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Analysis

Aquino’s first year

PRESIDENT AQUINO ended yesterday his first year in office clutching at straws to show proof that the country has moved forward and is in a better shape than it was when he took power from the most reviled government since the Marcos dictatorship.

The country was not in a celebratory mood (there was little to celebrate in terms of achievements) and even the government appeared weary and the President’s call on all the people, most of all the political opposition, to back his reform programs got only a lukewarm public response. He tried to whip up public enthusiasm by launching the Pilipinas Natin campaign at the Philippine Sports Arena in Pasig City, but the drive turned out to be a sloganeering exercise that appeared aimed at revitalizing the already tired theme “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”

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Malacañang said the event was about revisiting the vision and renewing the commitment made by the President, but even then, presidential spokes- persons were not ready to unfold the Philippine Development Plan for 2011-2016 (something like a five-year plan) billed as containing the administration’s “vision of governance.” They promised that the program “will be explained in detail in the next few weeks by members of the Cabinet.”

This was an admission that the administration has already been in office for a year, but it is beginning only now to unwrap its program of government, with the implication that during its first year it was governing with nothing more than slogans and without a blueprint of action.

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Pilipinas Natin is “both a call and a challenge,” said a Palace official. “It is a call to take part in nation-building, a call for bayanihan but at the same time a challenge for solidarity.”

This call was expressed in the most banal and uninspiring language. “This will also test the maturity of each and every Filipino,” a spokesperson said. “We are mature enough to cross those lines that divide us and say, ‘Let’s unite because it’s our Philippines after all.”’

Another spokesperson (there are at least four of them, all delivering different messages) said, the launch was a “milestone event” in that the administration was “reaffirming its commitment” to the people and seeking their support. When asked how Malacañang could expect cooperation from the opposition when it was pursuing cases against the past president, the spokersperson said the No. 1 item in the administration’s vision was “a reawakened sense of right and wrong through the living examples of our highest leaders.” The question elicited more sermons, which has not produced perceptible results. The spokesman also pointed out that ferreting out the scandals of the past administration was part of its goal of “reconciliation with justice.”

This explanation for the continuing emphasis of the administration on unearthing the allegedly corrupt transactions of the Arroyo government was made by the spokesperson who said the President had no “agenda to quarrel (with) and engage in tirades with anyone,” describing these actions against the opposition as “all in the spirit of democratic discourse.” But discourse on corruption is not all what democracy is about. Democracy is also about delivering results in economic development and providing jobs and not just giving the poor cash that don’t produce goods and services

A week before the end of Mr. Aquino’s first year in office, the administration dredged out yet another scandal alleging that former President Arroyo and officials in the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office had used the PCSO as a “milking cow” by extracting money for doles for the poor and the sick, by mixing funds for operating expenses with those for charity work, thus allowing it to spend more than its budget in the past two years. Evidence unearthed by the government showed that these disbursements left the agency with over P4 billion in debts.

There is no indication where and when the exhumation of corruption scandals of the Arroyo administration would end and where it is leading to or if these will be followed by the filing of criminal cases.

Aside from these actions in the anti-corruption front, questions have started to appear about what else the administration has done. As it enters its second year, it is facing an erosion of its trust and satisfaction ratings. A Pulse Asia survey shows that the administration scored “majority approval ratings in six of 11 national concerns.” The survey done from May 21 to June 4 shows that the administration was doing well in fighting criminality, in enforcing the law equally among Filipinos. The survey found that 56 percent gave the administration positive marks in fighting corruption, 53 percent in creating more jobs, and 51 percent, in increasing workers’ pay. But the downside is that only 39 percent approved of what the administration was doing to control inflation, and 40 percent approved of its campaign to reduce poverty. Poverty alleviation was a key element in the President’s Inaugural Address linked to his slogan against corruption.

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There were expressions of disgruntlement and disappointment over the President’s performance in regard to issues affecting the business sector. The European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines said that the “basis for rapid development has been created in the first year but turning that into action will make the difference.” It added: “The same is true for fighting corruption: some progress has been made, but it will require more resolve to succeed in government and in the private sector.”

Peter Angelo, executive director of the Makati Business Club, said, “The first year of the Aquino presidency was mostly foundation work, cleaning up, and reviewing, but definitely in the second year, we expect much more action.”

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