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Aquino’s thriftiness rubbing off on govt, says Purisima

Katherine Visconti
Finance chief says the President spends government money as if it's his own

MANILA, Philippines – The finance chief believes President Aquino’s frugal spending habits are setting the trend for the management of the government budget.

“He spends government money as if it’s his own, which is really a refreshing perspective,” Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima told Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on #TalkThursday last April 26.

The Aquino government has been criticized for underspending, partly the reason for the drastic slowdown in the Philippine economy’s growth to 3.7% in 2011 from 7.6% in 2010.

World Bank economists have said that another round of underspending in 2012 will drag down GDP roughly half a percent point, while spending the full budget could boost GDP up to 2.2 percentage points, roughly the same amount that was lost by the dramatic drop in exports in 2011. 

But Purisima refuses to look at it this way. He says that as part of its good governance thrust, the Aquino government is being prudent in its spending.

He shares that even the President puts a cap on his expenses, such as when he travels on official business abroad.

“And I’ve traveled with many presidents,” said Purisima, who was first appointed finance secretary under Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, but resigned at the height of the infamous “Hello Garci” election scandal in 2005. 

Arroyo, his former boss, is currently facing charges of corruption for her role in the botched $320-million National Broadband Project of the goverment with Chinese firm ZTE Corp. in 2007. She is currently detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City on a separate charge of electoral sabotage.

The finance chief said that during the previous administration, the president always traveled by chartered jet with big delegations. “We even had 2 planes – US style – one reserved plane.”

But Aquino “travels commercial and only charters when it is impractical to fly commercial,” he noted.

Purisima added, “The team he (Aquino) brings is very limited. And he only travels when there is a purpose and he will accomplish something to improve the situation of the country.”

Numerous reports have chronicled the President’s spend thrift mentality — from the $2-dollar hotdog and coke he lunched in New York to his third-hand speakers.

New track record 

In handling the country’s finances, Purisima cited Aquino’s mantra: “Good governance is good economics.”

He said it is the President’s hope that after firmly establishing best practices, he will be able to pass the batton to the next president, who can keep the country on a straight path of transparency and economic success. 

He criticized past presidents for hampering the Philippines’ growth. “Back in the 60’s we were number 2 to Japan and now we’re nowhere near the top. It’s been really a series of bad administrations who have mismanaged the economy, had bad policies and basically didn’t give us the opportunity to take advantage of what was going on around us.”  

He added, “It’s really a relay race… The important thing is when we pass on the batton, the person receiving the batton trusts that it is the real batton he can bring to the next stage.”

Factions in Cabinet

Meanwhile, Purisima also addressed criticisms that the President may be setting a bad track record with his Cabinet meetings.

Former President Arroyo held nearly weekly Cabinet meetings, while President Aquino’s Cabinet rarely meets in full and when it does, is reportedly plagued by two competing factions. These are the Balay group, which backed Aquino and former Sen. Manuel Roxas II during elections, and the Samar group, which rallied behind Aquino and current Vice President Jejomar Binay.

Purisima however says this isn’t the case. He points out that the full weekly meetings were often a waste of time.

On the factions, he said, “If we were just of one mind that (would be) dangerous because that’s what you call group think. If we are all thinking the same thing and it’s wrong for the country.”

“I think a healthy cabinet is a cabinet of people with different expertise and points of view, who are not afraid to express (themselves). We have healthy debates in the cabinet and the President has the stature to make decisions after being presented with different points of view,” he added. –