As it turns out, P-Noy and his government are continuing the course set out by the Arroyo regime, albeit seeking to follow it in a more honest manner.
At a dinner party I recently attended, conversation around the table inadvertently turned to the achievements of the Arroyo administration. My host had just been describing the quick travel time he had experienced between his home in the central business district and that of his farm out in Lipa, Batangas. A newly opened expresway had facilitated the smooth ride.
“Hasn’t Mrs Arroyo done well in some respects?” he asked rhetorically.
To which I replied that I felt Mrs Arroyo made the most of the hand she had been dealt. In 2001, the lady had inherited a faltering economy, a divided society and a polity that was crumbling. Her ascent to power was predicated on the support of the military. This along with threats from a disloyal opposition which sought to overthrow her at every turn made her vulnerable to the use of patronage as well as authoritarian methods of tamping down dissent.
This only created a downward spiral for her support politically as the ranks of the dissenters grew, which caused her more and more to employ undemocratic tactics to keep them at bay. When she left office, her approval ratings were the lowest of any president since records were kept. Yet despite all this, I explained, she still managed to pull rabbits out of the proverbial hat. The state was brought back from the brink of bankruptcy and the economy was shepherded back to life.
The present government of P-Noy on the other hand was dealt the best possible hand that any incoming administration could ever hope for. The macroeconomic settings he inherited alone were quite stable with above normal growth, low inflation, a lower than expected fiscal and current account deficit, and a healthy balance of payments surplus. Unemployment may not be declining, but neither is it rising dramatically as in other parts of the globe.
But don’t take my word for it. Several credit rating agencies and multi-lateral institutions have upgraded their growth outlook for the Philippines, prompting both bond and capital markets to treat our debt and other financial instruments more favorably.
Due to the legitimacy of his ascent to power and these positive economic fundamentals, the broad support P-Noy enjoys has not been accorded any leader since the restoration of our democracy. It cuts across all social groups. This is reflected in both investor and consumer confidence as money continues to pour in from overseas. The challenge for this president, I concluded, is not to squander such a beautiful start.
To which another guest at the table replied, “Well, there’s your problem, right there! No matter how good the hand you have been dealt with at the start, if you are not able to play successive rounds well, you might end up losing money in the end.” I agreed, but before I could continue, the conversation drifted off into other more pleasant topics.
Looking back, I could say that I was perhaps excercising the art of subliminally guiding my listeners to come to the same conclusion that I had without making them aware of it. As it turns out, P-Noy and his government are continuing the course set out by the Arroyo regime, albeit seeking to follow it in a more honest manner.
There is actually nothing wrong with that thesis. Consider this: if P-Noy’s government is able to expand the stock of public infrastructure efficiently (the stock of infrastructure which would include airports, seaports, roads, light and heavy rail, schools and hospitals) through private participation without biasing any one set of contractors, then that would be carrying out the same program began by his predecessor.
If his government manages to expand the existing set of social reform programs including the targeted, conditional cash transfers, self-employment and micro-loans to indigents, and community-based development programs, and expand them in such a way that it begins to make a dent on health and education conditions of poor families, that would mean carrying out the agenda that Mrs Arroyo’s government had originally set.
If his government is able to implement education and health reforms, such as the K-12 school system and reproductive health programs, that Mrs Arroyo intended to but never got to implement due to their inherent unpopularity then that would realize the intent of her government leveraging the political capital that she could have only dreamed of.
Finally, if his government becomes successful in eliminating waste in several areas such as the rice importation program, the various procurement programs of the military, police, and the public works and improve collection in the revenue generating agencies, by probing into the lifestyles of its personnel, then it would be executing the good governance program that was begun during the early years of the Arroyo regime.
There is nothing wrong with going down the road to reform set by previous administrations especially if the map was devised properly to begin with. It is always in the execution where governments get side-tracked either because of poor capacity or a lack of political will. If P-Noy’s government is able to execute these reform packages, it will be regarded not just as an honest government but as a competent one as well.
This might give it the much needed political capital to propose larger sets of reform that might involve reshaping our polity.