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OpEd-Yolanda O. Stern

Crisis Management and Black Swans       
Tuesday, 26 October 2010 
September 2, 2010
By Amb. Yolanda O. Stern

If “black swan” is a term referring to something totally unexpected, the hostage crisis in the Philippines was definitely vulnerable to several black swans from the very start. With the country bouncing from the tragedy,much has been said in the media about the Chinese reaction and possible repercussions against Filipinos in Hong Kong. Can you imagine the mayhem if Manila were taken hostage by men from Mars or from Mindanao, which are sometimes synonymous? “The Moros are coming!!!” “What do they look like?” “They’re wearing Adidas!” “Maybe they are fake?” “Who is in charge?” “Say cheeeeese, we’re on candid camera!”

There are NO experts on matters vulnerable to black swans, that’s why Horoscopes are a permanent section of most major dailies. I turn on my PC to check for e-mail every day and check out my horoscope. I remind myself that my day is about to start and I have no control over people or circumstances around me. Who could have predicted 9/11?

And so it goes with the Mindanao Peace Talks. There are no experts in this crisis either. It has been 600 years. As I write, there are humans in motion at different levels of government, private organizations, households and jungle habitations who are planning, plotting, loving, living…tired, rested, depressed, contented, crazy…intelligent, dumb, neurotic, starving… And there is no way to predict what major crisis is waiting to happen and when. A war of independence can break out tomorrow and are we ready for it?

And there are Leaders. Some of us consider ourselves one and I am occasionally guilty although I pay to be one on rare occasions. I have never been paid to lead and do not consider myself an expert at crisis management. Most if not all leaders are not experts in the way a shoe maker can be called an expert. A shoemaker does not have to run for his position yet I suspect he has leadership qualities. There are some leaders who charge thousands of dollars to dispense their opinions, most of them regarding issues that shall or have passed. But none have ever predicted black swans even during their tenure.

What black swans await the Philippines? America? Iraq? Afghanistan? The Balkans? China? India? Many so called experts are making predictions about the weather, the market, dolphins, and matrimony. Perhaps we need to adopt the mission of my son’s jiujitsu school: To exist Clean of Mind, Honest at Heart and Strength in Body. Prepare to engage the black swans waiting around each bend through natural anticipation of the unexpected. Mabuhayyyyyy!!! 


A NEW ERA?       
Tuesday, 31 August 2010 
By  Amb. Yolanda O. Stern

Much hope sits on the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, the newly elected president of the Republic of the Philippines. Most of the voices are hopeful of ‘change’ although many do not provide detail. Forgotten are the accomplishments of the Arroyo administration. The country is moving on, under a new leader who promised a clean government. Much courage and fearlessness have been shown by his new appointments,   generating  anticipation that indeed “equality and justice for all” under his ship of state is possible and that consequence for breaking the law will be imposed from the top down. In fact he has given the orders.

The move to lease Navy lands and to consolidate the Armed Forces Headquarters into one territory in order to raise the much needed funds to equip the Philippine Navy with boats to patrol the vulnerable coastlines will have very desirable impact if it achieves its end. A great country is as good as its military’s integrity and ability to protect its citizens, so too do its incorruptible police contribute to the security and well-being of its citizens as well as to the investment climate of the nation.

One of the most consequential acts for peace from this government is imposing severe consequence against those who kidnap for ransom. The US imposition of the death penalty after the Lindberg baby incident reduced kidnap for ransom to zero. Such a bold act is necessary for domestic tourism to flourish and the new government has only one chance to show its mettle – in the beginning. Drag it too long and the faith as well as the fear will diminish.  Security must be tightened along this front.  An archipelago demands a special solution.

Immediately, the new administration should tackle the law of cabotage, in order to make Mindanao products attractive up North. It is anomalous that it costs less to ship products from Australia to Manila than from Mindanao. The movement of people and cargo by air and by sea under competitive fares is essential to a 21st century country. A secure infrastructure to facilitate legal cargo as well as legal travelers is not beyond achievement. It is easier to prevent entry than to try to expel illegal foreigners, especially those intent on staying and causing harm.

The Philippines suffers the reputation of a country that leaves the crimes of murders unsolved; of diploma mills;  of flourishing flesh trade under police protection; of visa procurement rings that lead into the foreign embassies; of politicians and the wealthy getting away with murder for hire or even murder itself; of crony capitalism as the  accepted norm; of thousands of foreign illegal immigrants who enjoy easy entry and exit; of a country where people fear the law as much as they fear the criminals; one can go on…

Most of the above can be cleaned out in a month of intense coordination between the appropriate government agencies.  We have geniuses in our country as well as real experts on the psycho-social makeup and culture of the Filipino.  We must lead the parade of well meaning outside interventions into the heart of our problems and dictate the path to take honestly, candidly, and with a very clear and written mission. 

Not much has been said in the media about US-Philippines relationship other than quotes from the new US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. reiterating our long standing friendship on many fronts. Lately it has been  Pres. Aquino’s trip to address the UN next September 24 and the signing of the US Millennium Challenge Corp. agreement  of $434 million that dominates the news. There are rumors of a proposal by the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to continue the Mindanao peace talks during that time as well.

Whatever the plans, the “Mindanao Factor” will dog this new administration as it did all other administrations if a major solution is not reached, in the beginning. The US envoy turning over 4 gunboats to PNP in Puerto Princessa City may signify where US interests lay. The oil has to be protected, both there and in the Sulu Seas. The question is protection by whom and from whom? Another potentially significant product that may need guarding is deuterium (heavy water) now that the Lawrence Berkeley Lab has successfully fired an atom in an enclosed chamber to produce a significant blowup.

So the Philippines is very much married to its old beau, the U.S.A., and an imminent divorce is not in the horizon. Some critics would claim that a relationship not based on equality is fraught with underlying resentment. This matter is daily displayed among the men in the military since VFA where Filipino soldiers are barred from going past the US perimeters in the bases. Some US personnel have even taken to addressing their Filipino counterparts NOT by their titles in front of their own men. Then there are the claims that US personnel are engaged in non advisory activities. These are small problems that can fester if not handled in a joint marriage counseling session where the US mission in the Philippines can be made very clear to both sides.

For all of the above, the Philippines is “paradise” compared to other countries in Asia and I’m willing to bet on it.  We must learn to give credit wherever and whenever it is due, and it behooves us all to throw in our support to the honorable men and women we have elected into office whether it be moral, in kind, or with correct behavior.

Amb. Y.O.Stern,  President – One World Institute –                                                                                                

President Emeritus – FPACC

(The views reflected here are the author’s alone, and do not in any way reflect the views of FPACC.)