Aquino’s first 100 days: Half full or half empty?
by Karl Allan Barlaan and Christian Cardiente
The name Benigno Aquino III was not even on the list of presidential aspirants until former President Cory Aquino—his mother—“succumbed to cancer in August 2009 [and] the country was overcome by a wave of nostalgia for the ‘yellow revolution,’” wrote Paul Hutchcroft, director for International, Political, and Strategic Studies at the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific.
Analysts agree: circumstances have indeed catapulted the young Aquino into this country’s leadership helm as one of its most popular presidents. His mandate of more than 15 million votes is second to Gloria Arroyo’s 16 million in 2004 in terms of the most number of votes garnered by any national candidate; his winning margin of five million over closest rival Joseph Estrada is second to Estrada’s six-million margin over Jose de Venecia in 1998.
Unlike Arroyo, Aquino’s victory was not marred with allegations of electoral fraud but like Estrada, he had to contend with persistent questions on his “executive competencies.” So persistent were these that his official campaign Web site posted a lengthy essay entitled “Integrity over Competence.” The piece dichotomized integrity and competence as leadership attributes, with integrity supposedly the more essential of the two.
That was four months ago. That was the campaign.
Now, nearly a hundred days into his administration, the rude awakening is that an evaluation of Mr. Aquino’s performance will not subscribe to the pseudo-distinction “integrity over competence.”
Beyond rhetoric, a plan
For professor Jaime Veneracion, chairman of the University of the Philippines history department, Aquino’s very high trust ratings afford the president a wide leeway in terms of governance, though he has hoped Aquino would be “properly guided by his advisers knowing that he has no record of executive ability.”
“It takes more than 100 days to see what he can do,” adds Veneracion.
Still, Veneracion has been waiting for a comprehensive plan on, among others, food security and the economy, beyond “anti-Arroyo politics.”
“It would be wrong for him to say that he would be the opposite of Gloria (Arroyo) just as his mother (Cory) described herself in relation to Marcos.”
In the same vein, political and public administration expert and professor Clarita Carlos asked Aquino to present his blueprint for governance during his first State-of-the-Nation Address.
None was presented in a SoNA that was criticized by both the opposition and Aquino’s political allies.
For House Minority leader Rep. Edcel Lagman, the nation was waiting for a blueprint for development and policy direction. Instead, what was given was “partisan press release, which was no more than a compendium of motherhood statements.”
For Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, “the SoNA was strong in condemning and revealing shocking cases of graft in the previous administration, but lacking on hard-headed solutions.”
Two days before Aquino hits his 100-day mark, yet another academic, economics professor and former Budget Secretary Ben Diokno asks: “where’s the roadmap?”
Rating: “INC” (incomplete) for not having presented a governance blueprint or an economic roadmap
Aquino’s “student government”
On September 19 , 81 days into the new leadership, Senator Joker Arroyo, Cory Aquino’s former Executive Secretary, called the Aquino administration as one “run like a student government.”
The senator made the statement in criticism of supposed errors in the 2011 budget and the government’s decision to present the Incident Investigation and Review Committee report on the August 23 hostage-taking incident to the Chinese government before it has been seen by the Filipino people.
Those following the Palace’s first 100 days, however, believe that the criticism extends to more issues than just the budget and the IIRC report.
On July 1 , barely a day into his term, Mr. Aquino’s first memorandum circular declaring all non-career executive positions vacant had to be redrafted because of legal ambiguities.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda, a lawyer, said they had to “fine tune the memorandum circular since it was supposed to affect only political appointees and not all non-career officials in government.”
The circular was signed by Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa, also a lawyer.
On July 26 , the day of the first SoNA, Mr. Aquino said that what remained of the P1.54-trillion national budget for 2010 was only P100 billion, or 6.5 percent of the total annual appropriations owing to the overspending of the previous administration.
The next day, the Department of Budget and Management made a correction. What remained was P591 billion, not P100 billion as Aquino had said.
“It’s pathetic that the next day, we can repudiate the data he presented,” said Zambales Rep. Mitos Magsaysay of the opposition.
On August 12 , Reps. Lagman, Rodolfo Albano, Simeon Datumanong, and Orlando Fua filed a petition for certiorari and prohibition, asking the Supreme Court to nullify the creation of the “Truth Commission,” Aquino’s Executive Order No. 1, allegedly, for being unconstitutional.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago had earlier advised Malacañang to withdraw the order “to save itself from embarrassment,” in the face of what she called its “very shallow legal preparation.”
Executive Order No. 1 joins two other Aquino executive orders challenged before the High Court: Executive Order No. 2 nullifies alleged midnight appointments made by former President Arroyo and Executive Order No. 3 reverses an Arroyo EO which automatically grants career executive service officer (CESO) rank to lawyers in the Executive branch.
Lagman called it a “record-setting feat.”
“President Benigno Aquino very early in his incumbency has chalked up a record which is far from enviable... he has now immortalized himself as the only President of the Philippines whose first three executive orders have all faced constitutional challenge before the Supreme Court... if he strikes out on all three, it’s back to the dugout for him.”
On September 23 , Ochoa told the House budget committee that he and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Ed de Mesa “were in no way authorized to make recommendations on the IIRC report.”
Ochoa’s revelation was made after Aquino had announced that the IIRC report was given to his legal team (Ochoa and de Mesa) to assess the degree of culpability of those named in the report, so that only “appropriate cases (most likely) to prosper” are filed.
Ochoa revealed that the legal committee was constituted so that the report “may be simplified” for the President.
Asked when the undisclosed portions of the report will be made accessible to Congress and the public, Ochoa replied: “the IIRC report was really intended to be submitted to the President only.”
In the same hearing, Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang admitted that he was not promptly able to communicate with the President on the unfolding jueteng controversy because the President “had left his phone in Manila.”
Recently, amid threats of excommunication and heated debates on the reproductive health bill, the Palace declared: “the President has yet to read the bill.”
Rating: “failed”—dismal even for a “student government."
The economic front
Despite the absence of an economic roadmap, however, there were positive strides in the country’s economy during the President’s first three months in office.
The economy grew by 7.9 percent in the second quarter, mainly due to spending during what has come to be known as the most expensive presidential elections in Philippine history, and partly due to increased exports.
The country’s strong economic performance in the first half prompted the Asian Development Bank to revise its 2010 Philippines growth forecast to 6.2 percent, up from the 5.0 percent July projection.
A Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas survey in August showed the country’s overall business confidence index at 45 percent in the third quarter, higher than this year’s second quarter index, and more than double of last year’s 18.9 percent covering the same period.
The influx of foreign portfolio investments in September amounting to nearly $1 billion pushed the stock index to a record high and partially lifted the peso against the dollar.
Economists have pointed to a number of factors to account for the upsurge—higher corporate earnings, better-than-expected growth, higher exports, favorable expectations on the new government, and renewed investor confidence.
But amid the upsurge in business optimism and rosy economic outlook remain challenges that are yet to be hurdled.
The Philippines recorded a dismal ranking in Transparency International’s corruption-perception index, placing 139th out of 180 countries. The country was listed by the World Bank as among the world’s most restrictive countries in facilitating foreign investments here—alongside Thailand and Ethiopia.
Another WB report released in August concluded that the country’s poor do not necessarily benefit from the country’s economic growth. This was confirmed by the recent Social Weather Stations survey on poverty. SWS findings have indicated that despite the robust growth in the country’s economy in the second quarter, about half of its population (up by 38 percent) consider themselves poor during the same period.
Still in its infancy, much of the current administration’s economic initiatives have focused on boosting government revenues by running after tax cheats, shaking up collection agencies, and attempts at implementing new tax measures, the effects of which are yet to be measured.
As of September 24, the BIR has filed nine tax evasion cases before the Justice Department, involving about P10 billion in forgone taxes and duties.
According to lawyer Jethro Sabariaga, chief-of-staff of BIR Commissioner Kim Henares: “the biggest is a case for P7 billion for tax fraud. Macario Gaw, taxi owner.”
Sabariaga, who started in the bureau 13 years ago as a security guard, rose from the ranks to be at the forefront of the bureau’s two-pronged thrust of raising revenue through more efficient tax collection while curbing corruption. A few days before Mr. Aquino’s administration turns 100 days, he swears “this is the cleanest the BIR has been.”
“ I had been assistant chief for litigation, so I know that first hand,” he adds. “We’re filing at least two (tax fraud and evasion) cases a month (now) and we’re confident of convictions,” he said.
Rating: “passed” for not bungling management of the economy; “4.0” (conditional), pending the results of cases filed against tax evader
Aquino has received failing marks from progressive groups for not being able to prevent and solve alleged extra-judicial killings during his first 100 days in office.
He too, has been widely criticized for blunders in management, supposedly fit only for a “student government.”
None of these however compare to the amount of denigration his administration has received on two issues, which now arguably define his first three months as Chief Executive: the hostage- taking crisis of August 23 and the still-unfolding jueteng controversy. The first revived questions on his competence; the second raised doubts on his integrity. Both issues revealed cracks of partisan infighting from within the Palace walls.
On August 23, former police officer Capt. Rolando Mendoza took a busload of tourist hostage for nearly 11 hours. Eight tourists from Hong Kong died in the botched rescue operation.
During the period, the President did not see it fit to intervene on a police matter. Conflicting advisories were issued by Palace Communications officials Sonny Coloma and Ricky Carandang. Reports would later say that this was because one belonged to the “Samar” faction of Aquino supporters; the other, to “Balay.”
What followed was a slew of calls for the resignation of Coloma, Carandang and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo, for “palpable incompetence and culpable indifference”—as oppositionist Rep. Edcel Lagman calls it.
The President later admitted that Robredo was appointed only in an acting capacity and that direct management of police matters had been assigned to DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno—this, despite the legal mandate of the DILG Secretary (not an undersecretary) to exercise administrative supervision over the PNP.
Yet again, reports later revealed that it was because one belonged to “Balay” and the other to “Samar.”
Robredo eventually sat as a member of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee panel headed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. Undisclosed portions of the report which was leaked to the media said that Puno was named as one of those liable for the operation. The panel allegedly recommended for the filing of administrative charges, and a review of probable criminal liabilities against the undersecretary.
The review, according to Palace insiders, has been taking long because a “remedy” is being sought to absolve Puno—the President’s shooting buddy—of any administrative or criminal liability.
But even before Puno could take the escape route, retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz, on September 21, named him as a protector of the illegal numbers game, jueteng.
Cruz, who had claimed that jueteng continues to flourish under the three-month old Aquino regime and that he is no longer as hopeful of the President’s “tuwid na daan.”
Newly-appointed Philippine National Police Chief Director General Raul Bacalzo confirmed that jueteng continues to gain ground in 2010 as a P37-billion industry.
Cruz gave Aquino a “C” for his first 100 days.
Rating: “failed”— for not having capitalized on these “defining opportunities”
“INC” (incomplete)—depending on how he acts on the IIRC report and how he reacts to the controversies surrounding his administration
Half-full or half-empty?
One hundred days do not suffice for a comprehensive assessment of any administration, but it does provide a sneak peek of what lies ahead.
Serious issues require serious solutions, and more importantly, a serious President to implement them.
With an overwhelming mandate, Aquino should not have problems parlaying political capital into tangible results for the benefit of his bosses—the Filipino people.
But first, he should abandon the notion that leadership is a choice between integrity and competence. He should be both—competent and sincere—without any demarcation. So should those that surround him.
His speech on his 100th day in office should now detail the long-delayed economic and governance roadmap.
So do we now look at Mr. Aquino’s first 100 days as half-full or half-empty?
Neither and both. They were half-full of promises and half-empty of an actual plan.
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