June 24, 2017, 8:15 am
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New events and personalities in 2017

IT’S that time of a New Year when we look back and ponder the events that occurred and the personalities which caught us all by surprise. 

We are referring to the election of multi-millionaire Donald Trump, who had no experience at all in governing a nation, as the next President of the United States; the unprecedented election of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, a mayor of Davao City in Mindanao, as President of the Philippines; and Russian President Vladimir, the master political tactician. 

In the view of three political analysts in an article published by The Straits Times, real estate mogul Donald Trump, who takes his oath of office on January 20, has “rewritten a place of the United States in the world. It will mark the culmination of the most disruptive election in American history, and the 70-years-old’s path to the White House has been strewn with the bodies of conventional wisdom, political tradition and historical precedent.”

Trump won, the article went on, while wreaking havoc on all established ideas about what it takes to win an election and making a host of controversial remarks that would have disqualified a more conventional candidate. 

Time magazine chose him as its Person of the Year for “empowering a hidden electorate by mainstreaming its furies and live-steaming fears, and framing tomorrow’s culture by demolishing yesterdays...” In another Time article entitled “See the Most Googled Person in Each Country in 2016”, Trump was the top-trending person in 88 countries of the world.

After the established order in US politics was unceremoniously upended, the article noted, many are now looking to see what sort of impact Trump will have on the world. At the heart of the concern is the potential disruption from Trump’s repeated mantra of “an America First” approach to the world. 

Trump’s America is not necessarily one that sees itself as a keeper of international order and peace, or at least not without getting compensated for it accordingly. He has often questioned about the US commitment in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and said that the likes of Japan and South Korea need to pay more for the defense the US provides.

His phone call with Taiwan’s President and subsequent questioning of the US commitment to a “One China” policy also suggest a volatile approach to foreign policy that will put foes and allies on their toes. Similarly, Trump’s promises of tearing up trade deals suggest a belief that trade is not an activity that could benefit all, but a game where the winner triumphs over the loser.

Finally, Trump’s reneging on deals signed, such as the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran nuclear deal, would also threaten to undermine US credibility as a negotiating partner in the future as well as its standing as a defender of an international rules-based order. It would, in the eyes of foreign policy experts, be a stunning disruption indeed!

***

The Philippines has not been the same since Rodrigo Roa Duterte, described as “brash, tough-talking” city mayor, became President six months ago.

In so short a time, the 71-year -old President Duterte has unleashed a war on crime, illegal drugs and corruption that is “shocking the world for its brutality, but which keeps boosting his ratings at home.”

He has shown no tolerance for critics of his anti-crime drive, and also shoved aside an issue that deeply divided Filipinos for nearly 30 years. With his blessings, he ordered the burial of the late President Ferdinand E, Marcos, who died in 1989, in the National Heroes Cemetery.

Beyond the Philippines’ shores, Duterte’s shadow looms large. He has set aside a hard-won ruling from an international tribunal meant to check China’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea. 

And, oh, just like Trump in the Time magazine article entitled “See the Most Googled Person in each country in 2016”, Duterte was the most searched personality in the Philippines through the internet search engine Google. Since his assumption to office, he was already known not only in Asia but around the world because of his intensified anti-drug war and controversial statements against international organizations that criticized him.. 

Duterte remains popular but his critics, put off by his “brusque and sharp tongue” are digging in. That may lead to an even rougher year ahead of him, although a robust economy could boost his presidency and take some of the stings out of his critics at home!

***

Russian President Vladimir Putin, described as “a master tactician who has turned weakness into strength”, is ruling a country beset by fundamental problems.

Russia’s population is ageing and declining, its economy has failed to diversify and hit by low oil and gas revenues. It is also subjected to financial sanctions by the West. And even the military, whose modernization is one of Putin’s pet projects, is suffering from a lack of financial resources.

Still, Putin is indeed a master tactician in using weakness to gain strength as shown by his decision to get involved in Syria which transformed Russia from a marginal player in the region’s arbiter.

Contrary to American predictions, Putin did not get bogged down in the fighting, and his troops did not suffer heavy casualties. And unlike the Americans, the Russians proved determined and resourceful, even if their Middle East policies are opposed by most Arab nations.

Finally, Putin, with his carefully nurtured macho image, revealed that he had “some input” in the election of Trump to the White House in Washington, D.C. And Putin believed that he had good year in 2016, and might be expecting an even better one this New Year 2017.

***

Japanese Prime Minister Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be first head of state to visit the Philippines on January 12 to 13, 2017 through the invitation of President Duterte.

One of the possible discussions for the bilateral meeting Duterte and Abe, according to UNTV News, is the loan package offered by Japan to the Philippines amounting to 2.4 billion dollars for a new railway not only in Manila also in Mindanao, and to give 10 coastguard ships.
Prime Minister is set to go to Davao City and Manila. 

***

Ninety-five percent of Filipinos will enter 2017 with hope, according to a survey by the Social Weather Station (SWS). And the remaining five percent said they will face the New Year with fear.

“Hopefulness for the New Year is high regardless of socio-economic class,” SWS added. 

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A Joyous New Year to all!
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