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Aquino can recover from his dropped ratings

/ 12:09 AM April 23, 2015

It’s an overused phrase, but the system creates it: “lameduck president.” It’s like so many things, a takeoff from the American presidential system (not one I’m too partial to, because I believe a parliamentary system better reflects what a democracy should be and is something the next president should explore early on). It’s a phrase that becomes reality when you’ve got politicians whose main purpose in life is to stay in power themselves. So it becomes harder for a Philippine president to get support as his nonextendable term ends.

The bad news seems to have been piling up for President Aquino. The Mamasapano massacre was the denouement, but things had been building up before that. The dramatic drop in his administration’s ratings in an SWS survey this week and in an earlier Pulse Asia survey shows a public dissatisfied with his performance in a range of areas, with efforts to address poverty and reduce inflation being among the areas of highest dissatisfaction, and resolving the Maguindanao massacre case with justice with a negative net of -50 being particularly worrying. So he needs to do something about it with some urgency.

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The inability to get people out of poverty is something we’ve raised almost every year, with creating jobs being the only real way to do it. Whatever numbers you look at, population growth has kept the numbers in poverty almost unchanged. The high economic growth rates have created jobs, but not enough.

As I mentioned in my April 2 column (“Primum nil nocere”), there were 2.9 million Filipinos without a job in January 2011. The 2.7 million jobless in January 2015 is a negligible improvement. It’s the same as to poverty: There were an estimated 26 million Filipinos in poverty in 2010, and 25.7 million in the first half of 2014. As these numbers show, Mr. Aquino has been unable to address the one thing that matters in a society: the wellbeing of all its people. So, as you’d expect, people are dissatisfied. Giving all people a decent life is the only real goal of a leader.

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As to inflation, that’s harder. The official numbers don’t justify being unhappy. Last year official inflation was 4.1 percent. That highlights a problem we’ve long raised. You need the right and full data to make the right decisions. What this significant dissatisfaction shows is that government numbers on inflation obviously don’t reflect the reality on the ground.

The reality on the ground is that the costs of day-to-day living for most Filipinos have risen much faster than 4.1 percent. One of those costs, and one of the most important, rice, reflects this. Rice was P36 per kilogram in December 2013; it was P40 per kilogram in December 2014—an 11-percent increase. To correct that, I’d do what should have been done a long time ago: Remove the National Food Authority from trading rice (one of the most important expenses of a family, particularly a poor family), and open it to the competitive market. That will bring prices down.

Sadly, the government (read: the President) remains in denial. Just read its response to these dismal numbers:

“In the next 15 months, the administration will intensify efforts at job creation while maintaining fiscal discipline in order to rein in inflation. Good governance is imperative in achieving inclusive growth.

“The government continues to implement measures to stabilize prices of commodities. Various programs have been put in place to bring about poverty reduction.”

The government has been talking good governance, jobs and reducing poverty since Day One. But 57 months later the public obviously thinks these haven’t been done, and the numbers confirm it. So why will these be done in the next 15 months? The goals are too general. What’s lacking is specific actions that provide actual results that can be measured.

If I were the President I would say instead:

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“I really want jobs created so, as a start, I’m going to support the Congress initiative to get rid of the restrictions on foreign investment.”

“I will lift the local ordinance banning open-pit mining by the middle of this year and scrap Executive Order No. 79 to attract more job-generating foreign investments.”

“I will push for the approval of the Department of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) bill, where the future of our country and jobs for our people lie, and ask Congress to pass it before October 2015.”

“I will double the budget for the training-for-work program to increase the beneficiaries to more than 400,000 students from the current 200,000. The program will make students enrolled in key courses (tourism, engineering, etc.) more employable.”

“I will reduce the steps to starting a business to three signatures and six procedures by end-October 2015.”

“I will stop the NFA from trading, and let a competitive market exist and end quantitative restrictions on sugar imports.”

Doing these, and choosing others, will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

You get the message: SPECIFICS. Get things DONE. And put nonextendable deadlines on getting these done. That’s how you progress. That’s how you break poverty.

The business community has been very active, sending specific recommendation letters to the President on how to create jobs, and not just promise them. But it has received negligible reaction, less action. Arangkada has a long to-do list from which the President can choose.

The business community will again come out with a list of 10 or so of the most important things to do in the next 15 months. This time the President should accept all the recommendations, AND DO THEM. So in the next 15 months he can accomplish much—and leave a meaningful legacy. Don’t promise the moon, build a road.

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TAGS: jobs, maguindanao massacre, Mamasapano, President Aquino, Unemployment
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