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Politics, World
On May 9, the Philippines held its national and local elections, electing a new President and Vice President, as well as senators, mayors and other local officials. Though the official results will be released later in June, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte is the presumptive winner of the presidential race with a 6 million vote lead over his main contender, Manuel Roxas II. It is notable that the popular vote has chosen Duterte as the new president, despite of allegations of murder, of his infamous “Davao Death Squad” (DDS), and outspoken willingness to kill criminals and anyone who dares to defy his rule. Why has this been so? To understand Duterte’s popularity, one must understand the mood of the majority of Filipinos towards their government and place in society. For one, his rise comes at a time of increasing anger against the rampant corruption in the Philippine government. This corruption is represented by the candidates themselves, in terms of dynastic families continuing to hold power, as well as in the corruption of tax funds, bribery of officials, and others. Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II, the second ranked candidate, is the grandson of former President Manuel Roxas. Grace Poe, another close contender, is the daughter of Fernando Poe Jr, a famous figure in Philippine politics and popular culture. Jejomar Binay, another candidate, has various family members in different levels of government as well as many charges of corruption against him. Duterte appears to be the antithesis to these candidates. Formerly the mayor of Davao City, he will be the first President who hails from the Southern Philippines in a position dominated by candidates from the North. He is from a lower socioeconomic class than his opponents and has declared to have a simple lifestyle, though recent reports have shown that he too has unaccounted for wealth. He is not part of a dynasty in national politics, which has been a main source of frustration of Filipinos against government officials. He stands firm against corruption, and has vowed to file an executive order to implement Freedom of Information (FOI) regarding the government’s executive branch, which was started by President Ninoy ‘NoyNoy’ Aquino Jr but had failed to pass in Congress. Most of all, the dominating feature of his platform is his promise to solve crime in the Philippines in 3-6 months, allowing for the possibility of assassinations, death squads, as well as the dumping of bodies in Manila Bay. His apparent ability to keep order in Davao City with similar methods seems to give credibility for this promise. He is what the majority of Filipinos have seen as the saviour the Philippines so desperately needs. Indeed, while Aquino has managed to spearhead the largest economic growth since the era of martial law and earn the Philippines the title of a ‘Rising Asian Tiger’, this has largely not been felt at the lower layers of society. About a quarter of the Philippines’ population remains in poverty. With the governmental corruption, recent disastrous storms that have devastated the country, and lack of visible change, the frustration has grown. It is evident that a hero is needed to save the nation. But can Duterte save the Philippines? A president’s term lasts only 6 years, and as reflected in other parts of the world such as the US, change can be slow, frustratingly so, and it can bring criticism on the leader’s apparent inability to make it happen faster. But this is also what makes Duterte so popular – he is promising quick, immediate change for problems the nation, especially its lower socioeconomic classes, have experienced for so long. The people have spoken for the Punisher, the so-called Donald Trump of the East to become the new President of the Philippines. Experts fear that this new regime can bring an end to democracy in the Philippines and cause ripple effects across Southeast Asia. Others worry for the Philippines’ foreign relations during his rule, especially with consideration to the conflict in the South China Sea. Only time will prove to tell whether Duterte was the right choice. The Philippine election results can be found at this link, provided by the news outlet Rappler. The overseas votes are the remaining ones to be counted.
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World, News
The quality rather the quantity of education will better a nation’s economy in the developing world according to a Stanford University expert. “If there is going to be inclusive economic development across the world, attention must focus on school quality and having all students achieve basic skills,” wrote Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist in a new study published in Science magazine. The implications are more important for developing countries as these countries lack knowledge-based economies. Many believe rates of school attendance, student enrollment and years of school to be major factors affecting the economy. However, economic growth is highly dependent on students’ basic skills in math and literacy. Increasing human capital – the combined economic value of the skills, knowledge and experience within a community – has been misinterpreted in its implementation, according to Hanushek. He said it has led to policies looking to increase head counts, enrollment and retention in schools, ignoring important issues related to increasing skills and knowledge among students. “We argue that too much attention is paid to the time spent in school, and too little is paid to the quality of the schools and the types of skills developed there,” Hanushek wrote with co-author Ludger Woessmann, an economics professor at the University of Munich. The study indicates ‘knowledge capital’, cognitive skills of the population, rather than human capital of ‘school attainment’, the highest level of education completed, is the key factor in economic development. The study also finds student enrollment measures have no correlation to how much students are learning. Track records show, leading world economies are changing to knowledge-based economies. “They require both the skills to innovative and a highly skilled workforce to execute new designs. As economies move from agriculturally based to manufacturing based to knowledge based, the importance of cognitive skills becomes magnified,” he said. He also added, job markets rapidly change in growing economies, requiring individuals to adjust to new demands.
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Society, World
In recent decades, the world has become increasingly interconnected not only through the trade of goods across borders, but also the migrations of people, technologies and ideas. Today, billions of people own cell phones, from teenagers in rich industrialized countries to farmers in rural Africa. In fact, the mobile phone has become so commonplace that we don’t think twice about what we hold in our hands or where it comes from. In response, some movements have emerged to urge consumers to buy local and develop an understanding of where their food, clothing and other goods originate. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are coltan reserves, a mineral which is found in almost all electronics. Mass media has sensationalized the use of coltan in such manufactured goods, reporting that industries buying the mineral are funding violence in the DRC, where civil wars have been ongoing since 1996. Polinares, a European project researching the effects of conflict on peace and economic development, released a report in 2013 entitled Coltan, Congo, and Conflict, addressing concerns about common misconceptions of coltan and violence in the DRC. Initiatives seeking to limit the revenues of armed rebel groups assume that mineral revenues from trading coltan are responsible for continued fighting in the DRC. In response, Polinares argues that little convincing evidence exists suggesting these initiatives will significantly reduce violence in the region. In reality, the underlying causes of conflict are much more complex, and unless these risks for conflict are addressed and resolved, rebels will simply shift from trading minerals to other sources of revenue.

History of the DRC

The Democratic Republic of Congo is an incredibly diverse country in central Africa with more than 200 distinct ethnic groups. Since its independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1960, the DRC has suffered repeated outbreaks of violence and lingering conflict between numerous parties, from the national army to various ethnic groups and neighbouring countries. The most recent conflicts include the First Congo War (1996-97), ignited by the cross-border impact of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and the Second Congo War (1998-2003), considered the deadliest war in modern African history. What’s causing such staggering amounts violence? According to Polinares, there are many contributing factors, not the least of which was the 32-year dictatorial reign of Joseph Mobutu, a leader more concerned with personal gain rather than his country’s welfare. Associated with his rule are the degradation of infrastructure, an increasingly incapable government, and persisting absence of national cohesion. Together, these factors have rendered the DRC a “failed state”.

What is coltan?

Short for columbite-tantalite, coltan derives most of its value by the percentage of tantalum contained in it. Because the mineral is light and durable, electronics producers extensively use it in products such as cell phones, computers, and automotive electronics. In Africa, the DRC is the largest producer of coltan, with 14 mining sites in the North Kivu province and nine in the South Kivu in the east. While some assert that the DRC accounts for 60% of the world’s production of coltan, the reality is much closer to 8%, meaning the DRC is nowhere near the top global producer.

The real impact of coltan on violence in the DRC

With the DRC’s complicated history of violence, explaining the role of coltan is similarly complex. The media and initiatives seeking to stop the purchasing of coltan from the DRC believe the mineral to be a key motivator of armed groups to fight in the region, characterizing it as a conflict mineral. In reality, the relationship between coltan and the conflict isn’t so straightforward. Statistical analyses indicate that some mineral resources may lengthen pre-existing wars, suggesting that coltan and other minerals may be responsible for prolonging recent conflicts in the Congo. But while an abundance of natural resources, like coltan, may be an additional factor that increases the likelihood of conflict, it is by no means the only driver of violence. According to Polinares, many factors that substantially increase the risk of civil war or violence are present in the DRC. These include a large territory, ethnic diversity and declining living standards. Another factor relevant to the DRC is conflict in neighbouring countries, which includes the civil war and genocide in Rwanda and civil war in Angola. It seems, then, that unless these structural and political causes are appropriately confronted, conflict will persist, and lobbying for the end of purchasing coltan from conflict regions is just the tip of the iceberg of a very large, very complex issue.
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Sustainability, Environment, World
UN member countries, non-governmental organizations, lobbyist groups and UN agencies represented their interests in the development of a universal agreement on climate change at the COP21 climate change conference in Paris, with many expecting great results. Fairtrade International, one of the largest fair trade certification groups – part of a movement asking consumers to pay a little more for a product to help the people who produce it – is one such organization. In a short video series featuring farmers from across the globe, from Kenya to Peru to India, Fairtrade sparks a discussion on the monumental importance of reducing climate change.

What’s so important about COP21?

Climate change has begun to be a front and centre issue for both developed and developing countries today; meetings like COP serve as valuable opportunities for the global community to work together towards a common goal of reducing the effects of global warming. Within COP21 is the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA), a platform where countries and non-governmental actors discuss their respective interests in order to reach an agreement on cooperative climate change action. The LPAA highlights in a statement both the mounting threat of climate change against agriculture and the fact that agriculture accounts for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, major contributors to global warming. This is a key concern for Fairtrade because many of their partners’ livelihoods are agricultural. The LPAA proposed initiatives focusing on four areas: soils in agriculture, food losses and waste, sustainable production, and resilience of farmers. Partnerships developed within the LPAA will commit money and technical knowledge towards supporting farmers in developed and developing countries to become key actors in the global drive to reduce climate change.

Fairtrade farmers

The farmers featured in Fairtrade’s video series are members of cooperatives – jointly-owned businesses that share profits with members, in their countries – partnering with Fairtrade to ensure that members receive fair payment for their goods. Generally, Fairtrade partners are farmers or artisans who partner with the organization as a way to combat the highly competitive nature of free trade that would pay them very low prices for their work. These competitive prices are not enough for them to survive on. With agriculture as their livelihoods, they understandably have many concerns about climate change and how COP21 decisions will directly affect them.

Their thoughts on COP21

The farmers in Fairtrade’s videos express a sense of urgency about COP21. From Kenya to India to Mexico, climate change is affecting small-scale farmers in devastating ways. “It doesn’t rain when it should, and it rains when it shouldn’t,” says Luis Martínez Villanueva, a representative from Mexico. Changing weather patterns are problematic for farmers, driving down production by causing droughts and crop diseases. With falling production, farmers’ incomes are falling, too. Facing such grim realities, farmers set their hopes high for COP21. Victor Biwot, a tea farmer from Kenya, says he’d like to see more activities spearheaded by developed countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support African farmers to adopt energy efficient methods. A representative of the Suminter India Organic Farmers Consortium, Benny Mathew, demonstrates that solar power allows farmers to dry 500g of seeds using 250kg instead of 1500kg of firewood. By using a more sustainable energy source, farmers in Kerala, India are able to do more work at less cost to the environment. Making moves towards greener energy use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions may seem like moving a mountain, but to small-scale farmers, it will be life-changing. “We need to have high expectations even if we don’t reach them,” Villanueva continues, “small changes in big countries mean that small countries can have high hopes.”     
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