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Analysis

Catch-up economics and ‘Noynoying’

Stung by the ridicule of “Noynoying”—the term used by street protesters to lampoon his “do nothing” work ethic—President Aquino went on overdrive last Tuesday to announce that he had ordered the speed-up of eight infrastructure projects this year to pump up the sluggish economic growth.

The announcement was made at the Philippine Investment Forum, where the President’s policy of starving the infrastructure sector of government spending has come under severe criticism from the private sector and the World Bank. The administration is now changing course to recognize that it has neglected the economy during its first two years in office, resulting in the drop of the gross domestic product (GDP) to 3.7 percent last year, from plus-7 percent the year before.

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The speed-up indicates that the administration is now giving the economy a more decent amount of attention after sidelining it to make way for its all-consuming priority of making officials associated with the previous administration accountable for a number of alleged corruption-ridden transactions.

This single-minded focus on combating corruption in government is partly responsible for the outgrowth of this new form of street protest called “Noynoying,” which is defined by student activists as the act of “doing nothing when in fact you have something to do.”

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This unique form of protest in Filipino politics—where there’s a surfeit of big talk and a shortage of results—has gained global currency in the Internet and Wikipedia, and respectability in the international media, including the Asian Wall Street Journal and online newspapers in Paris, the United States and the United Kingdom. These media outlets have now become the screen through which this form of protest in the Philippines against the inaction and indolence of its President is projected to the world. This depiction has caught fire swiftly on the global stage, and the conflagration now seems unstoppable. The resonance of this protest draws on the fact that it is based on visual evidence (a picture is worth more than a thousand words) and on the classic theme of the emperor stripped of his clothes and exposed for what he really is without the accoutrements of power and pomp of office.

Words have proved ineffective in countering this corrosive acid of power against which even totalitarian dictators have had no defense. Remember that satirical film “The Great Dictator” by Charlie Chaplin, a parody of Hitler’s dictatorship in Nazi Germany? The film inflicted more havoc on the claim of invincibility of the Wehrmacht that overran Western Europe in World War II and the impregnability of the Maginot Line.

In the attempt to neutralize the damage of “Noynoying” on the reputation of President Aquino, there was nothing more pathetic than the insipid comment of Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas, his running mate in 2010. Said Roxas: “For me, ‘Noynoying’ means somebody who is careful about people’s money, and who does not borrow recklessly and spend recklessly… ‘Noynoying’ for me means somebody who is putting our country on the straight and narrow [path].” But evidence is not on the side of Roxas. To critics, “Noynoying” means underspending on infrastructure that led to economic stagnation and paralysis.

The President undercut Roxas’ explanation. Speaking on Tuesday at the Philippine Investment Forum, where he had come under heavy criticism for choking public investment in infrastructure, he said he had ordered state economic agencies to accelerate approval of infrastructure projects this year to take advantage of increased investors’ appetites, and also prepare for fierce economic competition from neighboring countries.

“We want an accelerated program for the PPP (Public-Private Partnership program). I have instructed the economic cluster and also the National Economic and Development Authority … there has to be more speed in terms of giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the various projects that are under consideration. We are missing the opportunities that are already extant,” the President said.

The record of accomplishment under the PPP program is dismal. Only one of 10 projects designated a year ago has been successfully bid out by the government so far: the P1.96-billion Daang Hari project. Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Cayetano Paderanga Jr. said eight projects would be offered to investors this year. Two of the 17 contracts offered by the PPP have been approved, but he said: “We’re hoping that we could have, maybe in the first half, between three and five projects.”

Note that there is only hope but no firm deadline of completion. Based on the track record of achievements in the past two years, there is no basis to be confident that the rate of achievements would improve.

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It should be noted that none of the 10 PPP projects has ever arrived at the stage of ground-breaking. It takes lead time of at least two years to put the projects on the stage of takeoff. But before things can take off, P-Noy has to stop “Noynoying” to be able to deliver results, and not just pretend to be working.

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TAGS: `noynoying’, Aquino, featured column, Government, leadership, opinion
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