PerryScope: By Perry Diaz
Finally, after a roller-coasting decade of uncertainty, instability, and volatility, there is a glimmer of hope that 2011 would usher in an era of certainty, stability, and vibrancy. President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III said during the Rizal Day ceremony, “We’re not just seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. In certain sectors, we can already feel the light, the warmth of the new beginning.”
Indeed, his exuberance and optimism are buoyed by the high “trust” ratings the people have given him in spite of several embarrassing incidents and diplomatic faux pas that his fledgling administration experienced during his first six months in office. He seems to have a Teflon skin that deflects the criticisms – and mud -- thrown at him.
Barring anomalies of corruption and questionable transactions involving his appointees or himself, P-Noy should be able weather most, if not all, of “storms” that would come his way. Perceived as honest and incorruptible, it would really take a major, major scandal to break down his “invincibility,” which is buttressed by the legacy left by his parents – Ninoy and Cory Aquino. For as long as P-Noy’s “trust” ratings would remain high, a performance below par wouldn’t necessarily diminish the people’s affection for him.
However, the office of the President comes with vulnerabilities that could bring the occupant down if he or she failed to contain corruption and deliver the people from the bondage of poverty. The late dictator Ferdinand Marcos found out – albeit too late – that the use of brute force was not enough to keep him in power. In contrast, the late President Ramon Magsaysay proved that friendly – and sincere -- persuasion could disarm the enemy.
The question is: Would P-Noy settle for a place in history that would border on mediocrity or would he strive to be an “Alexander” and untie the Philippines’ complicated “Gordian Knot” that has kept the country in a state of economic disarray and moral decadence? But unlike Alexander who sliced the knot in half with a stroke of his sword -- known as the “Alexandrian solution” – and conquered the known world in the fourth century BC, P-Noy could untie his country’s “Gordian Knot” by the power of persuasion. So far, he has yet to succeed.
There were some incidents during his first six months that P-Noy might have wished he’d have handled differently. He’d probably wished that he did a few “easy” things during the August 23 hostage-taking crisis to project him as a “hands-on” take-charge leader that Filipinos love to idolize.
He’d probably wished that he listened to those who advised him to let go of DILG Undersecretary Rico E. Puno whom he protected amidst allegations that he was receiving jueteng payola. Had he removed Puno, it would have sent an electrifying signal to all his appointees that they are expected to be above board and beyond suspicion. Puno’s refusal to name the jueteng lords’ “feelers” who approached him on the jueteng lords’ behalf raised “red flags” about his involvement with them.
He’d probably wished that he did not boycott the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony for Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo for his “for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China.” He reasoned that he wanted to spare the lives of five Filipinos in death row in China. However, he didn’t say that those five condemned Filipinos were sentenced to death for “drug trafficking,” an illicit activity that has reached epidemic proportions in the Philippines. Criticized by human rights’ groups, P-Noy said, “It's not their call to make the decision. It's my call.” Now, that’s arrogance! While it was indeed his call to make, did he have to rub it in? Makes one wonder if a feeling of invincibility had gotten to his head?
P-Noy had every reason to exude optimism and confidence. The GDP grew at 7.9% in the first half of the year during Arroyo’s last six months in office; and it grew at 6.5% in the third quarter during P-Noy’s “first 100 days.” Economists have projected the growth for 2010 to be at least 7%.
P-Noy said during the Rizal Day commemoration that his government had registered a budget surplus of P500 million last November when a deficit of P6 billion was projected at that time. “And we didn’t achieve that by tightening our belts and those that needed funds were no longer funded so we can window dress. All [items] that needed funding were funded but still we had a surplus,” he said. Bravo!
The question is: Can the Aquino administration sustain a 7% growth in seven years?
“747” economic program
In October 2003, I went to Manila with a group of Fil-Ams to attend a State Dinner for President George Bush hosted by then-president Arroyo in Malacanang. Our group paid a courtesy call to the then-Speaker of the House of Representatives, Jose De Venecia. De Venecia gave us a 27-page book titled: “747: A Program for Economic Takeoff Toward Sustained Growth.” It was the result of a study commissioned by De Venecia in 2002. The “747” program was designed to generate seven percent growth for seven years in order to achieve a “Philippines without absolute poverty.”
The book identified seven strategic programs as key to its success, to wit: 1) Rural modernization; 2) Creating a world-class service sector; 3) Promoting domestic competition; 4) Magnets for foreign investment and development aid; 5) Enhancing the assets of the poor, 6) Resource Mobilization; and 7) Political and administrative modernization.
Had then-president Arroyo adopted the “747” program in 2003, she would have ridden the country of “absolute poverty” by the time she stepped down in 2010.
With P-Noy off to a good start in 2010, he could achieve what Arroyo failed to achieve if he could sustain a 7% growth through the end of his presidency in 2016. However, it is easier said than done. Like Alexander of Macedonia, P-Noy has to untie the Philippines’ “Gordian Knot” to bring in an era of peace and prosperity.
Recently, P-Noy received an unsolicited advice from Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo, the former president of the influential Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP). Lagdameo said that P-Noy “needed to be discerning when it came to the pieces of advice he was getting from the people around him.” He suggested that P-Noy replace some of his “weak” Cabinet members and that he should do a “balancing act” -- that is, “Listen to what everybody has to say and pick up the best elements for the good of the country.”
During his inaugural address, P-Noy acknowledged that the people were his “bosses.” It behooves him then to listen to them… to hear what’s in their minds. And after he listens to his “bosses,” he could then make his call. That’s the right thing to do. That’s wisdom.
P-Noy knows that a vast majority of Filipinos have high hopes for his success. Ultimately, his success would be every Filipino’s success; however, his failure would be the nation’s failure.
Finally, after a decade of turmoil, there is a glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel.