Cramming at the end

BY all accounts, President Benigno Aquino III was an unremarkable student. He graduated with no particular distinction from the Ateneo de Manila University, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics.

We have no empirical evidence, but his actions many years later as President suggest that as a privileged young student, he might have also wasted his time on non-academic pursuits, then crammed when exams drew near.

This has certainly been the pattern of his presidency, now on its sixth and final year.

With elections drawing near, President Aquino had an epiphany that the worsening traffic congestion in Metro Manila was not a sign of progress, as he liked to say, but a crisis that sapped the nation’s productivity and that fueled public anger and resentment at his government, which did little to ease the suffering of the people.

This last-minute realization has triggered a flurry of action. Traffic management on the main highway of Edsa was transferred from the ineffectual Metro Manila Development Authority to the police Highway Patrol Group.

More than a year after an MRT train derailed, crashed through barriers and fell onto a major thoroughfare and numerous other minor mishaps, Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio Abaya—possibly the most useless public official in history—suddenly declared the need for the “emergency procurement” of P4.25 billion in rehabilitation services from an undisclosed service provider that did not have to go through the required public bidding.

Also this month, the National Economic and Development Authority approved P131.4 billion in new projects in transportation and energy, including long overdue investments in expanding the city train system. But the late approval and scale of these projects suggests that they will be years away from completion, and do little to ease the suffering of motorists and commuters today, or even in the near future.

The same pattern of waiting until the last minute can be seen in the recent decision by the Commission on Elections to approve a negotiated contract for the automation of the 2016 elections with a service provider that is already the target of several lawsuits.

All this begs the question: What did President Aquino spend his energy and political capital on during the first five years of his term?

The answer, sadly, was an all-out campaign to destroy his political rivals under the guise of his “straight path” policy that somehow managed to veer away from his allies and friends.

The President also spent much time and political capital on a peace agreement with Muslim rebels that most of Congress considered unconstitutional and unacceptable.

If the President had focused his efforts instead on improving the infrastructure and public services in those first years, he would not be in the predicament he is today—scrambling to have something to show after six years in office—and being questioned about dubious contracts concluded in haste.

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