Lessons learned from weeks spent doting upon Arab People Power

First we cheered on stirrings of what we described as impending “people power” Edsa-style revolutions that started in Tunisia and spread over the rest of North Africa. Quick to fancy ourselves as the doting grand-daddies of this sort of “grassroots-initiated” change movement, we tweeted, blogged, Facebook-“liked”, re-tweeted, and email-forwarded various newsbits and factoids that made their way into our “newsfeeds” and “timelines” while gushing about how “timely” all this was as the 25th silver anniversary of a similar relic of our past approached.

Then we sobered up a bit and recalled how another desert kingdom, Iran, deposed its own “despotic” Shah back in the late 70’s and ended up the even more repressive theocratic Islamic state that it is today. More importantly, we recall our own 25-year hangover after what was just a four-day party in 1986 and how all that turned out for us. Indeed, all it did for us was remove a once credible excuse for a now world-renowned endemic inability to prosper.

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And then we looked on in horror as tens of thousands of Filipino overseas foreign workers (OFWs) deployed in the region at worst outright lost their livelihoods there and at best had the future of their jobs there become a big question mark. Even more astounding is the revelation of the sorry level of preparedeness and lack of any contingency planning on the part of the Philippine Government with regard to securing the safety of its citizens who, even before these crises erupted, are widely acknowledged to be working and residing in one of the most dangerous parts of the world.

Now, we are faced with a double whammy of an economic crisis that rippled all the way from the Arab world and exploded in relevance right in the faces of every Filipinos — the obvious impact on (1) the ability of the domestic economy to absorb tens of thousands of refugee OFWs coming home, and (2) possible shortfalls in world petroleum supply that could see energy prices skyrocketing, and most likely inflation ramping up in the next few months

That the livelihoods of a horde of Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) deployed there were at risk was an obvious reality that simply flew over the heads of would-be Filipino poets. That reality is now bearing down on the hapless little islands nation of 100 million as it faces the virtually impossible task of absorbing an additional mass of tens of thousands of warm bodies into its flaccid domestic economy.

The other obvious waiting-to-happen whammy that escaped Filipinos’ atrophied faculties for foresight is their dependence on Arab oil.

The global energy market is beginning to reel from the effects of both the disruptions in production in Arab kingdoms teetering on the brink of civil war, and the continued spread of this malaise to other desert kingdoms there anticipated by speculators. Already there are doubts that supply shortfalls can be compensated for by other oil producers simply cranking up their production — and that is a bleak scenario foreseen even while assuming that the spread of “people power” politics across the rest of the Arab world can be averted…

The irony here is that the government of the self-described granddaddy who doted upon these desert kingdoms toying around with his famous “invention” is now itself at risk of buckling under the weight of a chronic economic malaise that simply won’t go away and that is now being exacerbated by shockwaves coming from “revolutions” he cheered on halfway around the planet. Ever the hapless fire fighter trying to look “heroic” in the middle of an immense forest fire, Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III now “orders” the creation of an “inter-agency panel” to explore an “oil contingency plan”

[Energy Secretary Jose Almendras] previously discussed the Energy Contingency Task Force, or the ECTF.

“It is a staggered response to a potential shortage situation. We have not yet activated it. We will activate it at the right time,” he explained.

The right time, he said, is when there is a “threat to supply,” which then triggers a calibrated response.

The first stage is the organization of a technical working group that would prepare the mechanism and infrastructure to handle the crisis.

“We have not activated it yet because there is no “perceived significant” risks yet as of today. I cannot speak for the future,” he stressed.

“We are monitoring data and information coming from the region. If we feel that we need to prepare already, we will activate [the technical working group],” he explained.

If it weren’t for the immense and likely unpredictable repercussions all this is expected to have on many more ordinary Filipinos’ this would have all come across as just another episode in the sad situation comedy that is the Republic of the Philippines. Maybe next time before we let our emo sentimentality take over our already atrophied faculties for rational thought, we should remind ourselves to step back and regard the situation with fresh minds that are unshackled from sentimentalism, traditionalism, dogmatism, and primitivism.

8 Replies to “Lessons learned from weeks spent doting upon Arab People Power”

  1. Actually, I’m pretty torn on this issue right now. I remember reading this opinion off either CNN or the NY Times.

    Some key points that I’ve asked myself:

    1. Do we have evidence of how culturally similar Iran and Libya are? Specifically, are these two countries (and by extension, Bahrain vs. pre-1978 Iran, Tunisia vs. pre-1978 Iran, Yemen vs. pre-1978 Iran, and so on…) comparable, and how? I tried reading up on the national revolution that brought Khomeini to power and I see some interesting differences. The dynamics of the Iranian revolution don’t look like what I’ve been seeing in the news from Libya lately.

    To begin with, the Iranian revolution revolved around a personality, and noticeably, what is absent from the Libyan opposition is exactly that–a face to rally around. We had former President Aquino in 1986, just to add. The Iranian revolution was also swift, with a single, unified opposition (or at least the Wikipedia article portrays it so). Religion was a recurring theme in the protests, hinting that the shift to theocratic rule may have began as a movement far earlier than the first protest. In addition, Iran had a unified front, that is, there seemed to be some sense of national identity that overrode other ties. In Libya, we do know that tribal connections occupy a high place in the hierarchy of allegiances. This might prove to be an interesting dynamic–we might not see just one country out of this revolution, should it succeed.

    I think it might be a rather dangerous assumption to say that because Iran became a theocracy, the propensity for other states commonly lumped together as “the Islamic world” to follow suit increases. In fact, it’s a dangerous assumption to think of the Middle East and the Muslim-dominated states homogeneously. Oops. I think I just pretty much did that. But anyway… the most appalling assumption I’ve heard recently is that the Philippines is comparable to these countries beginning to (or just having finished) rebelling. Our 1986 experience is unique to us. I think it cannot be replicated.

    Furthermore, we have yet to see how the revolution itself bore fruit. 25 years to the day, and we still find ourselves in the same place we were, albeit some market adjustments. Did the revolution really contribute to the growth of our economy, or was it simply a coming together of global movements that allowed us to ride the wave with our fellow SEA countries?

    [I’m too lazy to find sources better but less convenient than Wikipedia though. Hehe. Sorry!]

    2. I don’t see developed economies being keen on interfering with the ongoing revolution in Libya. Developed economies (but mostly the US) are not bouncing back as quickly as expected. The last thing they would need right now is the potential of another oil crisis.

    I DO think, however, that it is a crime to humanity to allow a country to legitimize the murder of its own dissenting citizenry. But the sad fact is that countries meddling in the affairs of others may affect the revolutions they wish to support in ways they cannot fully understand.

    Consider India. Postcolonial India is a British construct laid upon them in 1948. In essence, the national identity of the Indian nation proves to be rather hollow, because the concept of India as we know it today is not essentially “Indian.” This is highly conjectural, and I don’t mean to disrespect any of the Hindus here (I have plenty of Hindu friends! Hehe.) but the truth behind this is that a nation does not turn into a nation simply because someone else says it is so. A nation is a group of people labeling their OWN coalescence. [Again, rather conjectural, yes, I admit.]

    Releasing Libya from the tight grip of the regime might just result in creating another “Libya” that isn’t really “Libyan.” I think we can see this somehow at work in our own country as well. How far have we gotten? Go figure.

    3. I don’t see why trying to wean our nation’s dependence from fossil fuels is not an imperative, the crises in the Middle East notwithstanding. If there is a possibility for us to be less dependent on something so volatile, must we really wait for the time when prices fluctuate excessively before we start moving?

    Hehe. Just my P0.02.

    1. Actually, screw the example of India. The Indian nationhood movement did exist. It’s just that India becoming a nation was not the result of coalescence, but the concerted efforts of colonial masters and the powerful local elite to perpetuate an illusion of a nation. India has to be more than what her colonizers and her wealthy and powerful people say she is.

      But anyway, it’s a bad example. The idea of an “India” was not purely a construct created by the Brits. Sorry.

  2. Creating and Energy Task Force, in the middle of a looming World Energy Crissis; is like trying to find where to buy LifeBoats; when your Ship is already sinking…
    What did Noynoy Aquino do as a Senator and Congressman, in his terms? He just sat at the Batasan Pambansa, and pass the time? Until, he can run for President. And, we the Stupid Suckers; are Stupid enough to Vote for him…
    It’s too late now for such remedies; they are just band-aid remedies…

  3. and now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also beginning to experience mass-protest from different groups. If it escalates, we have more than a million OFWs that might be expatriated back home. How I wish the government should have focused on creating jobs and remove foreign market restrictions instead of encouraging people to leave home for work abroad.

    1. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, because it will also translate to high prices!

      But if it does, it would be interesting to see what this government plans to do with all those workers and how to keep the population happy now that prices have gone up and people have lost jobs. An unhappy population leads to unrest, and unrest and unpopularity I believe is Aquino’s greatest fear.

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