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Is he losing it?

WITH PRESIDENT Aquino’s receding popularity, few listened to his two Independence Day speeches, one at Kawit and the other at the Luneta. A sympathetic media solely reported on, well, his “announcement” of the start of a new graft-free chapter of our nation, as if that herculean task had already been achieved.

Maybe that was for the best, for our peace of mind on our nation’s birthday. But read his speeches (posted at www.gov.ph), and you will worry. They will go down in our history as the worst ever given by a president on our country’s National Day.

A biased conclusion? Decide for yourself:

So beneath the dignity of both the occasion and his office, and in the manner of a grade-school bully, Mr. Aquino makes fun in his Kawit speech of a prosecutor’s surname: “Itong special prosecutor, na minalas naman pong napangalanan pang Sulit, sulit po ba ang ginawang pagsisilbi nang pasukin itong plea bargain agreement?” Nobody laughed.

Like a brat boasting, the President again used street lingo: “Mantakin po ninyo: nagawa natin ito, eh ni wala pa tayong isang taon sa puwesto.” The achievement he was referring to was the National Food Authority’s importation of only 800,000 metric tons of rice, compared to his predecessors’ 2.5 million metric tons. It was hardly an achievement to boast of since the 2.5 million MT were imported as an insurance against a rice shortage during an impending world grains shortage.

Those are just for starters. It gets worse—much worse, in fact, that the speeches make one worry about our President’s mental health, since his statements are so obviously divorced from reality. What else could you conclude when the President says that after 11 months in power, he has eradicated hunger and unemployment so that the Filipinos’ problems now are merely what food to choose, what kind of job to get? I’m not kidding:

“Kung dati po ay ‘Saan ako kukuha ng ipapakain ko sa pamilya?’ ang tanong ng karaniwang Pilipino ngayon po… ay ‘Ano kayang ulam ang pasalubong ko sa aking asawa’t anak?’” One would give Mr. Aquino a break here if there were some itsy-bitsy improvement. But according to the Social Weather Stations’ March survey, hunger has worsened and is now afflicting 4.1 million Filipinos, from 3.4 million in November.

“Dati, puno ng hinaing ang ilang kababayan natin sa Middle East na hindi makabalik-balik sa Pilipinas dahil sa takot na mamamatay lang sila dito sa gutom. Pero ngayon po, ang pinoproblema na lang ay ang mismong kalidad at uri ng mapapasukang trabaho.” Mr. Aquino seems to be totally oblivious of the fact that even with the dangers posed by political upheavals in several Middle East countries, Filipinos are still rushing to work there so that the government for a time mulled imposing a ban. The SWS also has reported that since he took over, 2.8 million more Filipinos were added to the ranks of the jobless.

Mr. Aquino’s speech had other statements that didn’t square with reality. Using the street lingo for corruption (“bukol”), Mr. Aquino claimed: “Binawasan din natin ang mga kontratang binubukulan sa LLDA, sa DPWH at sa iba pang ahensiya ng gobyerno, upang ang pondo ay mailaan sa kapanakan ng mga nangangailangan.”

After 11 months, there have been no cases, allegations, even hints of corruption uncovered by the new DPWH administration. Worse, the DPWH leadership followed blindly Mr. Aquino’s mind-set that everything done during his predecessors’ term was tainted with corruption and put on hold many construction projects and reviewed them. As a result, as National Statistical Coordination Board itself reported, government’s under-spending “constricted the economy to a lower growth,” worsening unemployment.

For Mr. Aquino to claim that he reduced the “bukol” at the Laguna Lake Development Authority is so weird since decision to cancel the dredging and rehabilitation project could be his biggest governance boo-boo so far, the economic-policy equivalent of the Luneta hostage fiasco last August. The project to be financed with official development assistance (ODA) totaling 272 million euros (P18 billion) was to be undertaken by Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon, one of the most respected infrastructure companies in the world specializing in marine projects.

In his first-100-days speech in October, Mr. Aquino boasted that he had uncovered an anomaly: the project did not go through proper bidding procedures. Despite being told that ODA projects do not require bidding, since the donor government designates the project’s contractor, and despite Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s clearance of the project, he insisted that it be cancelled.

In an unprecedented move, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme wrote a letter to Mr. Aquino on March 16 asking him to reconsider his order, and emphasizing that the project will “alleviate flooding (in Metro Manila), improve local transport infrastructure and increase water capacity.” Mr. Aquino did not bother to reply.

Exasperated, and angered by boneheaded government threats that their executives would be investigated for tax-evasion and graft, the Belgian company in April filed a case demanding P6 billion in damages from the government with the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes.

Because of Mr. Aquino’s pigheadedness, we stand to lose billions of pesos worth of Belgian ODA, pay P6 billion in damage claims, and millions of dollars more in bank commitment fees. The decades-long project to develop Laguna Lake will be all but aborted. The Belgians understandably are now spreading the word in the European Union that Mr. Aquino is not only incompetent to understand ODA projects, he does not even realize the adverse economic impact to his country of unilaterally canceling international contracts.

Could it be that he’s losing it?

From The Philippine Daily Inquirer