Taking Short-cuts on the Righteous Path

Has jailing the former president Gloria Arroyo led to better governance?

As the 2013 congressional and local election approaches, the opposing camps led by incumbent president Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino and his vice president Jejomar “Jojo” Binay will be vying to gain control of as many seats as they can. Both opposed the policies and legitimacy of Mrs Gloria Arroyo when she was president. Both have sought to have her arrested and prosecuted for her “misdeeds” in the highest office.

Both claim to be fighting for better transparency and accountability in government. Now that the ailing Mrs Arroyo has been placed under hospital arrest for the second time, her party scattered to the winds, and her defenders in the Supreme Court neutralised, both can claim victory in the ground war against the vestiges of her regime.

However, it is worth posing the question, exactly what has changed, particularly over the past three years, apart from winning the anti-Arroyo battle?

I am not asking what has been achieved in terms of the usual things governments do, like building roads and bridges, hiring teachers and nurses, and maintaining the peace. When it comes to these measures, any government regardless of its occupants can claim some achievement. In fact Mrs Arroyo often touted her flagship infrastructure projects as signposts of her government’s diligence in serving the people.

In fact Mr Aquino’s priorities have often been similar to that of his predecessor, including the expansion of the conditional cash transfers program, running after tax cheats, strengthening the industries of business process outsourcing, tourism and agribusiness by expanding the country’s infrastructure. Where he has differed has been in promoting greater transparency and accountability in the way government did these things.

Atmospherics vs reality

Most analysts put the different “atmospherics” created by having Mr Aquino at the helm behind the growing optimism in outlook of the Philippine’s economic prospects. This is a good thing. But the problem with simply relying on a “mood change” is that if it is not backed by substance, such moods can often swing the other way. That’s why as the country faces an election in May next year, it is worth considering the best way forward.

Take for instance business confidence in the Philippines. As Roel Landingin wrote for the Financial Times blog Beyond BRICs, although the country leaped 10 places in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness rankings, it dropped two notches in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

While the WEF reflects the sentiment of big business regarding the clean-up drive of President Aquino, the WB focuses its study on the nuts and bolts, the procedures and red tape that affect mostly small and medium sized enterprises throughout their life cycle. Landingin notes

The Philippines’ dismal record on the business climate for local, mostly small enterprises underscores the limitations of Aquino’s anti-corruption drive in promoting government efficiency. While going after suspected wrongdoers of the past administration has begun to change investors’ perceptions, it does little to cut red tape or inertia in regulatory offices and courts across the country.

As the UN Council on Trade and Development report for the first half of the year showed, in a region that attracted $52 billion worth of foreign direct investments, the Philippines attracted only $900 million or about two per cent. Singapore drew $27.4 billion, Indonesia $8.2 billion, Thailand $5.6 billion, and Malaysia $4.4 billion. Despite bucking the regional trend by growing 12.5 per cent from a year earlier, the Philippines remains miles behind its ASEAN rivals.

It seems that incremental not transformative change is happening. If President Aquino leaves these structural rigidities behind after leaving office, you can imagine that confidence of investors who are buoyant at the moment because of his honest leadership could just as easily take a dim view if things go back to the way they were under a different president.

Legislative report card

If we take stock of legislative accomplishments, what significant policies have changed under Mr Aquino’s first three years? Let us examine the status of a few high profile pieces of legislation below:

Reproductive health – not passed, needs to be put to a vote

Freedom of information – not passed, still being debated

K-12 – not passed

Fiscal incentives rationalisation – not passed, still being debated

Fiscal responsibility – not passed, still being debated

Sin taxes – not passed, nearing a vote but greatly diluted

Mining investment and tax policy – still being drafted

Cyber-crime – passed and signed but under Judicial Review

Witness and Whistle-blower protection – under consideration

The list goes on. In fact, judging the administration solely on its legislative record, it would hardly deserve a pass.

Managing international obligations and treaties? The Senate President and an ally of the president so readily aired our dirty linen in front of the gallery right in the aftermath of an international territorial dispute that could have escalated into a military or economic conflict.

The country narrowly escaped being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, but only just, and the measure that was hurriedly passed to avoid this still wasn’t deemed adequate to get us off the hook completely.

Lasting peace in Mindanao? Perhaps, but the blanks still need to be filled in.
Good economic management? The reason for this year’s better than expected performance is that last year’s was worse than expected.

So the question remains, what major piece of reform can the two wings of the anti-Gloria coalition claim to have put in place while she and her forces are immobilised? What lasting institutional, transformational change have they enacted? Why do they think they deserve to be re-elected or endorsed at the coming May elections?

If not completely wrecking and discrediting our system of government is the watered down criteria, then yes, the Senate and the House narrowly escaped sending the country to hell in a hand basket by their clumsy actions during the impeachment trial, but they seem to have been wanting everywhere else.

The long hard slog

One reason we could say progress on reform measures is dragging in congress is due to the fact that our legislators represent a class of people who benefit from the way things are.

Some incumbents want to hand over to their relatives their posts in the senate or be joined by them. Sharing the same surname, having been groomed since childhood to succeed them, the choice seems so natural. We ought to elect them because they are honest, or well-meaning or qualified or worse: winnable.

Sure, but the question remains, how has the nation been served by their lot so far? We keep hearing the same old excuses like, It’s just too hard to pass these reform bills. There’s always tomorrow. Mañana, manana. Que sera sera. Bahala na si batman and all that jazz.

This week, in his trip to New Zealand, the president took a dig at his predecessor’s honour, insinuating that she feigned illness to escape the full force of the law. Three years nearly into his presidency and it is still all about her. There is apparently no second act.

While it is easy convincing overseas Filipinos that things are improving back home, it is not that easy convincing those that live in the country that things have in fact changed, unless of course real, tangible, and meaningful changes do get hammered out and carried out. This is the long hard road to real recovery and deliverance that we must trod, not the soft, easy route that we are currently being offered.

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 (www.thecusponline.org) 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.

  • UPnnGrd

    The momentum built over past so many years can be lost in 2016. But solution is easy-easy…. one way to make sure that the Noynoy-good strong leadership does not change in 2016 is…. not to change. There is subtle –> do a Russia —-> keep a Noynoy-puppet in Malakanyang while ex-PersiNoynloy remains He-Who-Commands. Or strong-and-firm macho-macho —-> deLima and some justices can interpret interpret the 1987 Constitution to declare… puwede!

    Now kidding or not…..little to fear actually since it is well-known PesiNoynoy will always remain within the Constitution. Behind him a woman –> deLima –> to affirm OK as to PersiNoynoy knowledge of constitution and boundaries (if any) on POLICE POWERS allowing Malakanyang for arrest-and-jail and other actions against non-compliant.

  • I agree that legislative success is “tepid”, at best, and worse than that for those who expected that good governance meant a concerted effort to drive toward transparency. Something that clearly has NOT occurred, whilst undermining freedom of expression clearly HAS occurred. Freedom of expression is of course one of the driving forces that promotes transparency.

    I do believe, however, that the drive for non-corruption goes way beyond simply jailing Ms. Arroyo, and includes appointment of essentially clean people in key cabinet posts, a much more aggressive ombudsman, and the hunt for corrupt governors and generals and DENR slugs. So the force for getting the crooks out, at the upper layers of government, is profound. Success nationwide, to change the values of the nation to something other than “cheating is okay” will require not going backward, but pressing on. Therefore, who is elected after Aquino is important.

    I also think that looking at the skyline in Manila ought to convince those in the Philippines that maybe things ARE changing.

    • UPnnGrd

      Pinas does need to be careful who replaces Noyi-noy in 2016 or in 2020 because the next presidents, because of precedence set, can ignore Supreme Court orders if Makalanyang wants to arrest…. the next presidents don’t need court-approval when Malakanyang wants to llisten to people chatting away on devices that can do instant-messaging or e-mail. Did someone say the next presidents can “… ignore Supreme Court order” when Malakanyang wants invoke POLICE POWERS when it wants to arrest?

    • UPnnGrd

      The female Ombudsman just made a decision in favor of another female. “The evidence points otherwise!”, the ombudsman said as she threw away a case hurled against guLLOO. And the female Chief Justice just said TekaMuna — restraining order muna // huwag kaagad makikinig sa cellphone private conversations without asking court permission — restraining order, this CyberBill that PersiNoynoy signed into law.

      Things are changing???

      • The cybercrime initiative is a misguided adjunct to clean governance that got waylayed by the libel provision and the warrantless snooping. I think things are changing. I don’t think President Aquino will be jailed when he leaves office, nor will his cabinet. I think the effort to run the departments reflects good governance, in general. I don’t personally expect perfection, just a decent dose of sincerity.

        • UPnnGrd

          Wow, JoeAmerica!!! Where did you pick up this thought that Presi dent Aquino will be jailed when he leaves office?????

          • No, my point was he will NOT be jailed, the comment meant to show that the Aquino’s good governance initiative is real, and starkly in contrast with predecessors. The cybercrime initiative is a natural fit to his “clean up the Philippines” campaign. It just got bastardized and misdirected by including the libel and snoop provisions.

          • … which were initially defended by PNoy who has shown a high degree of sensitivity to criticism in the past.

  • baycas

    you’re expecting too much after several years of ruined institutions.

    • You’re right. The money spent on our senators and congressmen to conduct their televised circus was well worth it. We are expecting too much of them if we think we deserve more, especially now that if we even dare criticize their behavior they can sue us for libel, the high court’s injunction notwithstanding.

    • UPnnGrd

      and precedence has been set — a restraining order from Supremo-KORTE is worth diddly squat. When Binay’s Malakanyang or BongBong’s Malakanyang wants to arrest, then POLICE POWERS gives it the right to arrest any child of former-president (or a general, or a student, or a member of media, or a blogger, or senator-this or congressman-that).

    • baycas

      Ngayon ka pa nanghinayang…

      Dapat tinanggal na nila dati pa yang si gloria. Disinsana’y kasalukuyang maayos ang mga institusyon na pilit inaayos pa ngayon.

      • UPnnGrd

        tinanggal nino? Eh kakampi ni GuLLOO si Cory at si Noynoy noon, hindi ba?

        • baycas



      • If Mrs Arroyo was the sole source of evil in our society then we wouldn’t have to worry about the conduct of these public officials. Unfortunately, something is seriously flawed if we can’t get decent output from them even under a benign leader like PNoy.

        • baycas

          She may not be the sole source, anyone can easily believe that. But I believe she is still the most hated woman.

          Moving on from her case would be a hard thing to do. Unless punishment is exacted on her.

  • UPnnGrd

    No need to read further — the answer to the first question is a resounding YES!!!!

    Jailing former president Arroyo…. especially this “POLICE POWERS of Malakanyang gives Malakanyang authority to arrest and detain a child-of-former-president, a member of Congress and by extension a lieutenant-colonel, a police captain, a marketing manager, a student….” respect for Malakanyang is supra-always GOOD!!!!

    Couple that with President Noynoy signing the bill into law which allows Malakanyang to listen to any device that does instant-messaging or e-mail without need for court approval…. a strong presidency is supra-needed in order to protect the Republic.

    Vladimir Putin will be awed!!!!!

  • “Has jailing the former president Gloria Arroyo led to better governance?”

    Would moving on and not holding Gloria Arroyo and company accountable led to better governance?

    Would the climate of impunity be warmer or colder if the atmospherics stayed the same or if they changed?

    • If you ask the mother of Jonas Burgos, wife of Joe Burgos, editor and publisher of Malaya, the only source of free press under Martial Law, whether impunity was done away with under this present administration after Mrs Arroyo’s imprisonment, I doubt whether she would tell that it made any difference.

      • How about if you ask GMA, Corona, Palparan, the Reyes Brothers, the PCSO officers, Merceditas Gutierrez, Rico Puno, Delfin Lee, the head of PDEA, NBI, BJMP etc. Do you think they noticed a change in the climate?

        Or should we use Mrs. Edita Burgos as basis to measure everything by?

        Anyway, Jonas disappeared during whose time? And when was Palparan praised in a SONA, was it during GMA’s or PNoy’s term? And when did he become a congressman under GMA or under PNoy? And when did he become a fugitive, during GMA or during PNoy?

        The fact that all those named above are either fugitives, detained, or gone from their offices seems to me like the atmosphere has changed, doesn’t it? Or maybe if the case of Jonas is solved but none of those other things happened then we can say that there is no more climate of impunity?

        • And yet as human rights groups will tell you the forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings have continued. So apart from prosecuting these political personalities, what exactly has changed?

          • These are not mere political personalities. Some are suspects in very serious crimes, others are fugitives. I’m sure they more than anybody else will tell you that things have changed. Of course the other way is to just move on, the banner you have been carrying since 2010.

          • That’s misrepresenting my position. I never said that getting Mrs Arroyo to account for her ways wasn’t important. What I have said is that there has to be a second act. Otherwise people will wonder if that is the sole concern of this administration. As Joe has said, good governance is much more than that. And it means aggressively reforming regressive and repressive laws and structures.

            The constant harking back to 2010 means there is no forward looking agenda for 2012 and beyond.

          • Doy,
            You are pissing on the wrong fire hydrant when you list legislation that has not been acted on by Congress. Why blame the President for the inaction of Congress? He has done his part, certified those bills as priorities and lobbied for them. If Congress is slow to act then piss on them not the President. Now if the President strong arms Congress, plays transactional politics, and rams those bills through then he will be accused of ignoring the independence of the legislature and behaving like a dictator. So how do you want your president to govern?

          • baycas

            At Doy’s beck and call…

          • At the Filipinos beck and call…We are his ‘boss’, right? We ‘hired’ PNoy and these senators for six years. Isn’t it reasonable to ask them for a performance report at this stage? Are we being too impatient/demanding if we do?

          • baycas


            (ahora mismo)

          • Reality check, 2013 is the midway point. How much of the legislative agenda has been passed without serious defects?

          • baycas

            Yeah, reality will be checked come May 13, 2013.

          • They are all part of the same anti-Gloria coalitions: the LP led one and the UNA-led one. Mrs Arroyo is no longer a significant force in either house of congress. So why can’t they get things done, if she was the source of all evil and blockage for Daang Matuwid?

            If these two coalitions have a consensus on the way forward, why is it so hard for them to make any progress? Two and a half years have, nearly half of PNoy’s term has elapsed. If we continue at this slow rate, how many of those bills will be passed by the end of his term?

          • manuelbuencamino

            Agree GMA is as much a force as she used to be. Who is blocking RH? The CBCP and its allies. Who is blocking Sin Tax? Tobacco and its allies. Who is blocking AMLA amendments? Enrile, Joker, Marcos. Who is blocking FOI? FOI is one of those pieces of legislation that everybody endorses philosophically but resists when it comes to specifics.

            My point is coalitions are not monolithic. You know that. They break down in many different ways over different issues. You know that. Every president who has not resorted to transactional politics also knows. So again how do you want the president to govern, should he horse trade or should he maintain the high ground? (Note that by horse trading I mean whores trading which how transactional politics is practiced in Congress) Do you want the president to use horse trading as a whip?

          • I guess that’s the problem with our system. It’s based on coalitions, not strong parties. Even within the LP there isn’t a uniform position on these issues, and members do not fall in line with the official party stand (sans transactional side-payments, that is). It is a very costly way to govern.

            This is what I mean by instituting structural reform in the political system… If the LP had struck a bargain with its coalition partners that they needed to back their list of priority bills to be endorsed by the LP, then that would be progress. As far as I can see, the alliances are purely based on expediencies of having electable candidates, which means that progress can’t be expected with these reforms after the elections.

            And that in turn means only one thing…that even when GMA is convicted and goes to jail, we will still be stuck with the same old transactional system of governing.

          • manuelbuencamino


            I don’t know what structural reforms you can put in place that will make politicians march in lock step. When you talk of strong parties I think communist party and I’m scared. When you talk of striking a bargain between coalition partners then I think the Republicans and the Tea Party and I’m scared but amused at the same time.

            I wish there were some kind of silver bullet for the problem but I’m afraid most of the bullets I’ve seen will also stifle the vibrancy of democracy if not kill it entirely.