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Analysis

Aquino ally berates ‘NPAs’ in Cabinet

Sen. Sergio Osmeña III hit the bull’s-eye on March 18 when he called President Aquino “an honest and good man but an awful manager.” Osmeña’s political loyalties are unpredictable, and political observers sometimes define him as an administration ally. Others say his primary loyalty is to no one but himself.

Osmeña is not known as a persistent critic of the Aquino administration in the Senate, and when he speaks out against the President, he could pass off as an “independent.”

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In his assessment of the administration’s midterm performance, Osmeña is both accurate and close to the mark. He did not contradict the President’s self-serving claim of being an honest man who runs a transparent government. But he defined the Aquino administration as a “nonperforming” presidency—an observation that appears to be widely shared by the people as it wearily enters the final half of its term with little accomplishments to show for the effort.

Having covered Philippine presidents as a political journalist since the 1950s, I wish to emphasize the point of fact that except for the incumbent, no president of this country has ever proclaimed himself/herself as an honest person. Previous presidents highlighted their accomplishments in economic, political and social-reform terms, especially in reducing poverty and inequality between the rich and poor. Mr. Aquino has been receiving low marks in opinion poll surveys on poverty alleviation. But these surveys have also shown that over the past few months, his trust and popularity ratings registered deep plunges, alarming administration officials.

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Mr. Aquino’s critics, now including Osmeña, have not linked him directly to corruption allegations involving his officials and congressional allies and the distribution of the PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) to finance public works projects. Osmeña has not attacked him on the honesty issue because he has not been accused of direct involvement in the allocation of the PDAF monies. Instead, Osmeña has focused on the issue of a “nonperforming” presidency or “nonperforming assets” in the administration—evidence for which is available in public records and can be presented. Sometimes Osmeña’s penchant for being a political gadfly can be irritating, but he is honed in the discipline of building his case in his privilege speeches on empirical data rather than inflating them with pious pronouncements such as “daang matuwid.”

In his remarks on March 14, Osmeña, speaking in his capacity as chair of the Senate committee on energy, blamed the President and Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla for the power shortage in the country, calling both officials “awful managers.” He cited the decision of the Energy Regulatory Commission to void the huge rate increase that the Manila Electric Co. levied after the power shortage in late 2013 as “good politics but bad economics.” He said: “If we do this again the investors [who will put up the power plants] will not believe us anymore. We’re going to have real shortages decades ahead.” He also said he had advised the President to fire Petilla as early as two months ago, but that his counsel was not heeded.

Osmeña said that while Petilla was an able executive, his mind was divided between his job and pursuing his political agenda. “I told the President to fire Petilla two months ago, because he is not focused,” the senator said. Asked by reporters about the President’s response, Osmeña said: “Well, he first called a meeting. Then the President failed to show up at an appointment. Nothing happened.

“That’s all right. The thing is, that’s the way he solves things. He would stay with the people he has appointed. You know that, like I said, managing is not an easy profession. And he is a very poor manager, we know that. He is a good man, he is an honest man, but he is an awful manager.”

The President’s hardheadedness does not come without costs, Osmeña said. It may cost him politically when it is time to endorse his successor. “He will lose much of his endorsement value in 2016,” the senator said. “We would not be having this type of problems now if they were good managers. We really would not. I don’t intervene with them. I never called up the energy secretary. I never asked for favors.”

Osmeña decried the absence of planning on the part of the Department of Energy when the power shortages in Luzon started on Nov. 11, 2013. He said Petilla as energy secretary “did not do much to prevent the situation from happening, because you cannot say, ‘All this happened all of a sudden.’ You knew Malampaya is down for maintenance.”

He said that if he were Petilla, he would have told the government-owned Malaya power plant to make an offer to the Wholesale Electricity Spot Market and make available its 600 megawatts of power.

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In a radio interview on March 18, Osmeña pressed for the removal of “NPAs” or nonperforming assets in the Cabinet. “There are many NPAs in the Cabinet. Please remove them. We are in a hurry because we have only two years remaining,” he said.

The senator also said many people were “disappointed at how the current administration runs the country, for its alleged failure to [do the] things it should have done.” He cited the administration’s failure to address the power shortage. “I am very disappointed. I’m ashamed to the public that he underperformed, because if you can drive 80 mph, why did you have to do it at 30 mph?”

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TAGS: Aquino, Aquino Cabinet, Benigno Aquino III, Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla, Non-Performing Assets, NPAs, PDAF Priority Development Assistance Fund, pork barrel, President Aquino, Secretary Petilla, Senator Sergio Osmeña III
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