Wag-the-dog presidency

President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address next week will be a quintessential wag-the-dog speech. The hustle and bustle in the past several weeks of hurling charges against officials of the past administration were all about getting the tail to start wagging for the Sona, so Mr. Aquino can claim that he has done something in his first year in office. The accusations were so rushed in fact, that included in the charge sheets were people who helped Mr. Aquino get elected.

The moralistic tuwid-na-daan storm troopers have even stooped as low as to offer freedom to Zaldy Ampatuan, one of the accused in the massacre of 58 human beings, as long as he concocts charges against the former president and her other officials. That this is simply a wag-the-dog (i.e., media) operation has been disclosed in reports that it is Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Communications Secretary Ricky Carandang who have been lobbying for Ampatuan’s “Plan B.”

With the crime situation getting out of control so that even dentists—yes, dentists—are now cowering in fear in their clinics, Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, the Cabinet secretary in charge of the police, has been spending his time coaching a crooked Comelec official on what kind of mud to throw against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Mr. Aquino himself has been busy meeting with DSWD Secretary Corazon Soliman who he thinks knows what other mud to throw at his predecessor.

Consider our country’s situation, what Mr. Aquino has done so far, and we can expect what he will say next week.

A global economic crisis, the worst since the 1930s Great Depression, raged from 2008 to 2009. Yet because of competent macroeconomic management, the country’s GDP in 2009, according to the Aquino government’s Philippine Development Plan 2011-2016, “rose by 1.1 percent, making the Philippines one of the few economies in the region to register positive performance amidst a recession.”

Although the country weathered the global crisis, much of the work needed to develop the economy slowed down during the economic storm. Among these: infrastructure—roads, mass transit systems, bridges, airport terminals—and new government efforts to raise revenues to finance these; bigger budgets for health and education to raise human capital; and, agricultural modernization, which is particularly crucial since 71 percent of poor Filipinos are in rural areas.

The window to do all these could close any time. A debt default by Greece could have a contagion effect that would replicate the Asian financial crisis of 1997, while the US debt imbroglio could mean a repeat of the 2009 global financial crisis.

The growth achieved by our country from 2004 to 2009 has been unprecedented, with average GDP growth rate at 5.6 percent. The Aquino administration’s economic plan itself notes that the “economy expanded at its fastest rate in three decades in 2007, with GDP growing at 7.1 percent (and GNP growing at 7.4 percent).” This however has created an urgent problem. Economic growth has outstripped the capacity of our electric-power plants and urbanization has accelerated. Already, four-hour brownouts in Mindanao are pulling down its economy.

What specific actions and programs has Mr. Aquino undertaken to address these issues? Instead of accelerating infrastructure projects, many of these have been suspended or cancelled on the mere suspicion that they were tainted with corruption. The Belgian-funded Laguna Lake Development Project, which could have been a flagship project, has been suspended, resulting in a P6-billion damage suit against the government. There has been no movement on the part of Mr. Aquino to wield his tremendous political capital to finally settle the Naia 3 dispute.

The current budget surplus has simply been due to deep cuts in government spending, which reduce economic activity and jobs. Revenue growth has been unremarkable, what with the public perception of the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s campaign against tax evasion as mainly harassment against personalities of the past administration. Smuggled goods are flooding the Divisoria and Greenhills markets. No surprise there: never before in the Bureau of Customs’ history have there been 600 40-foot container vans containing luxury, high-duty goods from abroad disappearing into thin air.

The crime situation has worsened and Mr. Aquino does not even seem to be aware of this. The anti-organized crime czar he appointed and gave a P300 million intelligence fund to has absolutely no experience in crime-fighting, and is an over-worked former city administrator, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.

Yet what we will be hearing from Mr. Aquino on July 25 will again be about the National Food Authority, Pagcor, PCSO and—thanks to Lacierda and Carandang’s operations—the elections six years ago. This will make up the tail—the alleged corruption in the past administration—which will on Monday wag the dog that should be the President’s first-year scorecard and vision for our country.

Mr. Aquino should take time to read her mother’s Sonas. Instead of dwelling on allegations against her predecessor, Ferdinand Marcos, and his cronies, Cory’s Sonas dealt mostly with her reform programs. In her six Sonas (consisting of 21,243 words), she mentioned the term “dictator” only a dozen times, and “Marcos” only once. She never mentioned “cronies” or “Swiss bank accounts”—the rage in media during that time. “Reform” was a word she mentioned over 30 times, “economy,” 40 times. The words “economy” and “reform” were each mentioned only once in Mr. Aquino’s first Sona.

Vision, magnanimity and fairness are virtues that don’t seem to be genetically transmitted.
From the Philippine Daily Inquirer