July 18, 2022

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[B-SIDE PODCAST] Keeping the peace in the PHL

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Peace in the Philippines improved in the last four years, moving up the country’s position to 128th out of 168 territories in the global peace index, according to the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP).

The improvements were driven by four factors, including the reduction of violent demonstrations, political instability, terrorism and deaths from internal conflict.

In this B-Side episode, IEP founder and executive chairman Steve Killelea talks to BusinessWorld reporter Alyssa Nicole O. Tan about the ways in which the Marcos administration can “manage future instabilities culminating from unexpected global events such as pandemics or civil unrest.”

“Obviously, a government policy around positive peace is important,” he said.

TAKEAWAYS

Despite improved peacefulness in the Philippines, peace in the region slightly deteriorated.

“If we’re looking at Asia overall, 10 countries deteriorated and nine improved, it’s slightly less peaceful than it was in the last year, so all in all, the Philippines has still outscored the other countries in the region,” Mr. Killelea said.

Despite improvement, the country remains the third least peaceful country in the region for the second consecutive year. 

“Although it has seen improvements in the homicide rate, the Philippines is still quite high. It also has the number of different militants, some Islamic in nature, that are fighting with the state and those situations have improved somewhat, but according to global standards and particularly in the region, it’s still fairly high,” he said.

“Violent crime, it’s still reasonably high for the region as well, so you’ve got a number of internal conflicts running in parts of the country,” he added.

Peaceful countries enjoy stronger economic environments.

Positive peace, drawn from a well-functioning government, strong business environment, acceptance of people’s rights, equitable distribution of resources, among other positive factors, leads to several benefits.

The Philippines, for example, has 2% per annum higher gross domestic product growth rates than countries that are deteriorating in positive peace, Mr. Killelea said. 

“We simply find that the inflation rates are lower, the interest rates are lower. In fact, the inflation rates are four times less volatile in countries improving in positive peace compared to those which are deteriorating.”

“Foreign direct investments higher — twice as high. Debt ratings tend to improve overtime, whereas in countries deteriorating in positive peace, they deteriorate as well,” he added.

“When we look at positive peace, we also find the countries in which are better in positive peace have better mentions in well-being and happiness, better performance on ecological performance, and much better in a whole range of developments as well so therefore in many ways we use positive peace to describe an environment in which human potential can flourish,” the IEP executive chairman said.

The new administration should focus on enhancing the everyday life of ordinary Filipinos.

According to Mr. Killelea, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr., has to address corruption, violent crime, and homicide.

Based on the results of IEP’s research, prosperous countries are more peaceful: people are less inclined to fight or resort to violence to try and make ends meet.

The Philippines must balance its relationships with the two superpowers. 

“It’s unlikely in the next couple of years that we see a full stage conflict between the US and China, I don’t think either country sees it in its interest, but whether China keeps being aggressive towards the claims in the territory in the South China Sea will have a lot to do on how the relationships between the Philippines and China will develop over the next decade,” Mr. Killelea said.

“Certainly, the US is going to place more emphasis on the Asia-Pacific over the next decade, we can see that over the last few years, that will come in the form of economic support and the form of a stronger military presence also,” he added.

“The last thing you want to see is conflict or violence, breakout in the Indo-Pacific region,” the IEP founder said.

A data-driven plan is necessary to prepare the country for incoming global challenges.

“I think what the government needs to do is to create a special task force that will look at emerging threats to both the Philippine economy and the security situation,” Mr. Killelea said.

He noted the need for a “whole-of-government policy” to look at where emerging threats come from and create plans to counter them and their after-effects as they arise.

“We don’t know whether they’re going to occur or not, but having a strategic insight and doing the planning around them is not necessarily expensive. If the eventualities do turn out, they manifest and start to become real, then at least the plans are in place,” he said.

For the next two years, economic management will be key, he added. There will be a need for aggressive management of inflation, while food security will remain critical.

“There’s a need to address the needs of the most vulnerable, particularly the very poor. The government will have to address food for the most vulnerable within Philippine society,” Mr. Killelea said. “It will go a long way to improving the peace, and it will also improve the appearance of the government in the eyes of the average Filipino.”

Recorded remotely July 2022. Produced by Earl R. Lagundino and Sam L. Marcelo.

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