MANILA’S atmosphere has never been kind to me. Each time I come home from a trip to the metropolis I get sick, and last Friday was no exception. As soon as I emerged from the tube at the Mactan International Airport I went into a fit of sneezing and by the time I got home my throat felt like I had swallowed a wad of emery cloth.

The fever that followed kept me in bed for a few days, but I was not to be allowed the luxury of forced time out from work. In between taking antibiotics I got the usual doses of phone calls and e-mails that could not be filtered without the risk of upsetting some decision-making process. Nonetheless, the break did give me some time to catch up on my reading, and some opportunity to mull over issues of the day from historical perspectives.

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For instance, in the campaign for the presidency, much has been said by presidential bets about hackneyed issues like poverty and corruption. Why, these types of spiels have been thrown around for ages, and have lured our people to put scoundrels and nincompoops of all stripes and color in the corridors of power. But after almost a century of talking about eliminating poverty and corruption, things are not a whit better. In fact, I would bet my eight cents worth, come next election, the very people who won on the platform of improving the lot of our people by eradicating thievery in government would be the next subjects and targets of the same pelting. And they would probably be guilty too.

We seem to be missing something here, though.

If I were to set a basis for which I would vote a candidate for president, it would be on his views on foreign policy. Given the tremendous changes in the world’s order, no domestic policy is viable unless crafted in the light of global social, political, and economic dimensions. And one may add, environmental concerns. In this regard, a candidate’s potential as a statesman is measured in terms of his understanding of the relations between geopolitical configurations and domestic courses of action.

The 21st century -- in fact, the new millennium -- sees a world radically different from that of the previous one. The Cold War is practically forgotten, replaced by the War on Terror. New technologies have changed the way the world lives and works, and old political ideas have been re-examined in the light of new realities. As one young Russian puts it, “Everything we were told about communism was a lie; but the sad thing is, everything they said about capitalism is true.”

So, we seem to see a new world order where a rising China succeeds in influencing the world employing imperialist strategies, while discarding Mao Tse Tung thought. Well, not quite. By the looks of it, China uses Mao’s principle of surrounding the world’s cities from its countryside by making its presence felt in markets heretofore neglected or considered unimportant by traditional economic powers. It can well be said that where Mao’s people’s war failed, cheap products and intellectual property piracy are making headway.

In many ways, we can say that the Philippines is a rural barangay of the globe, the political and economic control of which is a subject of a contest among the world’s political and business interests. Thus do we appreciate the thesis that “all politics are local.”

It is not an idle thought therefore, that in this election, foreign interests that have stakes in the country might get involved in whatever way, covert or otherwise. But we can talk about this in other columns.

Suffice to say, our survival as a nation hinges on our society’s interaction with global order and alignments. Our economy is sustained by foreign exchange from our deployment of overseas contract workers; export businesses in special economic zones serving foreign markets; and business process outsourcing contracts with developed countries. Even a huge portion of our agriculture and fisheries thrive on exports. On the other hand, as a member of ASEAN, we are part of a substantial market for products from more developed countries. Surely, we need to know what is going on in the minds of our candidates regarding this.

I am not surprised about the evasive stance of our candidates. If they are silent about their thoughts on foreign policy, it is because to speak out is to tread on dangerous ground. They only have to be reminded that Gloria’s woes began when she decided to withdraw the Philippine contingent from Iraq to save Angelo de la Cruz’s neck. As far as the benefactors of the “coalition of the willing” were concerned that was no humanitarian gesture but an indication of defiance, and a measure of the extent of the president’s confidence in playing the “China card.” Surely, it was no coincidence that the ZTE controversy, or the North Rail project, involved China as well.

Anyway, these are but food for thought that could be interesting subjects for other write-ups. In this country the lines between politics and business -- that includes show business -- have become completely blurred. In many instances campaign lines have gone down to the gutter level making one wonder what this country has done to deserve such clowns for candidates. And may God have mercy on us if they win.

In the meantime, we might attempt to look behind the unfolding tableau and scrutinize the crew, the stagehands, the actors, and most of all, the directors and producers of the biggest show on Philippine theater.

Then we ask the Lord to pardon us for mangling His words:

“Let him who is without sin stone the cast first!”