The end of the year is always a good time to look back at the events during the year that made living in this country exasperating and frustrating but also exhilarating and exciting. So here then is the list of events in 2008 that rocked my world. Obviously, it’s a personal list and what’s in it may not sit well with others. But as has been said many times many ways, the relevance and gravity of an event is determined and measured by the personal circumstances of the person viewing it. It’s called subjective reality.
I think the two major global events that defined 2008 and which will have far-reaching implications on the world are the financial debacle that saw the collapse of major financial institutions and the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. The two events represent two extremes —on one hand, financial wreckage and devastation; on the other, hope and inspiration.
The financial catastrophe brought to their knees institutions once thought to be invincible such as Lehman Brothers. Other global financial giants that were affected included American International Group, Wachovia Bank, Merrill Lynch, and even Citibank. The repercussions of the 2008 financial crisis will continue to be felt in 2009 and everybody is predicting tougher times ahead. There are many things that can be learned from the crisis, one of which is that unfettered deregulation has its downside.
The Philippines, although described as an “island of calm” at the height of the crisis, was not spared. A number of our banks will have to declare lower net incomes for the year. Economists cannot agree yet on what the prognoses are for the country in 2009. I am not an economist, but I think that while 2009 will be a difficult year, we will prevail on account of three factors. First, the economy is not heavily dependent on exports. This is ironic because in another time, this would have been cause for much concern. Second, our economic fundamentals are relatively stronger. And three, the 2010 elections are in the offing. As we all know, elections are not only diversionary they also create surges in local economies.
On the other hand, the election of the first African American to the highest post in the United States sent a very strong message of hope to the world. Obama represented a lot of things—change, youth, optimism, courage, faith, the power of dreams, etc. His election was timely precisely because it happened at a time when the financial crisis was happening.
On the local front, a number of politicians have clambered onto the Obama bandwagon packaging themselves as this country’s new emblem of hope. Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay, in fact, went as far as to call himself the Barack Obama of the Philippines. My sources say that Binay is quite serious in his presidential bid and that as far as he is concerned, it’s all systems go for 2010.
I agree that what this country needs is a Barack Obama—someone who can galvanize all of us into action, someone who can provide the inspiration and the stewardship to lead us out of the quagmire that we find ourselves in. Unfortunately, contrary to what our politicians seem to think, it’s not just about appropriating the name and image.
The major political event of the year was Jose de Venecia Sr.’s fall from power and the subsequent severing of ties between erstwhile allies the De Venecias and the Arroyos. De Venecia’s swan song was painful to watch as the man struck blindly at everyone who was party to his downfall. He delivered threats and promised to tell all. He is still making those threats and still making promises to this day.
The other major political event that defined 2008 happened to be connected to de Venecia’s ouster as Speaker of the House: The ZTE scandal.
The most celebrated quote of the year emerged from the same scandal: “Moderate their greed.” This was supposed to have been the instructions of former Economic Planning Secretary now Social Security System chairperson Romulo Neri to ZTE scandal whistleblower Jun Lozada. The government’s (mis)handling of Lozada would turn out to be a series of embarrassing blunders that eventually resulted in Lozada’s lugubrious turn at the Senate hearings on the ZTE scandal.
There are many things we have learned from the ZTE scandal. First, that the greed of certain people truly knows no limits. Second, that there are also limits to what ordinary mortals can take as far as intimidation and coercion are concerned and when pushed against the wall, some people become even more emboldened rather than cowed into submission. And third, our Senate hearings are still a better source of entertainment and many of our senators seem to use them primarily as workshops to hone their acting skills.
In 2008, blogs and blogging shot to national prominence as alternative media courtesy of a blog put up by an Australian gay man so that he can collect his lifetime savings of about $70,000, which was allegedly swindled from him by his Filipino gay socialite lover. The blog became an overnight sensation mainly because of its predilection to spew salacious and lurid details about sex, drugs, and dirt. But when the fount of scandalous revelations emptied out, public attention waned and the social set that used to be the object of ridicule has since then slowly reassumed their high perch on the social ladder.
Toward the end of the year, the Health Department finally admitted that the rate of HIV infections in the country have doubled in the last year. A number of people I know tested positive for HIV and the alarm bells are finally ringing for real. Unfortunately, it seems people are not listening. Meantime, money for HIV prevention and for HIV educational programs is still hopelessly tied up in government bureaucracy. I have said this before and I will say it again: We are going to have to pay dearly for allowing ourselves to backslide in our HIV/AIDS programs. We used to be a success study in terms of HIV/AIDS prevention. Now, an epidemic seems like a foregone conclusion.
There were a number of really great stories during the year. But all of them pale in comparison to the victories of boxer Emmanuel Pacquiao. The Pacman beat Marquez, Diaz, and De la Hoya all during 2008. What a feat, indeed.