Many believed President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino 3rd when he said that there would be no poverty if there were no corruption. The Filipino translation of that campaign slogan propelled the President to Malacañang. But after nearly a year and a half in office, what seems to be happening is a worsening of poverty and of the economy, even as the government tightens a “noose” around its prime target in the anti-graft campaign—former President Gloria Arroyo. Now that her case has started, we hope that the government will divert more of its attention to the economy, particularly on creating more jobs.
Palace officials seemed euphoric about Mrs. Arroyo’s arrest and trial, but the national attention was jolted back to reality by recent reports about the economy. GDP growth, a key indicator, fell to 3.6 percent, suggesting that the government will not reach its economic growth target this year. Worse, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicted that growth in Southeast Asia would remain low until 2016, the year President Aquino finishes his term.
The dismal economic data reports were preceded by other troubling news. The number of self-rated poverty and self-rated hunger grew, plus exports fell at its fastest pace. President Aquino and others in government pin the blame on external factors. True, there are serious global problems abroad, such as the economic turmoil in Europe, the weak US economy and surging oil prices. But, as many have also pointed out, our government is partly to blame.
Repeatedly, the authorities have been criticized for underspending. One of the most vocal critics is Dr. Benjamin Diokno, an economist from the University of the Philippines. He predicted that about P100 billion allocated for infrastructure and capital outlays that would have perked up the economy would not be spent this year. But he also saw the unspent funds being carried over to 2012 and added to the P265 billion budgeted for public spending, which would be a tremendous economic boost.
President Aquino, however, needs to move more quickly, work more effectively than he has. The dry season is ideal for construction projects, but it lasts only six months in the Philippines. The President and his team would need to hit the ground running, so to speak, in 2012.
New Year’s resolutions
We hope the President changes some of his economic beliefs and working attitudes next year. For one, he and his team need to lose the penchant for doling out money to reduce poverty and invigorate the economy. Congress has already given what President Aquino wants when it approved the P1.8-trillion national budget, which includes a hefty increase in the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program.
Instead of even more dole outs, creating employment should be Job No. 1 in 2012. Having more jobs addresses so many problems, not the least of which is poverty and the slow economy in general. President Aquino and his team could give the country an economic boost by simply spending the funds that he had requested from Congress.
Besides working harder and having plans with clear objectives and timetables, President Aquino needs to provide better leadership to his economic managers and others in his team. In 2012, for example, he should convene more Cabinet meetings to impress on his officials a greater sense of urgency in economic matters. President Aquino and his team not only needs to work longer and harder, but also smarter and with more determination to achieve objectives.
In defense of the President, his communications team had argued that Cabinet meetings were a waste of executive time. Besides, the team added, the President calls Cabinet clusters meetings regularly. The downward economic trends and low productive output of Malacañang and the Cabinet suggest that the laidback management style is not working. In management, the ability to get things done separates the good executives from the mediocre.
Last year, we wrote in this space that we want President Aquino to succeed. We still do, because his failures will be ours to bear. Conversely, his successes will be ours to enjoy. While many seem to be happy enough seeing the government chase after the Arroyos, we think that Filipinos would be more grateful if our leaders also focused on our other important needs—like job creation.