Viewpoint

Watch your back

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President Aquino’s third State of the Nation Address continues to roil public soapboxes. Remember the mood before he delivered his first Sona? That was a time of uncertain hopes.

“What If This Leader Fails?” written by novelist Miguel Syjuco in an International Herald Tribune op-ed column, summed it up best. Excerpts:

As with Ferdinand Marcos, Joseph Estrada’s reign reinforced “facile absolutes of good and evil.” Erap got a life term for plunder. Filipinos had a leader who let them down. Again.

In 2004, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo reneged on her promise not to seek reelection. Allegations against GMA grew kilometric. Many opposing Arroyo sanctioned Estrada’s larceny. The country barreled into another dead end.

“One instance of pretzel logic I’ve learned from Philippine politics, it’s that bad people doing selfish things can sometimes move toward the common good.” But what of good and evil? Did malaise stem from corrupt presidents? Or was it a system that was shot?

Now comes the son of a martyr and a saint of democracy. Noynoy’s landslide victory “speaks to his apparent integrity, paucity of palatable alternatives, and ‘bling’ of the Aquino brand.”

“He treads a minefield of sleaze, political patronage and shifting allegiances. As the Marcoses have shown, there’s always a second act in Philippine politics… [Will] his star power hold? Ninety million people are watching, waiting. Please, Noynoy, don’t let us down.”

Fast forward to the eve of P-Noy’s Sona-3. This time around, “honesty is not an issue,” wrote columnist Boo Chanco. Come 2016, he’ll return to the simple Times Street home of his parents. “But he has to succeed—for our sake. It makes no sense to waste three more years of waiting for the next president—who, by most indications, will be a replay of (Ate Glo) Macapagal-Arroyo.” Watch Vice President Jejomar Binay and Senators Jinggoy Estrada and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. work the voters—and break into cold sweat.

Is P-Noy fulfilling our hopes? “About three out of five adult Filipinos are satisfied with the overall performance of the Aquino administration,” says the July 26 Social Weather Stations survey.

Ignore the mobs that wrought mayhem on Commonwealth Avenue. Violence is the last refuge of scoundrels. Bear the exclusion of favorite advocacies, like the Freedom of Information bill, or the lag in the crackdown on human rights. Some insist P-Noy does nothing right. Walang mainam na bulag na di gaya noon nagbubulagbulagan. “None are so blind as those who refuse to see.”

Look at the larger picture. The Philippines got eight positive credit ratings by international agencies in a row. “Pure luck?” The Philippine Stock Exchange Index surged 44 times over the last year. In the first quarter of 2012, GDP grew by 6.4 percent, second only to China.

Are we indeed Asia’s next tiger? asks Foreign Policy quarterly. The debate will continue, as it should in a free society. “Get your facts first,” Mark Twain once counseled. “Then, you can distort them as you please.”

Some undisputed facts. The key Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program today serves five times more than during the first Sona. Now, 1.67 million mothers get regular checkups. Over 1.62 million kids were vaccinated against diarrhea, polio, measles, etc. And 4.57 million, who would have dropped out due to poverty, are in school.

Raids on the coffers of government-owned or -controlled firms have stopped. In the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, for example, officials helped themselves to 25 bonuses every year, under different labels. That included three Maligayang Pasko bonuses. The uproar started after P-Noy, in his first Sona, skewered the salaries of 41 officials from nine of 736 GOCCs. Former National Treasurer Leonor Briones wrote: “The nine are only the tip of the iceberg.”

Before the next year ends, 66,800 classrooms needed to fill up the gap will be built. This year, too, will eradicate a backlog of 61.7 million textbooks. We will achieve the one-to-one ratio of books to students—finally. The University of the Philippines got a 63-percent hike. Is P-Noy emerging as the “Education President”? the stunned UP professor on the ABS-CBN panel on the Sona asked.

Significantly, these gains were made without clamping on new taxes. The elbow room came from curbing corruption. Take the Department of Public Works and Highways. The crackdown on rigged bidding and procurement enabled it to save P10.6 billion from 2011 to June of this year.

In 2008, corruption here was “the worst among East Asia’s leading economies,” the World Bank noted. “It sank even lower among those seen to be lagging in governance reforms.” We shuffled cheek by jowl with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Belarus in the 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, published by Transparency International. The Philippines ranked 139th among 180 countries included in the index then.

In the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines improved to Slot No. 134. “We inched our way up,” Transparency International-Philippines board member Araceli Estrada-Villanueva said. “But, there is still a lot of room for improvement.”

“Now, Aquino has been in office a couple of years,” says a retired American banker married to a Filipino. “Cushy armchair quarterbacks … complain P-Noy is not Lincoln, Roosevelt, FDR and JFK rolled into one… The Philippines looks better than it has in a long, long time. If he were in my foxhole, I’d watch his back. I know he is watching mine.”
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E-mail: juanlmercado@yahoo,com

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