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A tribute to the P-Noy presidency

By July 1, the term of Benigno S. Aquino III will be history. How are we going to remember him in his six years as president of the Philippines? What legacy is he leaving behind? How did he fare compared to his predecessors? Was he a good president?

For an outgoing leader, one of the true measures of success is this: Is the country better than when you found it? The country’s problems are numerous and complex; these took generations to manifest, and will take generations to solve. Each president will have to contribute toward the end goal of a progressive Philippines that can take its place among the likes of Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, or Korea.

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Overall, P-Noy’s term was characterized by strong economic growth, with gross domestic product growing at an average of 6.2 percent a year (second only to China) between 2010 and 2015. The country’s sound fiscal and monetary policies resulted in the increase of its gross international reserves to a record high of $80 billion, fiscal deficit as a percent of GDP of less than 1 percent, and outstanding national debt as a percent of GDP of 44.8 percent as of December 2015. The first half of 2016 is expected to be even better because of the growth from election spending. Also, the country’s global competitiveness index percentile rank improved from 61 in 2010 to 50 in 2015, with three credit upgrades amounting to investment-grade status.

These are remarkable achievements for it made Philippine borrowings cheaper, thus encouraging more foreign and domestic investments. This reduction in borrowing cost also translated to significant government savings with respect to the servicing of the outstanding national debt, thus making more funds available for infrastructure, health, social welfare and education.

But P-Noy’s administration had its share of shortcomings, including the MRT and traffic problems, the Mamasapano massacre, unabated smuggling, and rising criminality, including a growing drug menace. And for these, he paid a dear price in the form of consistent bashing by the media, particularly in the morning radio and television talk shows. These commentators, who talk as if they know all the solutions to the country’s ills, have been vicious in their attacks on P-Noy; they have vilified him without even giving him the benefit of the doubt.

One classic case is P-Noy’s veto of the grant of an increase in the Social Security System retirement pension. The strong populist view was that this was for the good of the poor and the elderly, and that P-Noy was so insensitive for vetoing it. For this veto, P-Noy was constantly attacked and maligned in the media when in fact his move was correct considering that the SSS is not in a position to grant such an increase at this time.

A populist president could have very well just signed the bill into law and simply let the succeeding presidents worry about the pension plan running out of funds. He didn’t, and instead of being praised for doing what is good for the country, he paid dearly for it from a media standpoint.

In evaluating the performance of the P-Noy administration, this piece dwells more on facts and statistics rather than perception, which is subject to media distortion.

Detractors of the P-Noy administration have commented that though the country did grow, as the facts and statistics show, the benefits of growth failed to trickle down to the poor. These comments are based on statistics on self-rated hunger and poverty, which remained high in 2015, compared to 2010. The economic growth is thus alleged to be noninclusive and benefited mainly the rich while the poor continued to wallow in poverty.

But what are the facts? Few realize that correcting poverty takes time, and a six-year period is not enough to show concrete results. Moreover, it is not correct to say that the poor did not benefit much from the improved economy. The budget for education has increased from P191 billion in 2010 to P365 billion in 2015, with the needed investments for the K-to-12 program still ongoing. There were significant increases as well in the budgets for health (from P25 billion in 2010 to P102 billion in 2015), social welfare (from P16 billion in 2010 to P109 billion in 2015), and public works (from P142 billion in 2010 to P300 billion in 2015). Surely, these massive budget increases translated or will eventually translate to benefits to our poor.

The incoming administration of President Rodrigo Duterte will take charge of a country that has very strong economic fundamentals, and a sound fiscal position that is much better than in 2010, when P-Noy started his term. President Duterte should build up on these strengths and focus on the factor that got him elected, mainly the peace and order situation.

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I would like to congratulate and thank President Aquino for all these economic achievements that made the Philippines a much better country than it was six years ago. Enjoy being a private citizen again and away from the prying eyes of the media.

David L. Balangue ([email protected]) chairs the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, the Philippine Center for Population and Development, and the Coalition Against Corruption.

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TAGS: Aquino administration, Benigno Aquino III, Rodrigo Duterte
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