Calamity, Covid, conflict, costs: Beyond Bongbong

Last of 3 parts

THE lofty approval ratings of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. (BBM) in the Pulse Asia survey covering his first 100 days in office, roughly covering the third quarter of 2022, were not unexpected.

Not only did BBM benefit from the post-election honeymoon for new leaders; he also gained from the pandemic and economic recovery momentum and policies put in place under predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.

The big challenges now are sustaining growth and peace amid obstacles to both, like global inflation, possible recession and geopolitical confrontation. Plus: safeguarding the nation against unceasing disaster and disease threats.

The first two parts of this article covered immediate action points: national consecration, neutrality, masks and meds against disease, boosting food and fertilizer production, and importing lower-cost Russian fuel and fertilizer.

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But the four Cs facing our country — calamity, contagion, conflict and costs — look set to continue, if not worsen in years ahead, even beyond Bongbong’s term. Hence, he must undertake long-term strategies to counter these threats in coming decades.

Going green generates growth

One overarching strategy is covered by a top government body headed by no less than the President: the Climate Change Commission (CCC). Mitigation and adaptation initiatives, which the CCC is mandated to develop and push, would not only make the Philippines green, but also address the threats of calamity and costs.

Take renewable energy. RE not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet; it also cuts dependence on oil, gas and coal. Energy imports cause disruptive price instability, which looks set to worsen over the long term because of declining global investment in fossil fuel exploration, production and refining.

Harnessing our own solar, wind, water, geothermal and biomass energy diminishes the impact of world fuel problems, which are also compounded by big-power tussles, especially the West’s conflicts with Russia, China and Middle East states.

Plus: RE is favored by international lenders and investors, which seek to boost their environmental credentials and cut carbon footprints toward net-zero emissions.

Climate mitigation also encompasses another long-term strategy that builds energy independence and gains development funding support: conservation. Reducing energy consumption should be central to economic and industrial upgrading, including transport, property, infrastructure, agriculture and other development areas.

Besides expanding RE’s share in energy use, the nation should aim to cut fuel consumption per peso of economic growth. Let’s do more with less.

More than mitigation to reduce emissions, however, the country must prioritize climate adaptation to address the impact of global warming, especially disasters, declining farm production and diseases spawned and spread by warming temperatures.

As urged before, the CCC must formulate a national climate adaptation plan, including the resettlement or protection of communities facing rising seas and intensifying weather, farming measures and crop breeding to maintain yields despite warmer climes and health protocols to counter microbes and vectors spurred by higher temperatures.

Renew, reduce, research, reach out

Along with renewable resources and reduced consumption, next on the long-term agenda should be research and development. R&D is not only crucial in addressing a host of challenges, from climate change and global contagions to food, calamity and national security. It also boosts total factor productivity or TFP, which keeps economies growing even at higher income and cost levels, thus avoiding the middle-income trap stalling Asian economies in the climb to affluence.

Public and private sectors should aim not only for higher R&D spending, but also expanded and sustained links with world-class research entities as well as other developing nations in joint science and technology undertakings.

For instance, it would be good to collaborate with Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam on vaccine development. Technology for disaster risk reduction and response is another field where world-class institutions and other countries would be keen to collaborate. Ditto agricultural R&D, with recent interest from nations like Israel and United Arab Emirates.

Priority R&D areas would be agriculture, health, environment, information technology and energy. The Department of Science and Technology should have a national program to mobilize state, academe and business resources for these priority areas in collaboration with international entities. Only by harnessing know-how can we secure both future development and national independence.

The eighth strategy urged for the Marcos administration is one that is actually innate to our nation and was much evident during the pandemic: Bayanihan. Even as the government and key sectors make every effort to address the four Cs threatening the country, there will be disruptions, debacles, destitution, destruction and death.

Hence, Filipinos must reach out and extend succor and protection to the needy and the vulnerable now and for the foreseeable future. And the government, working with religious, business and other major sectors, should make the promotion and enabling of Bayanihan community assistance and cooperation for the disadvantaged a paramount social policy,

Given both the state’s resource constraints and the daunting challenges and threats the nation faces, we must dispel the widespread and wrong-headed notion that the government alone should respond to calamity, contagion, conflict, costs and other threats to our people.

Promoting charity and solidarity is not a copout by the State, but an indispensable principle and best practice in civil defense, social amelioration, emergency response and inclusive, equitable development, which the government and other national institutions and sectors should build up and build on.

And not incidentally, it constitutes the core of President Marcos’ campaign mantra: unity.

Only by helping one another in distress can we truly become united as a people, free from gnawing pains and gaping disparities, which are exploited by enemies of the State fomenting lawlessness, subversion and terrorism.

Eight points then to address four Cs: national consecration; neutrality; masks and meds; food and fertilizer production; Russian fuel and fertilizer imports in the immediate period; climate mitigation and adaptation; R&D; and Bayanihan in the years ahead, well beyond the Marcos administration. So help us God.

NOTE: The first two parts were published on October 2 (https://bit.ly/3ehiLiw) and October 6 (https://tinyurl.com/2z7j9pze).

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