With only one and a half years left in his presidency, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III is still trying to convince his “bosses” — the people – that he’s on track with his promise of “Walang korap, walang mahirap” (No corruption, no poverty) on the “daang matuwid” (straight path). And after four and a half years of his scandal-ridden administration, P-Noy has yet to deliver what he vowed to accomplish: stop corruption and eradicate poverty. But what’s happening is the reverse: corruption is on the rise and more people are getting poor… and hungry.
What is strange is that with the “economic boom” that P-Noy had been trumpeting with all the fanfare of a conquering Caesar, the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that 52% — or 11.4 Filipino families – rate themselves as “poor.” It matched the poverty rate in 2006. However, the population in 2006 was around 90 million and last year’s population exceeded 100 million. Although the percentage rates were the same, the 2014 population was 10 million more than in 2006.
“What has gone wrong?” This question has been asked by a lot of people but the answers were as elusive as the Loch Ness monster, which turned out to be a hoax 60 years after it was “photographed.” And just like “Nessie,” the Loch Ness monster, the country’s vibrant economic landscape that P-Noy’s spinmeisters have created was so convincing that most people wouldn’t attempt to do a reality check and ask, “If the economy was really booming, how come more people are in poverty today than before?”
Touted as one of the fastest growing economies in the world, the world’s leading credit rating agencies gave the Philippines an “investment grade” status in 2013. The Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services also upgraded the country’s credit rating a notch above “investment grade.” But here’s the rub: the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. The country’s elite – the major conglomerates and influential families – is taking the bulk of the wealth created by the economic boom. Poverty and employment rates have stagnated. And the hungry are increasing in numbers.
Projected as an anti-corruption crusader, P-Noy wasn’t coy about flaunting the reforms that he claimed to have instituted to rid the country of corruption. Yet, corruption today is worse than the previous administration. Two years ago, the biggest corruption scandal in government erupted involving lawmakers who conspired with a well-connected scammer who siphoned at least P10 billion of taxpayers’ money allocated to the Priority Development Assistance Programs (PDAF) or pork barrel. To date, three senators have been charged with plunder, a non-bailable offense, and are now detained in jail.
Then came the exposure of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which was created by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) under the Office of the President. Billions were diverted from the national budget to DAP in which P-Noy has sole authority to disburse as he pleases without any congressional interference or oversight.
Indeed, DAP is patronage politics at its worst. Many call DAP P-Noy’s pork barrel and many more refer to his discretionary power in the use of DAP as “fiscal dictatorship.” But Congress wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole for obvious reason: It is the goose that lays golden eggs for the lawmakers. So why kill the goose?
Then the Supreme Court dealt P-Noy a double-whammy by ruling that PDAF and DAP were unconstitutional. P-Noy criticized the High Court’s decisions saying that they would stop his reforms to curb corruption. But Mr. President, isn’t it true that the PDAF and DAP were the corruptors, without which lawmakers would be unable to dip their hands into the people’s treasury?
Poverty vs. corruption
In my article, “Rx for Poverty and Corruption” (December 9, 2005), I wrote: “A study made by Management Systems International in Washington, DC, in 2003, has concluded: ‘Corruption has direct consequences on economic and government factors, intermediaries that in turn produce poverty.’ The study produced two models. On the one hand, the ‘economic model’ postulates that corruption affects poverty by first impacting economic growth factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, ‘Increased corruption reduces economic growth which would increase poverty.’ On the other hand, the ‘government model’ asserts that corruption affects poverty by first influencing governance factors, which, in turn, impact poverty levels. In other words, ‘Increased corruption reduces governance capacity which would increase poverty.’
“Is it then fair to presume that increasing economic growth and increasing government capacity would decrease poverty? If so, in order to eradicate poverty, corruption should be dealt with in a fashion that would deter people — particularly government officials — from practicing corruption. However, the problem is: The Philippines does not have an effective deterrence to stop corruption.”
So, why can’t P-Noy make real stride in fighting corruption and prosecuting corrupt government officials? There are thousands of cases gathering dust in the Office of the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan anti-graft court. It seems like searching for evidence is like looking into a bottomless pit – you know it’s there but you can’t reach it. If P-Noy were really serious in fighting – nay, dismantling — institutionalized corruption, there are a few things that he could do: (1) Pass the FOI bill; (2) Remove the secrecy lid of RA 6426; and (3) Comply fully with international anti-money laundering law requirements.
And this begs the question: Does P-Noy have the cojones to use his undiminished authority to achieve his legislative objectives, no matter how unpopular they may be? If he did, then he might still be able to redeem himself from the reversals he suffered at the hands of the Supreme Court. Indeed, it shouldn’t stop him from living up to the promises he made to his “bosses.” But for him to achieve this, he should stop playing politics and do what is right for the people, not what is beneficial to his political allies and cronies.
However, if he had given up the fight and just cruise safely – and leisurely — for the rest of his term, then he might as well accept the fact that his presidency has reached a dead-end… albeit prematurely.
Perhaps, it’s about time that P-Noy should start believing that the vibrant economic landscape his spinmeisters had painted – just like “Nessie” – is not real.