Indulging in wishful thinking on his legacy
CANBERRA—As the Philippines stands on the threshold of 2016, Filipinos are impaled between hopes of a new leadership in the May presidential election and the undesirable legacies of political regimes during the past two decades.
Elections in democracies are moments for renewal and political change—either for the better or for the worse. On the eve of the New Year, the nation received bad and disheartening news from the outgoing government.
In his New Year message, President Aquino pledged to continue working “faithfully” for the nation in his last six months in office, and called on Filipinos to bid farewell to a “historic 2015.”
What made 2015 “historic” left many Filipinos asking themselves: What’s so memorable about the last six years of the Aquino presidency?
The President indulged in wishful thinking about his legacy.
In reality, it was an electioneering speech for his designated successor and a self-serving apology for the unfinished business he would bequeath to whoever is elected President in May. The message sounded like a testament from an exhausted presidency trying to catch up with the unfulfilled goals of his term.
Mr. Aquino said the possibility that the “daang matuwid” (straight path) roadmap or ideology of his administration would “catapult us to First World status and make us a $1 trillion economy by year 2030 … encourages me and the rest of government to faithfully pursue our tasks in the last six months of my administration.”
How he would compress five years of unfinished projects within this time frame is hard to contemplate.
“The same thought should guide us, as we choose our leaders this coming election, to maintain the upward trajectory of our growth and keep our nation on the daang matuwid,” the President said, pursuing the fantasy of his end-of-term race against time.
“As long as we bear in our hearts and minds the welfare of our people, we will realize our inherent greatness and usher in a Philippines that we can proudly bequeath to the coming generations.”
He described 2015 as “historic” for the country’s “soaring economy, robust democracy and magnified presence on the global stage.”
In this assessment, the President was treading on soggy ground. He claimed all these not only promise a great start in the coming year but also highlight the Philippines’ ongoing narrative of resurgence under the daang matuwid. This claim is absolute hogwash and self-indulgence.
Manifesting the syndrome of being swept off his feet by his own propaganda, Mr. Aquino went on with his rant:
“As I reflect on the developments of our country this past year and those that came before it, I am filled with pride by how far we have come since we began our journey in 2010. Just a little more than five years ago, we faced a future full of despair and uncertainty. Reports of plunder, mismanagement and corruption dominated our headlines.
“Today, progress, opportunity and growth fill the news about the Philippines, both here and abroad.”
The President said: “All these we achieved because of our collective resolve to follow the straight and righteous path—a path that transformed damaged public agencies into stronger, more transparent and responsive [bodies], turned a demoralized government work force into dedicated civil servants, galvanized an apathetic populace into empowered nation builders and reinvigorated a sluggish business sector into a major driver of economic growth.”
This rosy assessment stopped short from cataloguing the social costs of this pseudo-moralistic approach of good governance, driven by slogans based on daang matuwid—the creed that encapsulates what passes for the ideology of the Aquino regime. It also flies in the face of the assessments of independent and nonpartisan international institutions.
In a recent study of poverty, the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB) found: “While economic expansion in the Philippines has exceeded 6 percent in the past 2 years, it has not generated enough jobs to reduce poverty. The challenge is to translate solid economic growth into poverty reduction by generating more and better jobs.”
According to the ADB study, the proportion of the population below the poverty line improved to 25.2 percent in 2013 from 26.5 in 2009 [but] the employment-to-population ratio dropped to 59.7 percent in 2012 from 60.1 percent in 2008.
The study pointed out that improving the quality jobs also remains a challenge as nearly 40 percent of the work force is in the informal sector or in vulnerable employment.
World Bank report
In October 2015, the Inquirer reported that the Philippines’ ranking slipped in the latest World Bank (WB) report on the Ease of Doing Business globally—an oft-cited indicator by the government to illustrate progress—raising alarm bells for officials who immediately assailed the report’s reliability and predictability.
Although the WB report acknowledged that conditions continued to improve in the Philippines, making it marginally easier for small and medium enterprises to set up shop and compete in the country, it emphasized that the country’s relative [position with] the rest of the world declined several spots.
Government and private sector officials were quick to place part of the blame in changes on how scores were computed by the WB, in other words, they berated the methodology of the ratings.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima expressed concern that the ratings could have dire consequences on the Philippines’ ability to attract a higher level of investments. “Erratic methodological changes year after year severely threaten the report’s credibility as a global measure of competitiveness,” he said in a statement.
Purisima did not stop there. He took potshots at WB officials’ swift ad hominems that have nothing to do with methodology. He described WB officials as bureaucrats “sitting in comfortable offices too far away to fully understand contexts and appreciate reforms being undertaken.”
In this year’s report released last week, the Philippines ranked 103rd, down six spots from 97th last year. Last year’s report placed the Philippines at 95th but was revised to reflect in methodology.