A “Lame Duck” President?

by Benjie Oliveros

Pres. Benigno Aquino III is about to enter the last year of his administration. Technically, his term ends in one and a half years more. However, in the Philippines, a year before the elections, those gearing up to run – whether from inside or outside the government, from the ruling or opposition party – are already positioning themselves, not only in grabbing “pogi points” through more public visibility, but also in courting the strongest presidential contender.

As a representative of the Lower House – who has served under several presidents – puts it, the last year of any president makes him or her a “lame duck president.” It is, thus, already the ripe time to measure the achievements and failings of the second Aquino presidency. Furthermore, the Aquino administration, four and a half years into its term, could no longer blame anyone for its failings. It could no longer pin its problems on its predecessor, as it was wont to do since it assumed the presidency.

1. “Daang matuwid”

Benigno Aquino III propelled his campaign under the banner of anti-corruption, good governance and transparency, which the Liberal Party coined as the “daang matuwid” to differentiate it from the Arroyo administration that was implicated in numerous corruption cases.

Four and a half years later, what it could show is that former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is under hospital arrest and three opposition senators – Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada – have been charged before the Ombudsman and are under detention.

However, corruption has not been eradicated. And while President Aquino has not been directly linked to a major corruption case – although the Cojuangco-Aquino clan has, in defiance of a Supreme court order, been maneuvering to prevent the distribution of the land of Hacienda Luisita – he has been defending and coddling his friends who have been linked to irregularities such as Police chief Alan Purisima, Budget Sec. Butch Abad, former Land Transportation Office chief Virginia Torres, former Local Government undersecretary Rico Puno, among others.

Worse, the Aquino government was exposed to have been maintaining its own pork barrel fund, the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). And while the Supreme Court declared its essential features unconstitutional, President Aquino defended it even to the extent of challenging the authority of the high court.

It has set up a website that shows the major disbursements under the DAP. But following the money trail up to the end user leads one to a dead end. The Aquino government also refuses to pass a genuine Freedom of Information bill.

While the “daang matuwid” is being equated by the administration to good governance, it has not provided a clear vision for the government. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had her mega-regions; Fidel Ramos had his vision of propelling the nation to become a Newly-Industrialized Country; even Marcos had his New Society. Although they did not achieve these under their respective administrations and it never benefited the Filipino people, at least they had a vision that united all agencies of government. The Aquino government has none.

Its Public-Private Partnership programs is no more than a reprise of the Build-Operate-Transfer scheme and other privatization and commercialization measures that are disadvantageous to the Filipino people.

2. Who is the boss?

Since day one of his administration, President Aquino has been insisting that the Filipino masses are his bosses. However, unemployment and poverty have hovered around its worst levels in history; wages have fallen in real terms and, instead of increasing it to cope with rising prices, the Aquino administration has imposed the two-tiered wage system, which brings down further the minimum wage and makes the system more exploitative.

Prices of basic commodities continue to rise, so do rates of basic utilities such as power and water, and the cost of education and health services. It sometimes fluctuates and goes down momentarily but more than makes up for it with more increases. Recently, the Aquino administration imposed an increase in MRT-LRT train fares without any clear justification thereby making consumers carry the burden of high prices even more.

On the other hand, profitability of foreign and local big businesses continues to grow because of increasing workers’ productivity and government guarantees and incentives.

3. Rights?

President Aquino also promised the protection of human rights, an end to impunity, and the dispensation of justice. However, impunity in the killings of journalists, extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary killings of political activists, and other human rights violations continues. No human rights violator has been punished.

In terms of national sovereignty, the Aquino government has been asserting the nation’s claim over the Spratly Islands and Panatag Shoal against China, only to surrender our sovereignty to the US through the US-PH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which essentially makes the whole country a US military base. A mere few months after, transgender Jennifer Laude was murdered allegedly by a US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.

The US has refused to turn over custody of Pemberton to the Philippine government, an act that shows its disregard for Philippine sovereignty and laws and which proves what critics have been saying all along: that these agreements are disadvantageous to the Filipino people.

What the Aquino administration is boasting about is economic growth measured in incremental increases in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). But who benefits from this supposed growth?

At this point, the Aquino government has already laid down the course that it would take and one could not expect any major development, much less a shift in the government’s priorities as its allies have been hoping it would.

What the people could expect in the coming year are politicians jockeying for positions. But there is an opportunity in this. Perhaps groups could convince those intending to run for public office to take on positions beneficial to the people, which they might do in the hope of getting votes.

As for President Aquino? There is a reason why a president in his or her last year of office is called a “lame duck” president. (bulatlat.com)

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