Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The innocent returns

Bypass
Gary Olivar
Manila Standard
http://www.manilastandardtoday.com/insideOpinion.htm?f=2010/september/28/garyolivar.isx&d=2010/september/28

EARLY this morning, President Aquino returns from his maiden trip abroad as our head of state. The biggest booty he will bring back home from the United States is, of course, the long-delayed grant of $434 million in aid from the Bush-era Millennium Challenge Corporation. This is equivalent to nearly P20 billion, serious money indeed for an administration that is pinching every penny it can in its unaccountable obsession with deficit reduction.
Expect all the stops to be pulled out by the President’s communications group, now that they finally seem to have gotten their act together. [I especially like what I’ve been reading lately from the new deputy spokesman, Abigail Valte, and I look forward to actually seeing and hearing her in action one of these days.] Expect a deserved round of chest-beating and horn-tooting, especially now that the controversy over the Luneta hostage crisis seems to be dying down.

So, before the revisionists of the yellow army go to work with their usual vengeance (pun intended), let’s back up a bit and compare propaganda with reality. To be specific, let’s examine the truthfulness of the quotation below from the President:

“These past few years, our country has experienced modest economic growth, but the real life situations of our countrymen have only gotten worse. There have been few developments in the lives of Filipinos, especially in the areas of education and maternal health.” (from Pres Aquino’s foreword to the 2010 progress report on the Millennium Development Goals - MDG’s)

That’s the party line from Malacañang. What are the facts?

***

1. Growth was significant, not modest. This is what the MDG progress report had to say: “Over this decade, the Philippine economy posted significant economic growth… [Following the global recession], recent data suggest that the economy is on its way to recovery.”

Looking at the chart below, one is struck by the year 2007, when growth was so high that we ended the year only P12 billion away from a balanced budget. But then, one might also quibble over the downtrend in growth thereafter. In that connection, it’s thus worth remembering that the year 2008 saw successive price shocks in food (rice) and imported fuel, while the year 2009 saw the global financial crisis degenerate into a true recession worldwide.

An even more salient question is this: when we went through those crises the last couple of years, who would we have preferred to be at the helm of the ship of state? An in-your-face, surveys-be-damned micro-manager like Dr. Macapagal-Arroyo? Or her successor in office?

***

2. We have done well on most—not just a few —of the MDGs. These goals were first adopted at an initial global summit in September 2000, so the task of complying with them substantially fell to the former president during her nine years in office. This was her scorecard by the time she left the Palace:

So when President Aquino chooses to say that the glass is one-fourth empty, rather than three-fourths full, is he just committing a rhetorical slip? Maybe self-serving casuistry? Or could it be—heaven forbid—outright dishonesty?

***

To be sure, some people may point out that approval of the grant was repeatedly postponed during the Arroyo term because of concerns in the US about the issue of corruption—a governance criterion for the amount and speediness of approval for actual release of funds. This was a particularly troublesome test for the previous administration to meet, but also the same issue through which the new administration drew its line in the sane and thereby won its resounding mandate at the polls.

The credibility that President Aquino brings to his anti-corruption pledge has obviously impressed a foreign audience that has grown weary of the same old promises from one Philippine leadership after another. Both history and prophecy were midwives at the diplomatic breakthrough we enjoyed in New York last week, and between what was already achieved by the previous president and what is now being promised by the current one, there is clearly enough credit to go around.

Whether or not this is something the young Turks now in power will acknowledge, though, is another matter altogether. I will wager that this in fact is the shortcoming Sen Joker Arroyo really had in mind when he unflatteringly compared them to a “student council”.

It’s not just the issue of competence that might be bothering the veteran lawmaker—after all, competence can always be picked up, with enough time and experience—but the possibility of short-sighted arrogance, the tunnel vision of self-righteousness among our new leaders, which—if allowed to fester in their idealistic young souls—will make them nothing more than perpetual, trial-and-error students.

***

Gary Olivar is a director of the Center for Strategy, Enterprise & Intelligence (CenSEI), providing expertise in strategy and management, enterprise development, intelligence, Internet and media. He can be reached at gbolivar1952@gmail.com

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