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Is Aquino breaking anti-smoking rules daily?

Being an ex-smoker, I certainly commiserate with President Benigno Aquino’s failure to free himself from nicotine. But he is the President of the Republic, whose sworn duty is to implement the Constitution, and every law and rule that flow out from that basic law. And illegal cigarette stubs shouldn’t after all be littering the straight path.

Mr. Aquino’s disclosure that he hasn’t stopped smoking raises important questions I hope the spectacularly timid Malacañang Press Corps can ask him.

First: Where in Malacañang does he smoke? In May 2009, then Civil Service Commission Chair Ricardo Saludo  issued Memorandum Circular No. 17, series of 2009, imposing a “100% SMOKE-FREE POLICY and a SMOKING PROHIBITION in all areas of government premises, buildings and grounds…” (caps in the original)

Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada certainly smoked there, but there wasn’t yet this prohibition. There is reportedly a similar standing ban on smoking in the US White House—imposed by Hillary Clinton when she was first lady—which eventually forced President Barack Obama to stop smoking by 2011. What a difference in character. When Obama assumed office, he vowed not to smoke in the White House. Our President instead declares that smoking is one of his “few remaining freedoms.”

The CSC circular means that the entire Malacañang complex where Mr. Aquino works and lives constitutes “government premises” where smoking is prohibited. Even the so-called “Bahay Pangarap” across the Pasig River, which is Mr. Aquino’s quarters, is government ground. The circular means that he cannot even smoke in the toilet of his bedroom in Bahay Pangarap.

The circular does allow smoking in “open spaces designated as smoking areas.” But it requires these “smoking areas” to be officially designated, located in “an open space with no roofs or walls, and located more than 10 meters away from entrances.” The CSC even stipulated that a government building can have only one designated smoking area.  There must be a “smoking area” sign, which shall contain “information regarding the hazardous effects.”

Mr. Aquino can smoke only in that single designated smoking area, or he is violating civil service rules. Has anyone seen this smoking area? For transparency, can his spokesmen show this smoking area to the media?

A controversial photo published a few months back showed Mr. Aquino in his office with hardly a document on his desk—and with a large ashtray.  The CSC prohibits this in its guideline No. 6: “All ashtrays or any receptacles made for dispensing cigarette refuse shall be removed except in designated smoking areas.”

The CSC circular stipulated that heads of agencies are required to implement the smoking ban in all government offices, or they are liable for violating the circular.

If Mr. Aquino still smokes, he, as well as the executive secretary who is in charge of Malacañang, is likely violating civil service rules every single day, and, as MC No. 17 emphasizes in bold font: “Any violation of this Circular shall be considered a ground for disciplinary action…”

There is a second question about Mr. Aquino’s smoking habit. During my Liberal Party days when he and I had to go to some far-off corner to smoke in meetings at rabidly antismoking senator Franklin Drilon’s house, I remember he smoked “blue”—or imported—Marlboro reds. Is he still smoking imported cigarettes, which in this country are mostly smuggled?

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There is some misunderstanding about the 7.1-percent GDP growth rate for the third quarter. That figure refers to the growth rate of the GDP produced in the third quarter of 2012 of P1.53 trillion (adjusted for inflation) over the GDP in the third quarter of 2011, which was P1.42 trillion. An alternative way of reporting is to compute the quarter-on-quarter rate, which some countries in fact do (although on a seasonally adjusted annualized rate) such as the United States’ recently reported 2.7-percent GDP growth in the third quarter. In this method, the Philippine third quarter’s P1.53 million GDP fell 4.4 percent from the second quarter’s P1.60 trillion GDP.

But more importantly, the GDP growth rate indeed was “exceptionally high”—but to a great extent due to an arithmetic reason. GDP had grown so small in the third quarter of 2011—at 3.2 percent—because of Mr. Aquino’s bungling in decelerating government spending ostensibly to weed out corruption. As a result, the base for computing the growth rate for the third quarter of 2012 was low, resulting in that “exceptionally high” rate of increase. The higher 7.3-percent increase in the third quarter of 2010 (see chart) was similarly high because of the slow 0.5 percent growth in 2009—at the height of the global financial crisis. To illustrate: If the Thai air force acquires one C-130, it will increase its transport assets by only 5 percent, since it has already 19 such airplanes. But if we get just one C-130, our air force assets will “exceptionally increase” by 50 percent—since we currently have only two such transport planes.