Report card on PNoy: Passing but needs work
MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has been boasting lately. In speeches here and abroad, he trumpets what he calls the gains under his administration.
As the Aquino administration turns two, Rappler evaluates the President using the benchmarks he set for himself: his campaign promises.
Akbayan Rep Walden Bello, National Food Authority Administrator and political strategist Angelito Banayo, and University of Santo Tomas political science Professor Edmund Tayao assess Aquino’s performance against his rhetoric. Here is their take on tuwid na daan (straight path) two years later.
1. Fight corruption
The issue that defined Aquino’s campaign set the tone for his presidency. Aquino ordered the prosecution of now detained former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the impeachment of her supposed allies, former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and ex-Chief Justice Renato Corona.
The Aquino administration also reviewed government contracts and tightened the process of releasing funds
“This is the first President I would say that is very serious about rooting out corruption,” said Bello, an Aquino supporter. “He put himself on the line here. Other presidents may have been content in not being corrupt themselves but he has been very serious.”
Critics assail the President for focusing too much on corruption, some say to the point of obsession. Yet Banayo, who worked as a political strategist in the Aquino campaign and in previous elections, said it is necessary for Aquino to make examples.
“When a former President is being prosecuted for violations of our law, isn’t that striking the fear of the law into everyone’s hearts? I think it’s part of the culture that we have to have shock treatment before we are able to ensure that laws are religiously and strictly followed.”
2. Ensure development
While Bello gave Mr Aquino high marks for fighting corruption, he stressed that this is not enough. Bello, a political scientist and academic, said Aquino has to articulate a clear development strategy going beyond poverty containment programs like the CCT. (Also read: PNoy: High on anti-corruption, not economy)
Bello explained that a development strategy entails identifying a sector that the government will prioritize, the programs that will push it forward, and how other sectors will relate to it.
He said the Public-Private Partnership Program is not a strategy but a mechanism, neither is inclusive growth. "What does that mean inclusive growth? It's so simplistic. It's supposed to make sure that everybody gets included in growth but that's not a development strategy because in any development strategy, you have to make certain decisions as to the allocation of resources."
Tayao also sees the need for a comprehensive approach to policy-making.
“The vision is more like a clean government but that is not complete without a very clear means to speak of… How do you get there? It’s like saying I will give you the moon and the stars. The question is how.”
Without this strategy, Bello warned Aquino against premature triumphalism.
“I disagree with the position that he says [progress is] the rise in the GDP and we have business confidence because that’s GMA-like. These are not the real criteria. I feel that the real criteria is do you have a marcoeconomic strategy in place? Have you significantly reduced poverty? Have you significantly reduced hunger?”
3. Provide access to SALNs
Another promise that Aquino has not yet delivered is to make public officials’ Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). The issue has become a hot topic following Corona’s impeachment. (Also read: PNoy breaks promise, says SALN enough)
Bello said, “It’s a bit hypocritical if we say that Corona did not file his SALN properly and that he did not make it public and we don’t ourselves do it. I hope both the Speaker and the President will just put their foot down and say immediate release of the SALNs.”
He added, “All these procedural arrangements can just lead to a massive complexity and in the end, it will just destroy the spirit of the law of SALNs.”
4. Pass the RH and FOI bills
Two measures that candidate Aquino promised to support during the campaign – the Reproductive Health (RH) and Freedom of Information (FOI) bills – are still languishing in Congress.
Aquino eventually declared the RH bill a priority measure after failing to reach a compromise with the Catholic Church. Bello said the President has done a lot to push the bill but it’s still not enough.
“Where the President can make a difference together with the Speaker is procedural, to end the debate in the House and put it to a vote. Stop the delaying tactics because it’s just delaying tactics at the House at this point.”
On FOI, Aquino initially expressed reservations about the bill but eventually announced Malacañang’s own version of the measure last February. He did not, however, make it a priority measure.
5. Land distribution by 2014
In June, Aquino renewed his commitment to complete land distribution before the expiration of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms (CARPER) in 2014.
Judging the administration’s record, Bello said Aquino has a lot of catching up to do to beat the deadline.
“The statistics show that the agrarian reform in the first two years was a bit lackluster. I think this is a very strong promise so I expect him to show the same kind of resolve when he said he will go after the crooks.”
Tayao reserved judgment but said a lot will depend on the implementation of the Supreme Court ruling ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita to farmers.
“However we try to look at it, the President is identified with the Hacienda because his family owns it but he already made a promise. This is not only Hacienda Luisita [at stake] but even other big lands due for disposition in other regions.”
6. Appoint officials based on merit
As early as his first year in Malacañang, the opposition attacked Aquino for appointing some so-called Kaibigan, Kaklase, Kabarilan (friends, classmates, shooting buddies) or KKK, and defending them amid controversies.
Last May, Aquino had to name a new Ambassador to China after the Commission on Appointments raised serious questions about the competence of his initial nominee, family friend Domingo Lee.
Banayo defended Aquino, saying all presidents appoint people they know and trust. Banayo also served as then President Joseph Estrada’s adviser for political affairs.
“We have to understand that the President is a human being so in the case of Domingo Lee, he trusts him and they go way back to his father’s incarceration …. It wasn’t easy but in the end, he himself caused the withdrawal of Domingo Lee.”
Banayo quipped, "Si GMA nga, may manikurista pang inappoint eh, diba? Wala namang ganoon sa panahon ni Presidente Aquino." (GMA even appointed her manicurist. There's nothing like that in the time of President Aquino.)
Observers including columnist Winnie Monsod have urged Aquino to be more discerning and widen choices beyond his circle. The stakes are especially high now that the President is about to choose the next Chief Justice.
Beyond corruption: systemic change
Professors Bello and Tayao both gave the President a passing grade, largely for his efforts to root out corruption. Bello said Aquino gets 80% while Tayao gives him 75%.
For Banayo, the grade boils down to achieving what Aquino was elected for. “The most important thing is he has not lost sight of his purpose for being there which is to reform the moral foundations of governance in this country.”
With 4 years to go and many promises left to fulfill, the 3 advise Aquino to focus on undertaking long-term systemic reforms instead of prematurely blowing his own horn.
Tayao says, “So far, so good but everything will go to waste if he is no longer president and he is not able to implement laws and policies that will change institutions.”
“Balewala din. Sa madaling sabi, balik tayo sa dati.” (It will be useless. In other words, back to the usual.)