new year, with the resumption of the Senate probe into his alleged bid-rigging, kickback-receiving, dummy-using days as the Lord of Makati. Binay’s adviser and partymate Navotas Representative Toby Tiangco says his strategy will be more of the same. The same non-response, that is.

“All the more we are proven correct that the Senate is not the proper venue to answer these charges. His critics are using it for political ambition,” Tiangco tells Rappler. “Besides, how do you disprove a lie?”

Binay the astute tactician will continue to go “direct to the people,” and highlight his “track record of providing social services.” Yet with more allegations and possible prosecution coming up, the veep will have to show how his dirt-poor origins, “gaganda ang buhay (life will be better)” narrative measures against the portrait of a high-rolling, shady haciendero his critics paint him to be.

So-called Mr Misunderstood Mar Roxas places 3rd or 6th in surveys but his allies believe he is in a “good place,” especially once he announces what everyone knows: he’s running. His partymates admit that the Wharton-educated interior secretary is perceived to be “trying hard” to connect with the masses, from driving pedicabs to directing traffic in the rain.

Beyond image, Roxas’ leadership and handling of crises will be key to his candidacy. With a mixed record, will voters see more of the Mar Roxas of Super Typhoon Yolanda or the Mar Roxas of Ruby? The Liberal Party’s “sentimental favorite” will likely brand himself as the man who will continue paving Aquino’s “tuwid na daan (straight path)” but his own vision for the country remains to be seen.

Roxas and Binay have one thing in common: they want Poe as running mate. Asked about her 2015 plans, the first-time senator gives Rappler a long list: following through on police reforms, making gun ownership registration more systematic, being “relentless” in MRT oversight, and bills to help poor students and fishermen.

With her survey numbers and her father’s mass appeal, supporters say the 2013 senatorial frontrunner’s options go beyond the Senate and the Coconut Palace. Yet alluding to her inexperience, Poe tells Esquire she has yet to be convinced that she can offer something unique to make a candidacy “absolutely necessary.”

She describes her ideal presidential bet: “You have to be able to think for yourself. You have to be able to discern very well.” For Grace Poe, 2015 will be a year of discernment.

2. America’s glass ceiling: Will Hillary go for it?

“US Senator, SecState, author, dog owner, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, glass ceiling cracker, TBD…” is how Hillary Clinton describes herself on Twitter. This year, the last item will finally be determined as she decides whether to again try to make history in 2016 as the first woman and the first FLOTUS to be POTUS.

The runaway favorite in polls, Clinton will likely announce her presidential bid after March. Pundits say she must learn the lesson from her 2008 loss: campaigning as the “inevitable” winner is not an effective message. What issues and which parts of her storied career to focus on are, to use her book title, the hard choices in 2015.

Why does her candidacy matter in this part of the world? As America’s former top diplomat, Clinton set the foundation for the US pivot to Asia, seen to be one of her best legacies at the State Department. Madame Secretary pushed for a multilateral, ASEAN-centric approach to the South China Sea dispute, angering Beijing. Analysts say a possible Clinton presidency will follow through on the strategic rebalance.

A staunch advocate of women, children, gay and human rights, Clinton faces the option of identifying with or distancing from her rival-turned-boss. She said of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy slogan: “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle.”

3. APEC meet, ASEAN community: Is the Philippines ready?

Imagine Obama in barong Tagalog. Twenty heads of state will join Aquino in the “family photo” in November as Manila hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Can the capital dubbed as the “gates of hell” ease its notorious traffic? Will delegates attending pre-summit meetings enjoy better airports and roads? What show will the Philippines put on after China’s Olympics-like extravaganza?

More than the infrastructure and spectacle, the challenge for the Philippines is pursuing its priorities, especially connecting SMEs to the global market. The idea is to help Cebu’s furniture makers or Iloilo’s biscuit shops to be more innovative and globally competitive. APEC leaders admit it’s a tough but important task.

SMEs are also a focus of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The bloc aims for a freer flow of goods, services, capital and labor by December 31. ASEAN is unlikely to meet all targets by the deadline. While local industries like real estate stand to gain from integration, rice and sugar lack support. Businessmen also say Philippine economic policies must be more open to the global market.

Integration is not just about trade. Malaysia, this year’s chair, launched express immigration lanes for ASEAN citizens “to bring ASEAN closer to the people.” There are proposals to hold an ASEAN film festival or a song competition a la Eurovision as part of boosting cultural ties. After all, ASEAN suffers from a big awareness problem. An ASEAN survey shows 3 out of 4 in the region do not fully understand what it even is.

4. Development goals: What is the world’s priority?

Halving extreme poverty? Check. Halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water? Check. With its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expiring this year, the United Nations will mark its 70th anniversary by agreeing on a new set of concrete, measurable goals to address the world’s woes. The agenda will determine how $2.5 trillion in aid will be spent until 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be finalized in September are more ambitious, linking development with climate. The goals aim to end poverty and hunger while reducing inequality, making cities safe, and combating climate change. While the MDGs tended to focus on developing nations, the SDGs are universal, meaning even wealthy nations will have to cut their own poverty rates.

There are 17 goals in the proposal, more than double the 8 MDGs. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron complained that the list is too long. The challenge for diplomats this year is to prioritize, with observers pointing out that fewer goals are easier to remember and to deliver.

Philippine NGOs and officials say climate justice, migration, and inclusive development are the country’s top concerns. The Philippines is on track to achieve MDGs like providing access to basic education. It’s about to miss goals on improving maternal health, access to reproductive health, and fighting HIV/AIDS.

5. Paris climate talks: Can the deal save the future?

No global gathering in 2015 comes close to Paris in importance. In the City of Lights, 195 countries will decide the fate of future generations through a deal aimed at preventing the devastating effects of climate change. It is especially significant for the Philippines, whose monster typhoons coinciding with the UN talks for 3 years in a row became Exhibit A for action.

In this long and notoriously frustrating process, countries will submit by June voluntary commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) in UN jargon. This forms the core of the agreement due in December. Negotiators have a lot of unfinished business like deciding on whether the deal will be legally binding, and rules for compliance.

Secretary Lucille Sering of the Climate Change Commission tells Rappler the Philippines wants to see in the Paris deal long-term emission reduction with long-term financing. The commission will conduct consultations on the Philippines’ INDCs for both adaptation and mitigation initiatives like reducing emissions. 

The Philippine delegation has its own share of controversy. In the last talks in Lima, Manila bolted a group of developing nations that believe historical polluters like the US and Europe should pull more weight. To some observers, Manila’s so-called pivot was a “bold step forward,” but local civil society groups hinted it was a sellout.

Sering says the Philippines only clarified its stand: developing countries, especially those recently emerging as economic superpowers and top polluters like China and India, must also do their share to meet what science requires. Manila now heads a group of vulnerable countries, reframing climate change as a human rights issue.

“The criticisms that we cave into pressure is totally baseless,” she says. “Support from developed countries is definitely needed and the burden to reduce emissions remains with them. But we cannot be passive and just wait. If the world will not reduce emissions, we might not be able to sustain our adaptation efforts.”

Sering also made an obvious reference to former lead negotiator Yeb Saño, whose absence in Lima was a shock.

“We craft our positions in consultation with others and not just bound by an opinion of one. Declarations such as hunger strike and fasting, obviously [a non-Philippine] position and considered undiplomatic, were therefore avoided.” 

Paris will show how well this change in strategy will work. –


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