Seeds of undoing

greek-tragedy-and-comedy-masks

An essential element of Greek tragedy according to Aristotle is for protagonists to carry with them the seeds of their own undoing. Often it comes in the form of “hubris”, man’s feeling of invincibility, which makes him tempt fate, or contest the will of the gods.

The same sense of mortality that comes at the end of each plot seemed to creep in last week as results of internal polling commissioned by the administration and leaked by a Palace insider showed the president’s popularity taking a nosedive as a result of his response to the controversy involving the release of impounded government savings without congressional approval.

DAP or the disbursement acceleration program was hatched by budget secretary Butch Abad, the chief ideologue of the Liberal Party to deal with the embarrassingly sluggish pace at which the economy was crawling at the time, dragged down by fiscal contraction. This was the result of the administration’s own deliberate attempts at house cleaning by scrutinising projects and contracts which were entered into by its predecessor.

The irony is that in a bid to rid the government of the ghost of Mrs Arroyo, the Aquino administration wound up committing the very same act that it accused her of, namely re-aligning budget items out of expediency. During Mrs Arroyo’s presidency, the opposition blocked passage of her proposed general appropriations for a number of fiscal cycles forcing a re-enactment of the previous year’s budget. This enabled her to reallocate spending across departments at will for budgeted projects that had already been completed the previous year.

Mr Aquino faced an entirely different situation but ended up with the same outcome. He had no problem getting congressional sign-off on his proposed annual expenditures, which sailed through in record time. His problem was getting the approved amounts spent. Having applied the fiscal brakes too harshly in a bid to present a clean break with the past, he wound up revisiting it.

The Department of Budget and Management explains how much was spent under DAP and for what purpose, as follows

For 2011-2012, a total of P142.23 Billion was released for programs and projects identified through the DAP, of which P83.53 Billion is for 2011 and 58.70 Billion is for 2012. In 2011, the amount was used to provide additional funds for programs/projects such as healthcare, public works, housing and resettlement, and agriculture, among others. While in 2012, these were used to augment tourism road infrastructure, school infrastructure, rehabilitation and extension of light rail transit systems, and sitio electrification, among others. […]
Of the total DAP approved by OP (Office of the President) for 2011-2012 amounting to a total of P142.23 Billion only 9 percent was released to programs and projects identified by legislators. These were not released directly to legislators but to implementing agencies.

The sad thing about DAP is that even though less than a tenth of it was directed at legislators, the whole program has become tainted as a result of the scandal that broke out involving the funneling of some of this money into bogus NGOs identified by them.

Not only that, but its release coincided with the impeachment of the Arroyo-appointed chief justice, which the Palace had openly campaigned for. It carried the hint of political back scratching. Add to that the contestable basis on which one branch of government allocated its savings to another (from executive to legislative), and you have the appearance of a government that disregarded the rules in pursuit of its political agenda.

To top it all off, the president appeared on national television denouncing his critics, denying the label “king of pork” that grated his good government sensibilities, claiming that he was “not a thief” in a fashion reminiscent of US president Richard Nixon who left office in disgrace. It is truly tragic that, after cruising at an astronomically high altitude in opinion polls, stratospheric compared to his predecessors, he should come plummeting back to earth and be forced to distinguish himself from common criminals in this manner.

To think that this all happened when the government seemed to be getting into its stride. The past year has been particularly productive with the enactment of several reform measures like reproductive health, sin taxes, and universal health care. In addition, there was the uplift in the country’s credit ratings and ranking in the Doing Business Survey, the resurgence of manufacturing investments, and the signing of the peace deal with Muslim rebels. The growth figures for the first half of the year seemed appealing to most outside investors, as well.

With legal challenges left, right and centre seeking to undermine its legitimacy, the government now appears besieged. Previously, one would have been forgiven for thinking that with its recent string of successes, the regime may be able to manage an orderly succession to its hand-picked nominee. But with the Liberal Party’s important figures, Senate President Frank Drilon and Budget Secretary Butch Abad, in the hot seat for their involvement in the DAP, the party seems like a spent force, having lost its moral authority.

Elite bargain

When Senator Jinggoy Estrada angrily accused the administration of hypocrisy for what he claimed was an unfair targeting of the opposition, I expressed doubts that his tirade would inflict any serious damage on the teflon presidency of Mr Aquino. With hindsight, it now appears to have been an effective ploy. Estrada’s complaint was that there seemed to be “no honor among thieves”, that cosy symbiotic relationship among complicit individuals.

What he was referring to was the political bargain that occurs in multiparty democracies within developing states, in which power is alternately shared among various groups of elites. Corruption is tacitly tolerated because it is assumed that each group will commit it once it is their turn to rule. Allowing a group of oppositionists to be singled out for prosecution, to ruin their political careers, is in effect, reneging on this grand bargain. Mr Estrada’s retaliatory response did nothing to protect him from prosecution, but it nevertheless inflicted damage on the administration for its “unfair” actions.

Time will tell if the damage inflicted is merely a flesh cut, or a mortal wound, but from the perspective of the reformers within the administration, it is a bad omen. Not only has the focus on PDAF and DAP abuse detracted from its policy agenda, it is going to make it difficult to secure votes for what could be unpopular pieces of legislation, particularly in the lead up to the next election when political turncoats will begin sniffing the political winds in search of their new padrino.

The reform constituency often claims that in order to make our political and economic systems more inclusive, we need to eliminate all forms of rent from society. That is we need to generate a clean, accountable and transparent system of governance, and that there will be no trade-offs between pursuing this agenda and pro-poor economic growth. This is in part the fault of the international donor community that has peddled this idea for over a decade on nations with very different institutional foundations.

Reality runs contrary to this notion, particularly if you look at the development experience of the “tiger” economies of East Asia and the “lion” economies of Africa, which are the fastest growing in the world. The tragedy of Daang Matuwid, the good governance agenda of the Aquino administration was that it failed to acknowledge this. It took the economy for granted while hastily conducting a highly charged political prosecution of its predecessor regime.

When the economy started slipping into second gear, it unlocked the floodgates of spending and applied less stringent controls on congressional pork barrel projects than it enforced on its own administrative agencies. It committed an act of “hubris” in thinking that it had succeeded in transforming the political culture of the country. It now finds itself defending a system of rent distribution that its constituents consider anathema to its own brand of government.

It is for this reason that many honest, reform-minded governments get eaten up by the system they seek to change. They often set goals that are too lofty, such as the elimination of corruption within one term of office, or the removal of patronage in favour of a system that observes the rule of law and democratic accountability. In the pursuit of good governance, the perfect often becomes the adversary of the good.

At the end of such a trail is “reform-fatigue”, with a disillusioned electorate turning to corrupt leaders who are able to distribute rents in ways that cater to their local needs. Such leaders are seen to be more competent and effective. This scenario could eventuate in 2016, with many in the reform constituency distrusting the LP and seeking an alternative candidate with a fresh face. This will split their votes and allow a pragmatic populist to gain power.

The scandals that have bedevilled congress and engulfed the president have served only to discourage certain contenders from the opposition to seek higher office, clearing the way for the vice president to consolidate its forces behind him. This means that their votes are less likely to be split along factional lines. And with the vice president’s popularity remaining intact, his lead will simply be unassailable.

The only way for the ruling LP to avoid electoral defeat is for it to deliver rapid, pro-poor growth within the remainder of its term. That won’t be easy, particularly since its formula for producing it, the good governance agenda (captured in its mantra: kung walang kurap, walang mahirap) has already been discredited in different parts of the world where it has been faithfully applied.

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.


  • GabbyBD

    what happened to the comment section here? whats with all of the adhominems?

    • UPnnGrd

      the times — high-stress, maraming balisang balisa at galit.

      • Bert

        Palagay ko gutom lang. Kumakalam ang sikmura at utak, :).

        • cocoy

          They’re from a US IP address.

    • cocoy

      Apologies for all that. Didn’t have time to filter it. I moderated all those. If you guys see more, just vote them down. We prefer sensible comments.

  • andrew lim

    A REBUTTAL OF PEQUE GALLAGA’S RANT

    Peque Gallaga just came out with a rant on Facebook explaining his
    frustrations with the inadequacy of the government’s efforts in
    handling the aftermath of Yolanda. While some of his observations are
    valid, he goes out of line on where his rage takes him.

    The first part of the rant outlines the polarization caused by the issue
    and his assessment of the dire situation.

    We start with the second portion of his rant (our replies in caps):

    I am 70 years old and have been stupid a lot of times for seven
    decades.

    AND WE ARE SAD TO TELL YOU THAT YOU STILL ARE.

    “Iwant to think that I can be a little less stupid now.

    PROVE IT BY HELPING THE YOLANDA VICTIMS SOME MORE.

    “This time, I want to make sure that my hard-earned money will reach its intended
    goal.
    WE SUPPORT THIS.

    “Iam sick and tired of throwing away my money; of making our
    politicians wealthy because of my unconcern and my inattention.
    WE EMPHATIZE WITH THIS, TOO.

    “I am sick and tired of my stupidity.
    WE TOO.

    “So I very much care now where all this help is going.
    AMEN.

    I read Marvin Xanth Geronimo who was there when Yolanda struck: that TV
    personalities and politicians like Mar Roxas and Ted Failon going to
    Tacloban for the photo op.
    WHY WOULD TED FAILON GO FOR A PHOTO OP? IS HE A POLITICIAN?

    “They never helped; endless tracking video shots of flattened towns with
    people walking clutching a plastic bottle of water with no government
    presence whatsoever; Korina Sanchez calling Anderson Cooper
    “misinformed.”
    LIAR, LIAR. YOU THINK ANY ENTITY CAN RESPOND
    ADEQUATELY TO A CALAMITY OF THIS MAGNITUDE SIMULTANEOUSLY? CAN THE UNITED STATES DO IT?

    “Cooper was in Tacloban. Korina was not; the US landing 5 planes full of goods and not allowing any politicians to touch any of it. ARE YOU SURE YOU HAVE ALL THE
    INFORMATION TO MAKE THAT JUDGMENT?

    “How much more do we need for us to realize that the enemy was not Yolanda? Yolanda was just a force of nature.
    WHO SAID YOLANDA IS THE ENEMY IN THE
    FIRST PLACE?

    “The enemy is our leaders. And the leader of our leaders is the President.
    “So what now? There’s nothing I can actually do. I can only rage,
    rage against the dying of common decency.

    NO, WE DO NOT JUMP TO SIMPLISTIC CONCLUSIONS JUST LIKE THAT. WE CONTINUE TO HELP IN OUR OWN WAY.

    “I can only rage against this man who claimed in a Christiane Amanpour
    interview that he couldn’t get to the disaster areas because the
    weather after the storm left didn’t permit him to fly. “This
    is 24 hours after the sun was shining all over the Philippines by
    then.

    SO YOU ARE NOW MORE COMPETENT THAN THE PILOTS OF THE AIR FORCE IN DETERMINING FLIGHT SAFETY?

    I can only rage against a man who made light of the tragedy, refusing
    to identify it as a major disaster; who made light of a victim of
    looting who was shot at by telling him, ‘But you did not die,
    right?’

    “I rage against a man who continually blames the
    LGU’s on the ground for their incompetence and their inefficiency,
    because it is beginning to dawn on me that these Visayan LGUs happen
    to be Romualdez people, and this man is playing politics with
    people’s lives.

    WHOA! ARE YOU SURE? WHY NOT RANT AGAINST THE
    ROMUALDEZES, INCLUDING IMELDA, WHO HAVE ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD?
    MARTIN PAID FOR THE P1M LE CIRQUE DINNER IN NY FOR ARROYO, RIGHT?

    “This is a crime. What this man does is
    unconscionable. “I can only state it here. I can do nothing
    about it for now.”I will wait for whatever movement develops
    after this fiasco and I will join it.

    SO HOW IN THE WORLD CAN JOINING ANTI-GOVT RALLIES HELP THE PEOPLE OF TACLOBAN?

    “But for now, what I can do is to declare that I am deeply offended by the
    people who try to stop me and others from stating the obvious. “All
    those people who charge us for criticizing, for being negative, for
    Aquino bashing—I am done with these people.

    AND WE ARE DONE WITH YOU, TOO.

    “In a very Yellow Army way, they try to hide behind an illogical argument that we cannot help if we criticize.

    FYI, MANY OF US DID NOT EVEN VOTE FOR HIM. ORANGE ARMY, GREEN ARMY, etc. BUT WHEN HE WON, WE SAW THE GOALS HE SET OUT TO ACHIEVE, HE ACHIEVED SOME BUT NOT ALL. THE GOVT IS IMPERFECT, ARE YOU PERFECT?

    “I don’t know how good these friends are at multi-tasking, but one
    does not cancel out the other. “We can help and we can
    criticize. “And at this point, I am convinced that we do help
    when we criticize; if at one point we can, as Hamlet says, ‘catch the
    conscience of the king.’

    ON THIS POINT, I PRAISE YOU FOR AVOIDING THE FALSE DICHOTOMY OF “CRITICIZING MEANS YOU ARE NOT HELPING.” KUDOS.

    “But I know that this is futile. This man is no king. “He
    is not even a real representative. “What
    can you expect from someone who never worked an honest day in his
    life? What could he possibly relate to?

    “So my friends who accuse me of Aquino bashing: I want you to know that
    I’m done with your line of thinking. “Either you defend this man or you defend the people that this man is ignoring.
    WHOA! IS THIS A CASE
    OF “IF YOU ARE NOT AGAINST HIM, YOU ARE FOR HIM”?

    “Don’t believe that the people are his ‘boss.” “This
    was a piece of advertising sound byte created by showbiz experts to
    get the unthinking masses out there to swallow this uniquely
    unqualified man.

    PLS TELL ME IF MOVIES YOU DIRECTED LIKE “SHAKE RATTLE AND ROLL
    (1990,91 and part of 1992)” AND “MAGIC TEMPLE (1996)” WAS NOT
    DIRECTED TO THE “UNTHINKING MASSES.” HOW ABOUT “AGATON AND
    MINDY (2009)”?

    “This man who is totally unprepared for the most difficult job in the
    country “So my friends, as far as I’m concerned, you choose him or you choose
    the people.
    AFTER AVOIDING ONE FALSE DICHOTOMY, YOU NOW IMPOSE YOUR OWN FALSE DICHOTOMY. IS IT REALLY A CHOICE BETWEEN HIM AND THE PEOPLE?

    “But if you instruct me again to stop bashing this man, I am unfriending
    you. “I will unfriend you in Facebook, on Twitter, on Instagram,
    and out in our leaderless streets.”

    NO NEED TO. WE ARE NOT YOUR FRIENDS ANYWAY.

    TO PARAPHRASE WHAT YOU SAID TO ERIK MATTI: WALANG PIKUNAN. WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE, THE SAVIOR OF THE COUNTRY?

    FOR PERSPECTIVE ON THE DARK POLITICS OF PEQUE GALLAGA, WATCH THIS YOUTUBE VIDEO (filmed prior to the 2010 elections)

    AFTER WATCHING THIS, ASK YOURSELF, WHO WANTS ANARCHY IN THE STREETS?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLwkFYe2Jvg

    • manuel buencamino

      Thanks for bitch slapping him for us.

  • andrew lim

    The following article is a very sensible and sober analysis of the Yolanda crisis aftermath:

    http://ideas.time.com/2013/11/14/stop-catastrophizing-relief-efforts-in-the-philippines/

    By John Crowley, TIME magazine

    EXCERPTS FROM THIS ARTICLE:

    “After a disaster, there will always be delays in the delivery of aid. While planes and helicopters can arrive in 24-48 hours after the storm clears, massive deliveries can only arrive by ship, which can take several days to sail—longer if they have to sail around a massive storm. Worse, damaged ports may take weeks to fix. With severe damage like that in Tacloban, roads may be impassible for many days or weeks, making distribution of aid difficult.”

    “When television crews race large cargo ships with airplanes and helicopters, the cameras will always win. Journalists will report on the gap between supply and demand. They will show the faces of people in need of western largesse. They will turn isolated incidents of foraging and removal of goods from a truck or warehouse into a report on rampant looting.”

    “Here is where the reports go very wrong. According to a friend who has worked in Haiti and the Philippines, “what happens when media talk up security issues is that aid agencies get worried about security of distributions, so they hold off until they have adequate security support. The velocity of distribution is dramatically slowed down. Scare mongering undermines the relief effort.” This dynamic happened in Haiti, and it’s happening here.”

  • UPnnGrd

    Off-topic…. any body heard from Joe Am?

    Biliran one would guess would have suffered serious devastation. Any body heard from JoeAm and about his family?

    • Cocoy

      haven’t heard from Joe Am. Don’t know how to reach him. His last post i think was Nov. 7.

    • cocoy

      Haven’t seen or heard from him yet. His last post was Nov. 7 (his blog). I don’t know how to reach him. If you guys do, please give him a shout out?

  • Bert

    “And with the vice president’s popularity remaining intact, his lead will simply be unassailable.”

    Not so fast there, Doy. You seems to be oblivious of what the voting public is seeing hanging down the Vice-president’s neck namely three albatrosses in the person of Enrile, Jinggoy and Revilla, all UNA stalwarts, :). In the coming months we will be seeing more spectacles that will change the color of the political spectrum and only then can we see whether the term “unassailable” is true or not, :).

    Abangan.

    • UPnnGrd

      malay mo, the “re-elect President Noynoy!!!!” really gets momentum…. abangan?????

  • manuelbuencamino

    “The irony is that in a bid to rid the government of the ghost of Mrs Arroyo, the Aquino administration wound up committing the very same act that it accused her of, namely re-aligning budget items out of expediency. During Mrs Arroyo’s presidency, the opposition blocked passage of her proposed general appropriations for a number of fiscal cycles forcing a re-enactment of the previous year’s budget. This enabled her to reallocate spending across departments at will for budgeted projects that had already been completed the previous year.”
    Let’s put that statement in the right context.

    1. Mrs Arroyo’s realignment of budget items was in aid of graft and corruption, as the COA audit revealed. In other words, the intent is the difference between GMA and Aquino. Note also that there has been no reenactment of the budget during Aquino’s tenure because one of the pillars of his government is to see to it that budgets are passed on time precisely because reenacted budgets were the source of graft and corruption.

    2. Opposition numbers in both houses of Congress were not large enough to block budget legislation nor to initiate any moves like impeachment. Thus it is only reasonable to conclude that those re-enactments were done on purpose, a conspiracy between congressional leadership and GMA in order to give her, and by extension the cooperative congress, a free hand with the budget. Consider the fact that budgets that were finally passed several months after January still included a full year’s appropriation despite the fact that expenditures for those months prior to passing the budget were already paid for i.e. salaries, benefits, MOEE, and phased and completed projects etc. and you will see how they gamed the system. There was a method to the madness, Doy. If you think that this is just paranoia on my part then look at how Congress and GMA played with exchange rates forecasts on debt payments. The understated congressional forecasts ended up as savings that it then applied to their insertions. Then GMA line-vetoed the insertions but kept the “savings”.

    Bottomline: Aquino did not commit the same act as GMA. He used savings for the country’s benefit, she used it for herself and her allies. There is a difference there, there is no irony at all.

    • UPnnGrd

      that’s exactly what deLima says…. guilty!!!! until proven innocent.
      Where there’s smoke, siguro naman, hindi nagkakamali ang mga tao.

  • UPnnGrd

    Oh, no!!! The English language words and phrases you used may entice a few to marvel at the elegance of the analysis…. and then there are others who will read and say that you have reached the conclusion of same-oh, same-oh…. and that the daang-matuwid DAP is…. ” Ay! Ang patakbo??? Pareho lang pala!!!” MLQ3 has served in both administration — MLQ3 can say kung tutoong “pareho lang pala”. I hope he says “… hindi naman ganu’n.”

    But wait… I am also amazed at your other proposition ——> “… the vice president’s popularity remaining intact… ” Bise-Binay will simply be unassailable.
    ===========================
    Bise Binay is No-Show for SuperTyphoon “Yolanda” disaster relief. Missing-in-Action???!!! Boooo!!!