COMMENT: Aquino Nearing his Mid-term

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 4 January) – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III is just six months away from completing three years in his six-year presidency. How are the country and the Filipinos faring as he is nearing his mid-term?


From the Palace


Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda called “2012” the year of “rebuilding and restoration” – the culmination of “a period of renewal for the country” over “the past two and a half years”. In 2012, “the nation began to feel the ‘full effect of political will used correctly’.” (The Philippine Star, December 28, 2012: 2012 year of rebuilding for Phl’)


The Star quoted Lacierda: “By all indicators, this was the best year for the Philippines in a long time”, without mentioning any concrete “indicators” – like a “just-believe-us” report to the nation. However, in his full statement (Official Gazette, December 27, 2012), he specified these indicators: the landmark laws passed; the judicial reforms after the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona; “a roaring economy” shown in high GDP and stock exchange index; the government investments in social infrastructures; and the signing of the Framework Agreement on Bangsamoro by Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.


As a clincher: “We turned the corner, fixed the damage wrought by the crooked ways of the past (read: Arroyo) and established further that the straight path is the only way forward. As the administration embarks on 2013, there is all the more reason for Filipinos to travel on the straight path under the leadership of President Aquino and the adherents to his noble cause.”


In another report (The Philippine Star, December 28, 2012: ‘Pinoys to feel growth benefits next year’), the Star cited deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte as saying: “The government wants to ensure inclusive growth benefits for every Filipino next year through job generation and pro-poor programs to carry through the people optimism.”


Citing Aquino’s still “very good” popularity rating and the “surprising” GDP (Gross Domestic Product), she said, “So the task is to continue making that growth inclusive, not just to wait for it to trickle down but to have direct intervention at the fifth quintile.” [By “fifth quintile”, she means the poorest fifth part of the population – the “E-Class”. – PPD]


Valte has admitted the exclusion of the poor, especially the poorest of the poor, from the benefits of growth as of 2012. She has just promised their inclusion in 2013, implying there have been not enough jobs generated and pro-poor programs implemented in the first half of the Aquino administration. Despite this, the poor are still optimistic of their future under Aquino; the promise will sustain these “people’s optimism”?


From Top CEOs


If the expected five to six percent growth and high performance of the stock market has made 2012 “one of the best years ever for the Philippines” the year “2013 promises to be even better”, so predicts the CEOs (chief executive officers) of some of country’s biggest corporations (Philippine Daily Inquirer, December 30, 2012: Top CEOs bullish on Philippines).


With the “good economic fundamentals” in 2012, they foresee faster economic growth and the Philippines getting investment-grade status – “something we haven’t seen in at least three decades,” said one CEO. This will pave the way for more investments to pour in.


Citing the economic growth indicators and factors they see, they say they have made “plans for 2013 on the premise that the Philippine economy will do well”. They see encouraging statistics on GDP, loans-to-GDP ratio, the fiscal deficit, and government revenue collections. They see a strong and still growing domestic consumer market; for 2013, the election will boost spending.


Obviously, the CEOs’ principal concerns are investment and profit – how safely and profitably they can invest their capital. While corporations are involved in social and civic projects for the uplift of the poor, this is secondary to their business interest. People are consumers; the more they spend for services and consumer goods, the more profits business gets.


To attract investments, the government builds infrastructures and create conducive business climate. The assumption – the hype, in fact – is that investments generate jobs and lessen unemployment and poverty. The assumption is fallacious – whether under presidents in the past or under Aquino.


2013: Critical!

The President affirmed in his New Year’s message posted in the Official Gazette (December 31, 2012) and reported by The Philippine Star (January 1, 2013: ‘2013 critical for Phl’) all that his spokespersons and CEOs said. He enthused that instead of importing million tons of rice the country will be self-sufficient in 2013, if not be an exporter of rice. The schools no longer lack classrooms, desks and tables; there are now enough books for the children.


He said the Philippines has long been ridiculed as the “Sick Man of Asia”; now investors are flocking into our country because of our flourishing economy. And it appears that we will long enjoy this worldwide confidence in our economy.

What makes “2013” critical is the May election. The growth of the reforms we have sown, he said, depends on the officials to be elected – senators, representatives and local officials. He implored the people to critically scrutinize those they are going to elect – obviously, not only their qualifications but their commitment to good government.


He stated his position, “Kaya naman mahalaga ang ating paninindigan at pagtitimbang kung saang direksyon tutungo ang ating bansa (Hence, our firm stand on and serious consideration of the course our country must take):”, and presented two options,” Sabay-sabay ba tayong sasagwan patungo sa landas kung saan nangingibabaw ang kapakanan ng Pilipino (Shall we work together to uphold the welfare of the Filipino)? O hahayaan lang natin na muling matangay ang Pilipinas sa mga daluyong ng panlalamang, pagkakanya-kanya’t kurapsyon (Or, shall we let again the Philippines be carried away by the tide of opportunism, disunity and corruption)?


He appealed, “Ang aking hiling ngayong 2013: ituloy lang natin ang bayanihan. Kapit-bisig tayong humakbang tungo sa maliwanag at masaganang kinabukasan ng ating bayan (My wish for 2013: Let’s keep alive the spirit of cooperation. Hand-in-hand, let’s march toward the bright and prosperous future of our country).”


The People: No Say


The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s December 31 editorial, Reason to be bullish”, joined the refrain: “Filipinos have reason to face the new year bursting with hope. That is, insofar as the economy is concerned. From all indications, Asia’s best performer in 2012 is headed for another banner year.” The editorial cited assessments of the International Monetary Fund, of the credit rating agency Standard and Poor and of local and foreign economic analysts as well as the report of the Global Consumer Confidence Survey.


It quoted IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, who visited Manila last December: “The Philippines is probably the only country in which we have increased the growth forecast as opposed to other places in the world where we actually decreased our forecast.”


The statistical and testimonial indicators portraying the economic development in the Philippines during the first half of the Aquino III administration, as reported, should be positively welcomed rather than doubted or belied. However, the picture must be viewed from its proper perspective in relation to the common Filipinos or the masa (masses).


Economic development means building of infrastructures. What infrastructures and for whom? Much, much more of infrastructures are to promote and support domestic and foreign investors; comparatively much less are in rural areas – like farm-to-market roads, irrigation, etc. – to boost agriculture and small industries. Does it need an expert to tell the real social meaning of this economic development which Aquino III has inherited and failed to correct?


Economic development means increasing income. Whose income and for what? The increasing GDP means more money for Classes A, B and C – most of it for “A”; for Classes D and E, hardly enough to live on – barely, for “E”. The national economic growth benefits most the Class A – moderately, Classes B and C. What goes to the bigger portion of the population – Classes D and E? Valte has admitted just a trickle, promising “inclusive growth” or “direct intervention” (direct benefit) in 2013.


In a consumer-driven economy, the principal role of the common people is to pay taxes to support government and spend whatever money they can eke out on goods and services – doing their best to cope with the ever rising costs – to fuel industry. As long as industry makes profits and government has the ever-increasing revenues, the economy grows. Never mind the actual social and economic existence of the masa.


Why not let the people have a say on what economic growth really mean? Their actual existence clearly suggests. Unfortunately, only fools see the truth: The ultimate gauge of economic growth is the actual social and economic life of ALL the people. Of course, industry, government and experts are not fools!


How much economic justice is reflected in the economic growth under Aquino III as well as under the past presidents?


(To Be Continued: Dampers)


(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at