President Aquino’s first 100 days in office must be taken in its entirety. It is far too easy to highlight one issue— while ignoring the rest— that is fallacy.
An interesting factoid, the first 100 days is an American tradition, adapted in the Philippines by the first President Aquino. Corazon’s hundred days was under a revolutionary government. Benigno’s now trying to eclipse the blackest night of the previous regime.
We must remember the glee post election as the nation relieved that their sacrifices— standing in line under the mid-day sun to vote were not in vain. For the first time, in a long time, this was the president who legitimately won. When Aquino was finally sworn into office, it was as if a huge load had been lifted.
It was time to dream again.
There were false starts of course. The first executive order of course was one. The length of time it took to assemble the communications team was another. The two press secretaries that the media seem hell bent to encapsulate as an example of two warring factions within the government. The chain of command has always been clear— as highlighted by the executive order creating the communications group. One side handles the infrastructure and delivery of the message. One side crafts the message.
Of course, in an organization such as the government, as in every organization there are cliques, and groups. The Army of Volunteers that fought with Aquino in the long battle for the Presidency is a heterogenous mix of personalities and interests, of backgrounds and motives. To expect no less than for this diversity to sometimes clash, is to be ignorant of human nature and the challenge of democracy itself. This Aquino government is a sample of infinite diversity, in infinite combinations.
That’s not to say one should not be cognizant of incompetence or simply to ignore it.
Take for example the first trial of the Aquino government. The tragedy that befell those Hong Kong tourists on August 23, 2010 speaks to us in so many levels. That tragedy brought the nation back from the euphoria of the post election glee to ground level. It was a startling reminder that just because Aquino won, doesn’t magically mean the mistakes of the past have been forgotten. The tragedy of August 23 was years in the making, and the incapacity which help spawn an inept police force and government bit the nation in its behind the night those tourists died.
The procurement of firearms is now being reassessed in light of August 23.
The tragedy of August 23 too is a test. Evidence suggests Alfredo Lim’s gross incompetence and should he be found guilty, it is a decision that underscores the death of his brand of leadership. The questions likewise persist with DILG undersecretary Puno— who was clearly the President’s representative and as such the principal officer to advice the president to elevate the incident to the national level.
How Aquino handled August 23— and continues to handle it— since this matter is far from over hasn’t been the best of responses. It is nearly universally agreed that though this was brought about by years of ineptitude, the response prove that the upper echelon of leadership to have less satisfactory performance.
Aquino in the first hundred days showed us how loose he holds the reign of power. It is as much as his personality as it is a departure from how Arroyo took to power like fish to water. He needs to learn how to grip it a bit more tightly from time to time and from situation to situation.
The hundred days saw some serious changes. Aquino’s government is seriously attacking the fiscal situation— the greatest threat not just to its government but to Filipinos today. It has cut back on the lavish benefits accorded GOCCs. It has reduced inefficiencies in the Department of Public Works.
For the first time in a long time, there is discussion on what the budget for next year will contain. While there is a budget increase, Aquino has been cognizant on keeping the deficit low. Putting resources were it is needed and cutting back on some.
Lacking though is government communicating its move to the public. During the President’s message with regard to his hundred days in office, a group of UP-manila students did a Celdran. Their heart is in the right place, but it seem that had they asked the question, the President himself would have given them a satisfactory answer.
There are many persistent questions on education. K-12 is just one of many, but without a doubt a key administration promise. Other questions that need to be answered— is it the department of education’s policy to decentralize the schools under its control? How long has that practice been going on? Is it because by decentralizing, each university for example could make money and keep it for its operation?
What is benefit or consequences of such a policy?
The same could be said with the Department of Health. It needs to explain, is decentralization still a key government policy? Does this account for the reduction in budget for the major Medical Centers?
It is high time the public gets to understand why.
What the government has done for DOST and PAGASA are good plays. The latter of course needs to be field tested against an actual storm. It would be a great measure to test the system the government has put in place. The forward looking plans of the Department of Science and Technology are good indicators too.
In Cebu, the chamber of commerce there asked what of infrastructure for the city. Government’s reply was the same as the Cordillera’s— the stakeholders need to take hold of their destiny. The citizens of Cebu need to agree upon where the mass transit would go for example. In the Cordillera, the mining industry must take the lead in solving their problems with the National government coming in only to support.
It is a striking contrast from years of saying Imperial Manila is king.
Proponents of Federalism must make a note of this decoupling of decision making from the national to the local level. We go back to the Tragedy of August 23— it was primarily the failure of local government. It wasn’t ready. Likewise the lack of the advice to take over from locals is a primary point of failure.
Here we have a government that’s largely decoupled. And now we’re seeing the effects of too many years under terrible micromanaging. We can not expect though that this change be over night.
The strengthening of capacity for the various organs and layers of government is now running. It is a rocky beginning, but one that needs to happen. We must build capacity across every strata of the nation.
On the economic level, gross reserves are now up to 50 billion dollars. That’s about the same amount of money Apple has in their bank. The fiscal position of course remains the biggest problem facing the nation. The next would be high cost of electricity.
What critics of the government are not yet realizing is that the first hundred days is the setup. Like pieces of the chess game, the elements are being position. It isn’t also to say that the personal appointments that the president has made are entirely acceptable, but it plays a minor role in the big picture. It also does not trivialize the myriad missteps over the course of the past few months. Aquino, his cabinet and his supporters– in and out of government need to step up their game.
In a nation constantly challenged by truthiness— from the Church to the media to politicians— to even that crab mentality blaming culture as the root of all evil, as much as the drama, pomp and opulence of the recent regime, to one more humble, more circumspect with less frill, it is important to remember the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “Great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events, and small minds talk about people.”
It is too early to tell whether Aquino will be successful. A lot is riding on the success of this government. Seventy percent of Filipinos approve so far of the gains made in such short time. Could it be better and faster? Yes. Is Aquino sincere? The Millennium Challenge Cup gave him 434 million dollars, gambling on his sincerity. Would MCC have done any less, if the nation did not elect him with one of the largest mandate in our recent history?
The first 100 days can be summed up as, “Though there have been many missteps, yes, but we are dreaming again and we are making the dream real. So far so good.”
Photo credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau