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Analysis

Aquino dim on ‘right candidate’ in 2016

/ 12:08 AM October 31, 2014

We have not yet heard the last word from Malacañang on whether or not President Aquino will step down when his term ends less than two years from now. Last Tuesday, he intensified speculation over his plans after 2016 when he told a gathering of semiconductor and electronic industry groups that extending his administration for another term would not be the “right solution” to sustain the Philippines’ economic growth.

His pronouncement was hailed by the media as “the most categorical answer he has made to the question of whether he is open to extending his term.”

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I beg to disagree with this perception. On the contrary, the President’s statement was the most evasive, if not devious, declaration he has made on the issue since August. The announcement was an exercise in duplicity and obfuscation, which did not clarify his position on the issue “once and for all,” as claimed by sources close to the Aquino family.

The President made the remark in answer to a question by a member of the electronic industry group about how the Philippines could maintain or increase its competitiveness when the Asean economic integration begins in 2015. He was also asked how sustainable the Philippines’ economic growth would be after 2016. “There are some quarters that were saying I should try and go for a second term. I don’t think that’s a right solution,” he said. That was a political reply to an economic question.

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On the issue of sustainability of growth after 2016, Mr. Aquino said, “We all have a time card in this world, and we have to prepare for the eventuality of being called to meet our Maker. So, there has to be that continuation of people of like minds who will deliver on the promises that are not self-serving or nice, or pleasant to hear.” To ensure competitiveness and economic growth, he would “vote for the right candidate,” he said, and urged his audience to do the same, adding that choosing the right leader was “really a collective effort.”

While he went on to tell his audience “to discern properly as to who is extolling populist sentiments with no substance, as opposed to [one] who not only says the right things but who also asks you to deliver the same,” he left his audience mystified over what he meant by the “right candidate”—whether it was himself or someone else he did not identify. His recent statements did not indicate who will get his support in the 2016 election, and whether he was seeking a second term.

Since August, the President has been coy about the possibility of term extension. His statements before the Tuesday gathering left many in the administration in anguish and uncertainty, most of all Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, the presumptive presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, who has yet to receive his official blessing as the “right candidate” to succeed him. Consequently, it’s not far-fetched to conjecture that Roxas was wondering if the President was pulling his leg in speaking about the “right candidate.” After all, each time the President spoke about term extension since August, he offered different reasons.

In September, he told the Inquirer that he was open to the idea of term extension because he did not want the gains of his administration to go to waste. During his trip to Europe in August, he told reporters that there was still time to amend the Constitution and lift the provision on term limits if “the vast majority” thought it should be done. Mr. Aquino received a jarring message from the public last month from a survey conducted by Pulse Asia showing that six out of 10 Filipinos, or 62 percent, opposed the amendment of the Constitution to allow him a second term. Apart from opening himself to calls for term extension, he shifted to another reason to justify constitutional amendments, arguing that these offered a remedy to the Supreme Court’s judicial “overreach”—a reference to the high court’s decision striking down as unconstitutional portions of the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the administration’s patronage scheme in the distribution of pork barrel funds for public works projects.

On the issue of term extension as the answer to ensure sustainable economic growth, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan came forward with a cautionary economic explanation (not a political one, such as constitutional change), to sustainable growth. Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of the same gathering addressed by the President, Balisacan pointed out that the country could have grown faster in the third quarter of this year and that it might reach only the lower end of the target because of external shocks. He said it was possible for the economy to accelerate by a faster rate during the July-September period over that of the previous period.

Balisacan maintained that the 6.5-7 percent full-year growth target could still be attained but that the economy must expand by at least 6.9 percent in the second half of the year for it to attain the lower end of the 2014 GDP growth. “Achieving the lower end of the [target] range is still a possibility, but the upper end is now a huge challenge,” he said. While the country’s performance in the second half is expected to be better than that of the first half, he said, external shocks, such as the problems facing Europe, continued to weigh on domestic growth prospects.

He avoided any comment on the President’s political approaches to sustained growth beyond 2014. He was obviously struggling to avert a clash with his boss, by showing him off.

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TAGS: Aquino, Aquino family, Arsenio Balisacan, Benigno Aquino III, economic growth, pork barrel funds, President Aquino, Secretary Mar Roxas, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary
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