How long is a piece of string?

What yardstick are we using to measure P-Noy’s performance?

The arbitrary, rule of thumb of the first year in office is about to come and go for this administration. The obligatory journalistic pieces assessing the president’s performance have consulted the usual suspects.

Political analysts, polling firms and pundits, the business community and the average man on the street express varying degrees of satisfaction, from impatience on the part of Conrad de Quiros for instance, to a more sanguine position on the part of Mon Casiple. Regardless of their positions, they are essentially in agreement that while one year is too brief a period to expect major change, some demonstrably concrete level of progress or achievement is lacking in the president’s first 365 days in office.

As expected the president’s men were engaged in a charm offensive to address these complaints with Undersecretary Manolo Quezon of the Communications Group appearing on ANC, Deputy Spokesperson Abigail Valte on Twitter, and Budget Secretary Butch Abad polemically addressing the issue of economic management. The to-ing and fro-ing has been at times entertaining as in the case of the Valte-Magsaysay twitterverse exchanges and insightful as in the case of Quezon’s revelations about the president’s love life.

The advocates of the president (both in and out of government) say that much has been accomplished. The emphasis on government frugality and public spending restraint has created domestic private investor confidence and a credit ratings dividend according to Cielito Habito. Plugging the leaks in infrastructure spending has generated fiscal space to expand social spending by the end of the year according to Abad. Public private partnerships are “on track” to be consummated this year according to Finance officials.

That in essence is the shortlist of accomplishments brandished by Malacanang. Judging by his poll numbers, the public seems to give P-Noy the nod of approval with 64% expressing satisfaction with his performance.

Is that it, then? Should we give the president a pass too?

Unfortunately, what is missing is a solid discussion over, well…what sort of yardstick is appropriate for measuring the president’s performance. For instance,

• Shall we judge him on what he said he will do?

Based on the president’s anti-Gloria campaign theme, De Quiros now questions why the former president and her ilk have not been brought before any court to answer for her alleged transgressions. Based on his anti-corruption platform, the Management Association of the Philippines now asks why there have been no measures like the Freedom of Information bill or any meaningful reductions in business redtape progressed.

Civil rights advocates wonder what has happened to Jonas Burgos and many other like him. Women’s groups are still waiting for the RH Bill to be passed. Farmers are wondering what happened to the resolution of Hacienda Luisita. The ordinary man on the street wonders where the jobs are and the relief from the rising cost of living. These were issues PNoy promised to resolve once in office.

• On the other hand, should we judge him based on his ability to prudently modify or alter what he said he would do?

Those with a nationalist agenda like Teddy Casino say P-Noy is delivering more of the same as far as economic policy goes, and hopes he will re-think his developmental economic strategy. The anxiety felt by Casino and others like him (Walden Bello for instance) is that the quality of growth is poor and insufficient to make a dent on unemployment.

Budget analyst Ben Diokno is looking for a two-step tax reform process that will make the system fairer and more effective at raising revenues. Both of these policy prescriptions run counter to the “steady as she goes” pronouncements that PNoy made during the election season.

Measuring up

The answer to the question, what yardstick do we use, depends on whether you are a strict contractualist or not. Some will say, we should evaluate the president plainly on what he said he would do, and nothing more. For me, however, I believe that given the tenor of the campaign, there were promises that were bound to be made in the spur of the moment, which need to be reconsidered.

The problem for the president of course is, whether you adhere to the strict contractual sense or not, he has failed to register meaningful progress on many fronts. So the question then becomes, how much time should we give him before we start downgrading his performance assessment? How long before we start saying that the president has either reneged or foolishly forged ahead down a dead end path?

Should we give him another six months? A full year? Two years? It’s like asking the question, how long is a piece of string?

After all, for the marginalized groups awaiting resolution to decade’s old injustices, their well-being has been put on hold for far too long. The well-healed chattering classes may feel aggrieved that bringing justice to Arroyo has been delayed, but their grief is nothing compared to what farmers and human rights abuse victims have suffered.

Similarly for those denied access to education, healthcare, sanitation and protection from the elements, the experiment to improve tax collection without a root and branch reform process would prove to be the most costly of all, if it fails. Is it therefore worth the gamble?

Perhaps, it is in addressing the needs of the least of our brethren that the president ought to be judged. In his “Back to the Future” moment, the president like his mother in the mid-1980s seemed to have prioritized the needs of rich creditors and bondholders over that of poor and marginalized stakeholders. Private investments have improved the skyline, but public investment failed to raise more out of the poverty line.

How long is a piece of string? Well we will have to wait and see…

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • J_ag

    Cory and Pnoy.. She spent her entire time demonizing the Marcos government. She canceled contracts by the Marco government except the onerous debts. Now her son is on a similar track.. Demonize GMA and her lot and canceling contracts.

    Questions are arising on whether he has a plan after all than throwing thunderbolts from Olympus where he sits with his demi-Gods.

    “Tañada urged his party’s titular head to be “bolder” in his next SONA by laying down his “roadmaps,” including one on how his government plans to achieve economic growth.”
    “The 2010 SONA is basically a ‘where we are, what do we have, how can we address the land mines.’ He should be bold in his next SONA. He can spell out the road maps, showing what kind of economic paradigm does he believe in. He should come out with his economic beliefs and visions,” he said.”

    Water can Never Rise Higher than its Original Source.

    Is something fundamentally wrong with this President?

    Can he see the world apart from the trials and tribulations of the Aquino family in the political history of this country?

    • UP nn grad

      I agree with the presentation of Noynoy as one who predominantly looks backwards. Noynoy’s point of reference is predominantly the past — Noynoy (in my opinion) will be adrift if GMA were not around to anchor him.

      Unfortunately for Pilipinas (… this is my opinion… ) a backward-looking President is a poor poor (did I say poor twice???) one to have as Grand Leader — Executive Department. What Pilipinas needs especially if Pilipinas hopes to close the gap between Pinas and Thailand is a forward-looking, a goal-setting president. The goals of Send-GMA-to-Jail and make-sure-GMA-BFF’s-don’t-benefit-from-government-contracts are important … but ( … in my opinion . ..) much more important than those 2 items would be elevating Pilipinas onto a new plane of economic performance and who hears (and who understand the reasonability of ) the clamor for Jobs-Jobs-Jobs- Jobs-for-Pinoys-in-Pinas.

      This lack-of-a-grand-Goal explains (… in my opinion … ) why throttling the economy makes sense to Noynoy. He (… in my opinion … ) has not yet identified yet goals that are large enough for which big-beaucoup-amount-of-money has to be spent and taxes need to be raised. His approach of robbing-peter-to-pay-Paul’s soldiers’ housing makes sense in his world view, which is a shame in these times when the cost of money (borrowing) is extraordinarily low. But Presi-Noy is what 54% of Pilipinas voters choose, so live with what-cha-got. I just hope Doy is right and Presi-Noynoy opens the Gobyerno-Wallet more by end-2011.

  • Thai anton

    After months of harassment and the threat of impeachment Ombudsman Gutierez resigned for failing to prosecute the Chinese tourist killer, and at
    The same time totally ignoring Justice secretary L De Lima call to put Lacson and other KKKs to trial, this is what you JUSTICE or JUST TIIS ?

  • UP nn grad

    Doy makes a comment that “… some chatterers” may take points away from Noynoy for failing to send GMA to jail. Noynoy should get PLUS — Noynoy tried — that’s his Truth Commission-EO-1.

    Too bad his “send-GMaA-to-jail” engine is deadly-flawed and has been junked for being UnConstitutional (1987 Pilipinas Constitution — not USA nor Saudi Arabia Constitution). But Noynoy made daang-matuwid honest effort, albeit unconstitutional. Maybe Noynoy has other such unconstitutional initiatives (for the Spratlys or for CARP or for landgrabs) that he will VvvrroooOOM-vvrrOOOMM up the remaining 80% of his term.

    And then, there is Freedom-Information. And then, there is Repro-Health. On these two, his efforts were dang-minimal (especially compared to the efforts of deLima to convict Webb…. amazing!!!).

    • UP nn grad

      I also think (my personal opinion) that it is unconstitutional for Malacanang to fire Deputy-Ombudsmen of the Office of Ombudsmen, no different than Malacanang can not fire accountants or even messengers that are directly hired by Congress.

  • Thai anton

    How do you know ?

  • Bert

    “How long is a piece of string?”

    Well, I think that all of us here in ProPinoy know exactly how long is a piece of string. Let me explain.

    A piece of string is supposed to be 100 inches long.

    To me, being one of the people, that piece of string is 64 inches. I think that to Cocoy, being one of the most stable and balance dude I know, the piece of string is 55 inches, to Manuel B 70 inches, to GabbyD and to KG I would hazard a guess it’s 50 inches, to Doy and UP n who ride in tandem the piece of string is 20 inches, to raggster 69 inches, to J_ag 10 inches, and to thai anton the piece of string is 1 inch.

    It’s just my guess but I hope it’s accurate.

    • Bert

      Oh, wait, I changed my mind. I think that to thai anton there is no string at all.

      • KG

        Fifty is fair. I think I am inclined to agree on the due diligence and full speed ahead POV of MB. And I see the series of critiques of Doy as something that should not be ignored and something to think about. Ganon na din sa mga commenters mentioned Got to listen to all and not dismiss their POVs just like that.

        • Bert

          “GMA and company says there is nobody home.”

          KG, that’s your words, and I believed you. Thai anton is calling the president ‘Abnoy’, see? That means that Thai anton and GMA are the same…both of them have no string regarding the performance of the president, see?

          • KG

            Ok my words,but I do not believe that there is nobody home.

          • UP nn grad

            There is a large number of Pinoy professionals of Pilipinas civil service — they may only be katulongs to the eyes of Valte, Ochoa all the way up to Presidente Noynoy, but the people of the civil service ensure there are always people at home.

            The reason for the need for “Whistleblower protection” is that the civil service see things but get too afraid to act because they feel they do not have the respect of the elected.

          • Bert

            just want to make it clear that I respect all commenter’s opinions here including that of thai anton’s and never “dismissed their POV just like that”.

    • More importantly, for the Filipino people, how long will it be?

      • KG

        I have mentioned once before that if the people looks for superman maiinip sila as Bert said wala naman talagang superman.
        I am not telling PNOy what to do but I think blaming the opinion columnists a few weeks or months ago was a bad move.
        His communication strategists were all over during the past weekend.
        His cabinet have been on the hot seat on ANC.
        The MAP and all the others gave him a passing grade GMA and company says there is nobody home.

        He must deliver and correct all that is needed to be corrected….. but on his own terms .

    • J_ag

      Do not know about the rest Bert but I would give the PNoy ten percent of the credit for the credit rating upgrade and the rest of the credit to OFW’s and the major advanced economies of the world that are involved in containing depression with free money..

      In the financial markets one can borrow at close to zero and lend it to Purisima for 5%. Yup it is because of PNoy.

    • Well, I *did* say elsewhere that I’d give him a 2.5 (UP grading system). 69 is a bit on the low side, but I can go with that. =) For me the key factor has been accountability. That is one of his major campaign platforms, and that is where I feel he has been weakest. GMA and cohorts not only still at large, but in a position where they can undermine the success of this administration. Then there’s the KKK issue – which I feel to be overblown, as so far it seems that there are only 3 key players there (Puno, Juico, Torres). But nevertheless, it’s a problem also of perception, and as the KKK issue remains unaddressed, it can snowball out of control.

      This next 365 days of PNoy should be even more interesting. At the very least, guys like us won’t run out of things to blog about. 😉

  • Thai anton

    Let’s see how Pnoy progress

    Frisk Nilo
    Failing to stop Chinese tourist killings
    Failing to make the hostage incident handlers accountable
    Blaming Ombudsman for the hostage taking
    Questioning the validity of supreme court appointments
    RH bill
    Playing PSP till midnight
    Vietnam wine suck
    Panfilo Lacson
    Complaints about his love life
    Spratlys -China don’t push us around or RP will try to make US honor the
    RP US mutual defense treaty
    Clinton – US will help RP defend itself by supplying affordable defense material
    Robert Gates – US have ‘No Position’ regarding RP CHINA dispute over
    Leveste Diokno
    Foreign contract cancellations because of anomalys
    Arroyo don’t have flood programs
    Arroyo use my flood programs
    10 years in senate with what accomp ?
    I’m only joking/ it’s a joke.


    • In fairness to PNoy, he is an honest man trying to do an honest job at governing. The problem though is that with his public support dwindling after all the missteps you alluded to, it won’t be long before he loses the capacity to put up controversial pieces of reform.
      Amenado naman sila, that in their first 9 months they really lacked someone to handle political affairs. So many of their moves with regard to the RH and FOI bills for instance lacked political nous.
      When a reformer enters office, there is always a risk-reward problem: do you go for the low-lying fruit or do you go for the big ticket reform items. PNoy chose the former by going after wasteful GOCC spending. It has resulted in modest dividends, but it will be another six to twelve months before the public gets to feel any trickle down effects, if any.
      By then, the economy might have deteriorated as a result of global events. At that point all the low-lying fruit might have been exhausted and he could be in a real bind when the penny finally drops, and he realizes that tax reform is needed.

      • At least the Greek bailout went through. That’s one less thing to worry about (although an enabling law is still needed to implement the austerity package). From the Guardian:

        “Greece’s parliament approved the five-year austerity plan with 155 votes in favour and 138 votes against.
        Only one member of prime minister George Papandreou’s socialist party voted against the law and the speaker of parliament announced he had been immediately expelled from the party” (emphasis added).

        Now that’s what I call party discipline! Would such a thing be possible in our political system?

  • GabbyD

    forgive me for changing the topic, but i have 2 vent about de lima and the visconde case.

    what the heck is the point of that presscon? they cant charge him again. why bring it up AT ALL? it defies logic…

    wala ba silang magawa?

    • Bert

      agree with you, Gabs, I think that de Lima and the NBI are nuts, trying hard to be noticed. and what a way of a no brainer getting attention by way of a prolong useless press conference. nagpapansin yate kay Presidente, o’ binubwisit lang si Webb.

  • J_ag

    Let us look at the difference between the first year of Obama and Aquino. In the first year of Obama’s term he and his team put measures in place to contain the depression aprt fromwhat was started during the end of Bush’s term. Plus he pushed through a controversial health care bill.

    The long term debt problem of the U.S. is centered on health care due to rising medicare and medicaid costs.

    Aquinos slogan of eradicating corruption as a key economic policy will off course sputter.

    Experts have said that two laws that assist in the fight vs corruption is the Freedom of Information Bill and the Repeal of the Bank Secrecy Law combined with passing the new Anti-money laundering law to include predicate crimes like tax evasion, drugs, gambling and graft.

    Another good law to push making it a crime to hide campaign contributions.

    Include all forms of income in ones income tax return.

    My suggestion is to privatize the BOC and BIR…

    If I had to report tax evasion and smuggling who I report to and what do I get out of it.

    Commissioners of the BIR and the BOC are trapped in their own offices due to the established bureaucratic fiefdoms in these offices.

    Plus we have a sitting Secretary of Justice who appears to be a publicity slut. .

  • Bert

    How long is a piece of string?

    Is the glass half full, or, is the glass half empty, that is the question.

    I know your answer to the question, Doy. And you know mine, :).

    • UP nn grad

      Is the glass half-full already? Presi-Noy is trying to fill the glass, the glass lost a lot of content with Quirino-grandstand mass-murder and Noynoy showing his BFF-loyalty hand, and the glass getting filled as there still is no news of graft-money-making slime sticking to Noynoy himself or his wife or his children or his sisters. But where is Freedom-of-Information? Where is Repro-Health?

      Presi-Noy’s best accomplishment is a backhanded achievement. So Noynoy got stopped with his “Truth Commission-1”. But (to me) Pilipinas made important progress with 2011 Pilipinas Supreme Court putting in writing that a sitting President can not declare someone guilty and then use State Resources to unearth court-admissible evidence to prove his opinion to be correct. Like I’ve said, now BongBong if he wins 2016 can not do vengeful “You are Guilty, now you are really in trouble!” against, say, Binay or against Ochoa or even against the son-of-Cory.

      K-12 good but he starts with K’s so matagal pa before Noynoy-education-initiative affect the new entrants into the labor pool.

      But as Doy alludes to in his post, maybe Dec2011 is when Noynoy opens up the floodgates to government projects after Noynoy has taken steps that GuuLO’s BFFs (who remain guLO BFF’s) do not benefit from these new contracts.

      • Bert

        Ah, UP n, that’s why I said your piece of string is 20 inches. Maybe you want it shorter, but Thai anton has beaten you already to the shortest. Try harder and maybe you can still catch up with him, who knows.

        • UP nn grad

          Crazy to push one who have less power to lengthen the inches. Better (… again, this is my opinion… ) It is better to push the GUY WHO HAS THE STEERING WHEEL AND CONTROLS THE GAS PEDAL…. so hopefully Thai gets happier (as well as GabbyD and cocoy and UST grad (whereever she now is)) because Pilipinas has gotten closer to Thailand.

          Why-yyaahhh giving slack to Presi-Noynoy when Pilipinas needs a lot more things done for it? Kinda silly… ( in my opinion ). Send the guy some flowers and chocolate and maybe a hot date but keep pushing him —- nose to the grindstone, he volunteerred for the job so he gotta work more. Applaud because he dresses well; applaud because he pushed for EO-1… but don’t relent. Push this dude’s nose to the grindstone — Pilipinas deserves a hard-working president.

          ( … again, people may want Presi-Noynoy to go on vacation for six months, but to me, this mentality is idiotic. Lots of work to be done, Presi-Noynoy has to work harder. This is my personal opinion… )

          • Bert

            Now, that I understand, UP n, and this time I am agreeing with you on that one. Still, there is a difference in perceptions that mold our differing opinions on matters about what the president have been doing and so mostly cause our disagreement which is that we think the president is working hard enough for the country and for the people while the Thai antons (how about the UST grad and the UP grad?) seems to be blind to it.

            As de Quiroz has been saying, ‘there’s the rub’.

          • UP nn grad

            Of course, bert, you should realize that not you nor anyone has posted a list… You have not done it at all, so maybe the list below — my perception of top thingies Noynoy has done in the past year — may get past this is it 52% grade or is 99%-grade.

            — EO-1;
            — K-12 (albeit funding is for K’s only, not for current high school students);
            — more pesos for AFP/PNP officers’ and soldiers’ housing;
            — Torres’ stink doesn’t carry onto Noynoy or his sisters; glass-and-mansion questions do not carry onto Noynoy or his sisters
            — signed the papers when USA provided the Millions-dollars for Samar highway and other of Millenium challenge grant;
            — signed the loan-papers when ADB gently insisted for Pilipinas to put Millions-dollars into expanded CCT;
            — shut-down almost of funding for many rural- and other highways projects;
            — trip to New York and the hot-dog lunch picture-session;
            — demonstrating to Beijing our Oslo-policy as what Pinas will do for drug mules;
            — grand tour to get Japan, Singapore, other countries to bring PPP-investment $$$ into Pilipinas
            — expedited getting Robredo confirmed by Congress as a department Secretary;
            — pushed deLima and NBI to really find out who was responsible for Visconde murders;

            Anything else? I have said once that Noynoy’s biggest accomplishment is by end-first-year-in-Office, the stench of money-making graft/corruption may have reached Torres and some of his BFF’s, but the stench has not stuck yet to Noynoy or his wife or children or his sisters.

            Remember, bert… that Noynoy won with 54% of the votes means at least 4-out-of-10 are not that generous in giving credit to Noynoy’s abilities. Maybe thai is one of the 40%…. why be surprised?

          • UP nn grad

            I forgot two more heavy-duty accomplishments:
            — Noynoy giving pardon to Trillanes and others;
            — Noynoy, after long and careful deliberation, deciding against Libingan-Bayani for Ferdinand Marcos.

          • Bert

            As you’re saying, UP n, those are your perceptions of top thingies Noynoy has done the past year. Well, I have my perceptions too, though I doubt if thai can perceive anything positive. The fact remains that you and I and the rest of us here have been basing our perceptions from what we read and hear meaning the newspaper, the radio and tv, and blogs and twitter, and not seen enough since we’re not actually insiders inside the engine to see whether the engine will work efficiently until the end of Noynoy’s term so our perceptions are mainly tainted with mostly political colors which as you said depends on whether we are part of the 54% who voted for Noynoy or the 40% who did not.

            As to whether I am surprised thai anton did not vote for Noynoy during the last election thereby clouding much of his ability to perceive positive things, well, the answer is no, I am not surprised.