Marking the 113th anniversary of the Philippine declaration of independence, President Aquino used the solemn occasion to highlight the fulfillment of his campaign pledge to rid the country of corruption.
Speaking at the ancestral mansion of Emilio Aguinaldo, the revolutionary leader in Kawit, Cavite, who became the first Philippine president, PNoy said that he would end the cycle of corruption that has added to the suffering of Filipinos living below the poverty line. At the shrine of Jose Rizal in Luneta, the president rhetorically asked whether indeed the national artist would still have been willing to lay down his life to free his country if he were alive today.
At the Vin d’honneur in Malacanang Palace, PNoy affirmed to everyone there that just as his parents dedicated their lives to the restoration of freedom and the rebuilding of democracy, he would dedicate his to bring about a more prosperous and progressive country.
In all these speeches, the president appeared to be “sticking to the script” that was laid down during his election campaign of fighting poverty by eradicating corruption. The president was indeed most presidential when he stuck to the high road in this way pointing to modest achievements in his first year of having stopped questionable contracts and compensation practices in government agencies and companies.
It was through his spokeswoman Abigail Valte that we learned that this involved some $23 million or over P1 billion in spending at the public works department and from Budget Sec Butch Abad we found out that GOCC’s were able to produce $686 million or P29.5 billion worth of savings this year. Part of these savings went to housing of soldiers in Bulacan province.
It appears therefore that the president seems fully convinced that the path he has chosen of reducing waste in government will lead to greater capacity on the government’s part to raise social spending and bring down the incidence of poverty. The example he cites was the reduction of rice importation to less than half of the previous year’s 2.5 million tons and the funding of the conditional cash transfers program benefiting indigent families.
Perhaps where PNoy appeared less presidential and deviated from the script somewhat was when he addressed criticisms from the opposition accusing him of living the “high life” by his enjoyment of “wine, women and song” or “fast cars and girls”. The president’s response that he had done nothing illegal seemed to mimic the former US president Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky affair or the more contemporary case of New York Cong Weiner who admitted to flirting with several women via Twitter.
Aside from this, one other possible inaccuracy in his speeches was when he pointed out that the savings made by his government through the close scrutiny of its infrastructure and loan contracts were re-allocated to social programs. The first year of his presidency has indeed seen a slowdown of government capital expenditure and interest payments, but the growth in its spending for social programs resulting from this has yet to be seen.
Indeed the first few months of this year saw the rise of hunger, unemployment and poverty along with a rapid slowdown in growth. Perhaps this inconvenient truth was what was left out in all the speeches. However, PNoy did admit that the challenges of improving living conditions still remained, and that he was committed to address them during the remainder of his presidency.
The more important question however is whether the formula he has set out to follow will indeed produce the sort of growth and jobs that it promises to deliver or whether the script needs to change at some point.