Wenceslao: I am worried

AS both Christmas and the New year celebrations near, I reflect on the future and I am worried. This hasn’t been a good year in terms of governance, like it wasn’t good in the second half of last year. The integrity of our democratic institutions have been tested, and that includes Congress and the Supreme Court; Congress for refusing to be independent from the executive and the High Court for splintering following an assault by Congress on Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno.

I expect more of the same next year, or even worse. Add to the problem in governance the effects of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) that President Rodrigo Duterte recently signed into law. It is, to the interpreter, a “the glass is half-full, it is half-empty” kind of thing. Malacañang is playing up the positive side while its critics is leaning to the negative aspect. Only practice can show which of them is correct.

While government would insist that TRAIN is meant to correct unfairness in the old taxing scheme, it has admitted its real intention, which is to raise government revenues for its major projects. The relief in personal taxes is merely meant to cushion the impact of the additional taxes that would be imposed on fuel, cars, sugary foods, etc. My worry is TRAIN’s effect on the economy. If it pulls the economy down instead of up, then there is hell to pay.

More so because 2018 is the year prior to the 2019 midterm elections. And elections, the president’s popularity notwithstanding, has a way of magnifying the failings of the government, in the current case the Duterte administration. Elections are the time when politicians come out of the woodwork after hiding in 2016 and are emboldened to dredge the muck in governance of even a “strongman”-wannabe like the president. In short, these are divisive.

Consider, too, that the campaign for the 2016 polls was known mainly for the unprecedented virulence of its conduct, especially in social media. It was far easier for the DDS (Diehard Duterte Supporters) to push their agenda and surprise the populace with the harshness of their campaign because they were outside of government and dealt with unprepared political opponents. Now they are in government and subject to sniping and many people can now ape their past schemes online.

I am worried because of the coming political tit-for-tat. As campaign funds starts flowing in, pro-Duterte propaganda would be countered by the antis, raising the decibel of the noise and the flow of fake news to still unprecedented levels. How would the Duterte camp react, considering that the imposition of martial law in Mindanao has been extended for one year and a nationwide ML has been floated.

Smack in the middle there would be the military, which has been trying to present itself as a solid bloc despite the obviously questionable policies of moves of its commander-in-chief. Now the crack seems to be showing in the unceremonious relief yesterday of Vice Admiral Ronald Mercado, the Navy chief—and whose order reportedly was made by an unidentified somebody up there (something that could be an interesting subject for another column).
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