Measuring The Presidency

If the first six months of the presidency should give the people an idea of its policy directions, the following year should define the shape of the administration.

In his recent New Year’s message, President Benigno Aquino III claimed that his administration has successfully created change in the government and the country.

“Sa mahigit isa’t kalahating taon nang pagbagtas natin sa tuwid na landas, nakikita na natin ang pagbangon ng bansa, mula sa malubhang katiwalian at kahirapan. Unti-unti na po tayong nagtatagumpay laban sa mga problemang ating dinatnan. Ikumpara po natin ang kasalukuyan sa mga panahong lumipas.”

“Gaano man po katindi ang pagpipilit na magtanim ng agam-agam sa ating isipan, wala naman po sigurong makakapag-dudang nagbago na talaga ang Pilipinas.”

“Ngayon po, ibinabalik na natin ang piring ng katarungan. Ang kaunlaran ay natatamasa hindi lamang ng mayaman at makapangyarihan, ramdam na rin ng mas nakakarami nating kababayan.

“Nakikita naman po natin ang bunga ng ating ipinunlang mga reporma: may maalab na sigla at pag-asa, mataas na kumpiyansa, at malawak at mas maraming mga oportunidad sa bansa.”

President Aquino outlined his administration’s major accomplishments as: rising up from conditions of rampant corruption and poverty, restoration of justice, hope and confidence, and creation of more opportunities.

So is this true?

As far as addressing the problem of corruption is concerned, the administration was able to finally file a case against and arrest former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and former Commission on Elections chairman Benjamin Abalos for electoral sabotage; it was able to force Arroyo ally and former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez to resign; and it was able to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona.

While no big corruption scandals involving officials of the current administration have erupted – except the alleged jueteng payoffs allegedly being given to Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno – still it could not be said that corruption has been totally eradicated. Nor has justice been restored. The Supreme Court decision ordering the distribution of Hacienda Luisita is the result of the struggle of the farm workers against the Cojuangco clan. It even became a sore issue between the Aquino administration and the Corona-led Supreme Court.

How could we say that justice has been restored when the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances have not yet attained justice? Likewise, there has been no justice yet for the hundreds of journalists killed. Proof that justice has not yet been restored is the continuing prevalence of impunity.

To make matters worse, the Aquino administration, instead of pursuing a just and lasting peace through a negotiated political settlement that would address the roots of the armed conflicts in the country, is still pursuing the same militaristic, counterinsurgency program that aims to “neutralize” the Communist Party of the Philippines–New People’s Army–National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The militarization of the countryside and the continuing human rights violations being committed belie the claim of the Aquino administration and the Armed Forces of the Philippines that its current counterinsurgency program dubbed Oplan Bayanihan is about “winning the peace.”

Second, poverty is worsening. The Social Weather Stations (SWS), in its recent survey, revealed that 52 percent of Filipinos, or about 10.4 million households, consider themselves as poor. It increased from only 49 percent or 9.8 million households in June this year.

This is the result of the high unemployment and underemployment rates in the country and the spikes in prices of basic commodities and services and rates of public utilities.

This, plus the increasing deployments and remittances of overseas Filipino workers reveal that opportunities for gainful employment could not be had in the country.

The devastation caused by typhoons Pedring, Quiel, and recently, Sendong not only worsened the poverty situation in the country, it showed the continuing unpreparedness and mistaken priorities of the government. The Aquino administration vetoed the P5 billion disaster preparedness fund allocation in the 2011 budget; it had repeatedly been warned of the devastation that a typhoon could cause in Northern Mindanao, especially in watershed areas such as Iligan and yet it did not heed the warning. Malacañang later admitted that it was totally focused on pinning down Arroyo thus, it failed to give proper attention to the warnings. This is a lame excuse.

To add to the government’s unpreparedness, the budget of the Department of Social Welfare and Development is skewed toward the Conditional Cash Transfer program. Thus, it has a meager fund allocation for disaster response.

Essentially, except for the filing of a case and the subsequent arrest of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – who did the same to former president Joseph Estrada who was arrested and convicted of plunder – and the absence of scandalous corruption cases involving the president, there has been not much change in the government and the country.

Politically, we still see the same elite politics and patronage system that have defined the politics in the country, the same human rights violations directed against those who challenge the social inequities and power structure, the same bias toward a military solution to address the armed conflicts in the country, and the same unequal relations and lack of sovereignty that define the relations between the Philippines and the US.

Economically, the Aquino administration is still following the path of the failed globalization project. It persists with the policies of liberalization, deregulation, and privatization that have made the country vulnerable to the world economic crisis and have made the people suffer the brunt of this crisis. The Aquino administration is not veering away from an import dependent, export oriented, foreign investment-led economic “growth” program that keeps the country from mitigating the impact of the world economic crisis. Its much-vaunted Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) program is not taking off precisely because of the world economic crisis. In fact, net foreign direct investments have been going down.

Socio-culturally, instead of empowering the people and harnessing their patriotic, democratic and collective spirit, it is perpetuating a culture of mendicancy by making the CCT as its centerpiece poverty alleviation program.

Thus, if there would be no major deviation from the same policy directions the Aquino administration is pursuing, no amount of claims of change would hold when tested on the realities of worsening poverty, social inequities, and injustices. (Bulatlat.com)

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