Aquino flunked test of national leadership, say economists, rights groups

SONA PROTEST VIOLENCE. Protesters marching along Commonwealth Avenue are dispersed with water cannons by firefighters guarding the route to the House of Representatives on Monday. President Aquino delivered his final State of the Nation Address, enumerating his administration's accomplishments in five years.

MANILA — Economists and other experts on Tuesday said President Aquino flunked the test of national leadership in the past five years, with poverty incidence officially at 25.8 percent, well below the passing grade of 17.2 percent that was set as part of his Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Social Watch Philippines (SWP) lead convenor Professor Leonor Magtolis Briones criticized the President for retreating on his sworn duty to uplift the poor and failing to protect the Constitution.
Worse, he also earned a flunking grade when the Supreme Court (SC) practically convicted him and Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad for mangling the national budget and spending for projects, activities, and programs (PAP) not covered by the General Appropriations Act but justified only by the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that was crafted without congressional consent.

By losing both the DAP and Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) cases, Aquino became the only President to lose two landmark cases. His other defeat, the Hacienda Luisita case, makes Aquino a triple loser, they said.

While the Philippines’ Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has improved, its goals for 2015 may not be attained. GDP growth does not guarantee that the majority of the Filipinos have felt this economic progress.

In a radio interview Monday, Prof. Ben Diokno, former finance secretary, said any President can achieve the economic gains similar to Aquino’s accomplishments because of the huge contribution to the economy given by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

GDP growth does not guarantee that the majority of the Filipinos have felt this economic progress, Briones said.

Briones also doubted whether the purported economic growth is significant for the teeming millions of poor, hungry folk.

“Many Filipinos still consider themselves poor and hungry. Claims of robust growth can only be substantiated if they benefit from it,” she said.

Scaling up the Conditional Cash Transfer program (CCT), popularly known as the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), was the President’s solution to eradicating poverty.

However, Briones dismissed the P62-billion solution as a cross-eyed as it provides the condition for graft.

“Hindi pamimigay ng pera ang solusyon, trabaho ang dapat pagtuunan ng pansin (Dole-out is not the solution. The government should focus on employment.) Besides, CCT is directed to children of school age and pregnant women, leaving out those who are not in this group of poor,” she added.

While Nacionalista Party (NP) Sen. Cynthia Villar gave Aquino’s five-year performance a fair grade, she lamented that the President failed to touch on poverty reduction during his last State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA).

“Ako mahilig sa poverty (My focus is on poverty). I wished that during the last year of his term, he shall be able to reduce poverty in the country,’’ she said.

Villar, an ally of Aquino, said reducing poverty is doable. “Yes, but don’t expect to eliminate it but just lessen it.”

Meanwhile, numerous violations of the Constitution happened during Aquino’s term, Briones said.
“The PDAF and the DAP, continue to exist despite SC’s declaring both schemes unconstitutional,” Briones explained.

“The administration has effectively defied the court’s decision by inflating budgets that contain PDAF-like, legislator-identified projects, arbitrarily redefining savings and augmentation, as well as inserting the concept of reallocation of allotment classes and reprioritization,” she added.

The proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), as supported by the administration, comprises of provisions that are unconstitutional, in terms of fiscal autonomy and audit and fiscal accountability.
With these actions, Briones said “it is only under this current administration that the Constitution have been repeatedly violated and disregarded.”

The Aquino administration also had the weakest financial management since large amounts of appropriated in the budget remain unspent due to inefficiency of agencies and institutional weakness.
Briones tagged the slow implementation of projects as one form of corruption.

“The state of our mass transportation became worse and was not handled effectively by the government. The Yolanda rehabilitation in which up until now, nearing its end of the rehabilitation and recovery plan, it still has not met its spending targets most especially regarding resettlement of the victims,” she lamented.
“Just like the famous line in the American series Game of Thrones: Winter is coming. For us, other Yolandas are coming,” said Briones.

“The lack of priority to disaster preparedness will definitely may lead to similar, even worse situations than the onslaught of Yolanda,” she warned.

In 2010, the President, during his electoral campaign, promised to eradicate poverty, hunger, corruption and pledged to defend the Constitution.

“But nearly the end of his term, he has not fulfilled any of the promises he made,” Briones said.
As this developed, United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) party spokesman Mon Ilagan branded President Aquino “un-statesmanlike” for hurling potshots in his SONA.

Despite this, Ilagan, a former Cainta mayor and journalist, maintained that UNA respects the views of the Chief Executive.

“While hurling barbs against political opponents during an important occasion like the SONA can be considered un-statesmanlike, we respect the views of the President,” he said.

UNA is the party of 2016 presidential hopeful, Vice President Jejomar C. Binay.
Although Aquino didn’t mention the opposition leader by name in his lengthy speech, he clearly referred to Binay when he criticized a presidential aspirant who promised to “improve the lives of the people”.
“Ang sagot namin, ‘eh di wow din! Mr. President’ (To that we also say, ‘eh di wow! Mr. President),” said Ilagan, mocking another Binay tirade in the SONA.
Ilagan, also UNA’s provincial coordinator, said Aquino may have been compelled to retaliate after “hearing the truth” from the Vice President’s camp as far as his administration is concerned.
“The truth hurts. Maybe the truth about the country hurt the President so much that he had to assail the Vice President.”

Near the end of this SONA, Aquino also left out Binay in a long “thank you list” of current and former Cabinet members who helped him establish the Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) style of governance.

“It’s the President’s prerogative to thank whoever he wants,” the UNA spokesman said.

Binay served as Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) chairman and Presidential Adviser on Overseas Workers Affairs (OWA) for five years under the Aquino administration.

He resigned only last June, ahead of the official launch of the UNA party last July 1.

Likewise, detained Sen. Jinggoy Estrada slammed President Aquino’s move to single him out and two other senators when he trumpeted the success of his anti-corruption drive in his last SONA.

Estrada was referring to President Aquino’s speech where he mentioned the filing of charges against the three lawmakers who were charged for plunder and graft for funneling their PDAF to bogus non-government organizations (NGOs).

Aquino didn’t mention their names, but he was obviously referring to Estrada, and Senators Juan Ponce-Enrile and Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.

“I take exception to the President’s choice of highlighting the case of the three senators to demonstrate supposed strides in its anti-corruption campaign. Our case is not a product of a relentless anti-corruption drive as it was proudly presented to be, but an unfortunate result of selective justice and political persecution,” Estrada said in a statement.