Bam Aquino

Winner’s curse: How the opposition intimidated Team PNoy to take the low road to win in 2013 while leaving daang matuwid with no clear agenda or heir-apparent

In the Japanese martial art of Jujitsu one gains victory not by superior strength, but by using the force of one’s opponent against him. This is what the leader of the “friendly” opposition Vice President Jojo Binay did to the administration in the 2013 senatorial elections.

Having defeated President Aquino’s heir apparent Secretary Mar Roxas in the 2010 vice presidential derby, Binay’s unrivalled popularity while in office and his links to two of the most revered names in Philippine politics (Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and ex-president Joseph Estrada) made “winnability” foremost in Team PNoy’s mind in considering candidates for its 2013 senate slate.

Having experienced the “tyranny of numbers” in the lead up to the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and in the subsequent push to have a number of its reform measures passed, the administration was not going to risk losing a majority of senate seats this time around. This caused the administration to take a “win at all costs” approach.

Its first move was to mend fences with its former rivals in the 2010 election. The entry of the Nacionalista Party’s standard bearers into the tent of Team PNoy spelled an about face for both parties. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had started the TOPAK meme which maligned the president’s mental capacities. Senator Loren Legarda had called on him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation during the campaign. All that was swept under the rug as far as the administration was concerned.

After framing the contest between Messrs Aquino and Villar back in 2010 as one of “light v darkness”, the Villar’s were all of a sudden admitted among the “chosen ones” who would travel down the “Righteous Path” alongside the president. Not to worry, the administration said, since such a coalition was based on platforms, not personalities. Except that they avoided at every turn to define what that platform was.

When asked to identify the top 5 legislative proposals Team PNoy would push for if elected, its spokesman, Rep Miro Quimbo could only identify 4. “Let me get back to you on that” was his candid response. Unfortunately even the priorities he outlined didn’t figure in any formal policy document or in most of the endorsed candidates’ platforms.

When asked why there was no shared policy platform across Team PNoy, the undersecretary for strategy and communications, Manolo Quezon replied that midterms weren’t about policies but a referendum on the president. You either believe in him and his “chosen ones” or you don’t. So there you have it. The election was framed as a clash of personalities and their proxies, not as a contest of ideas, policies and visions for the country. Here’s what he said…

Consequently, the voters simply did what they have always done when faced with no real alternatives but the same old dynasties and incumbents: they went with those that connected with them on a deep emotional level, those with whom they felt a sense of shared destiny.

Due to the economic make-up of our electorate, that meant electing Nancy Binay even if she had no prior experience working in an official capacity in government. It also meant catapulting Grace Poe to pole position based on the memory of her deceased father and the playful use of her surname as an expression of respect.

Both these candidates scored high on our “trapo scale” dubbed the “pander-o-meter” based on an analysis of their personal platforms. Of course their policies were never scrutinised by the media. Neither did the intelligentsia perform its role in critically assessing the promises of each candidate (the absence of party-wide platforms made this task a lot more difficult than it should have been).

Health care reform, a key plank in Ms Binay’s platform was not given the kind of treatment it needed. She was never challenged on the feasibility of her proposals to provide free nutrition and medicine particularly to nursing mothers. In the case of Grace Poe, nobody noticed that her campaign was anchored on a coulda shoulda woulda basis committing her to nothing specific and nothing firm.

The candidates were allowed to promise the sun, moon and stars all the while pandering to the emotional pleasure zones of the electorate without the voice of reason being given an honest hearing. Social media was co-opted to suit the candidates’ purposes. There was no one calling them out on the false hopes and expectations that they were building.

Finally, in assessing the aftermath of Election 2013, what we will find is that although Team PNoy garnered a clear majority of seats that were up for grabs, it comes out the weaker party.

Sure, it now can boast of having a majority in both chambers of congress, but the political calculus facing its adherents will be daunting. Will they really pursue the tough and unpopular reforms that are needed to bring the country forward, especially now that the electoral bankability of the BInay dynasty remains utterly unassailable?

Secondly, the president does not have a clear, viable heir-apparent to challenge the Jojo Binay-Jinggoy Estrada machinery and name recall in 2016. Secretary Mar Roxas has not accepted his party’s draft to run perhaps due to his failure to define a narrative for his candidacy.

Only one of the Liberal Party’s three senatorial candidates is likely to win in this election, in large part due to the fact that he shares the same name as the president. Bam Aquino will be too young to contest the presidential elections in 2016 being a year shy of the minimum age requirement, repeating the fate of his late-uncle.

So that leaves the administration with a mere three years to cement its legacy before handing over the reins to its successor who is likely to come from the opposition. For failing to define its agenda and properly vet its allies prior to the elections, the administration now suffers the problem of having no clear mandate to implement whatever reforms it outlines afterwards.

The same thing happened following the 1986 people power uprising. Rather than develop a new breed of politicos based on principles and a common reform agenda, the revolutionary government of Cory Aquino accommodated and resuscitated the clans who ruled the country in the pre-Martial Law era allowing the children of its revolution to die in the ditches defending their cause.

Joseph Estrada once said that her government’s biggest mistake was letting guys like him back in (clever guy he truly is!). Only those like Jejomar Binay who were willing to “play by the rules” of the jungle survived.

Instead of taking the hard, difficult path of building a constituency for reform through principled, policy-driven politics and developing a new breed of politicians from inside its base, the second Aquino administration opted to go down the quick and easy path to success, just like the first.

For those that thought 2010 marked the beginning of an era of new politics, think again. The years 2010-16 might simply be an interlude, a case of trapo interrupted, where the country enjoyed a momentary respite from the worst forms of populist, predatory politics at the top, before old habits kicked in once again.

Image: courtesy of

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering on the pander-o-meter


Featuring Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino and Alan Peter Cayetano.

The populist is in the details (or lack thereof).

As part of a series covering the senate race of 2013, I am casting a spotlight on the platforms and policy pronouncements of the candidates as the campaign season unfolds.

Previously, I found that only 11 candidates had bothered to present their legislative agenda for the senate. These were Bam Aquino, Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda and Koko Pimentel of Team PNoy, JV Ejercito, Gringo Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Migz Zubiri of UNA, Teddy Casiño of Makabayan, and Greco Belgica of the DPP. This list has recently been updated to include Sonny Angara, Jack Enrile and Peter Cayetano. There are also five more candidates that belong to parties that have released a party-wide platform. This includes the partymates of Greco Belgica in the DPP, namely Bal Falcone and Christrian Seneres, and Kapatiran’s candidates JC delos Reyes, Rizalito David and Marwil Llasos. So in total, there are 19 candidates with platforms.

I will in this series tackle their proposals and evaluate their content in terms of their reformist versus populist credentials. I will offer an overall rating for each candidate based on what I call a Pander-o-meter or Trapo (traditional politician) scale which will indicate the level of pandering that goes on. The various readings of this panderometer are based on the following scale:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…


Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature


A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming


Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering


Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

Note that for those candidates who do not even present an agenda, their reading automatically goes to 5 by default. I will now proceed with the first three candidates on my list who all belong to Team PNoy: Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino and Peter Cayetano.


Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara (LDP-Team PNoy) looks set to follow in his father’s footsteps in cornering the youth vote by branding himself the ‘education senator’ through proposals specifically targeted to this sector. The following three priority bills are illustrative of the type filed by him in the lower house. Do they reveal a reformist or populist bent? Read on and find out.

  1. National student loan program a.k.a. “study now, pay later”:
    • Description: creation of an education loan fund authority to oversee student loans to tertiary students (both vocational and higher education)
    • Cost: Php5 billion, Php10 million to set-up operations
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The sufficiency of the fund depends on the take-up rate of students. Currently with Php32.8 billion being spent by government to cover ~90% of the cost of a college place, the remaining ~10% or about Php3 billion in fees have to be shouldered by students. With a 100% take-up rate, the entire fund would be exhausted in less than two years, and that doesn’t take into account students of private colleges and universities availing of the program. Even if we were to assume only a 50% take-up rate, the fund would still be exhausted in three to four years assuming inflation in student fees and administrative cost of the fund. This needs further work to become realistic and self-sustaining. I provide a more comprehensive reform agenda here .

  1. School modernisation and innovation program:
    • Description: upgrade of computer/science labs, libraries and the promotion of distance-learning at public elementary and secondary schools
    • Cost: unspecified
    • Source of funding: earmarked from existing expenditures equivalent to 10 per cent of Department of Education budget

My critique:

DepEd already spends 56% of its budget on maintenance and other operating expenses, with a further 3% on capital outlays, which cover everything mentioned in the proposal including Alternative Learning Systems plus Sports, Health and Nutrition, National Education Test development and others. Without additional funding, this bill would simply bind the department to re-direct existing spending to the areas specified in the bill. This might be counter-productive and lead to unintended consequences due to the inflexibility built-in to budget by such a measure. It also fails to mention anything about promoting web connectivity of classes which would be the most innovative thing we could do. An NBN as proposed by my colleagues in this site should be re-investigated.

  1. Bill of rights for fresh graduates
    • Description: a package of incentives for fresh graduates incorporating: workplace rights (secure tenure, fair treatment, further training), exemption from contribution into workplace entitlement programs (social security, PhilHealth, Pag-ibig) for one year, fee waivers for job search costs (NBI clearance, birth certificate, passport application), access to small business loans of up to Php100,000, additional Php10,000 personal exemption on income tax on top of existing income tax threshold,  discounts to transportation fees for one year.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: National Treasury

My critique:

This is potentially a very costly program for government. Last April alone there were just over 9 million Filipinos aged 15-24 who were in the labour force. Assuming that roughly a tenth of them were fresh vocational or university graduates, there would be 900,000 eligible beneficiaries annually. Multiply that by a conservative estimate of Php10,000 worth of benefits per person, that amounts to Php9 billion a year that needs to be funded. Even if we assume half that amount become eligible, you are still talking about serious sums being spent. If the aim of the plan is to encourage college completion, then there might be better, more cost-effective ways of doing that. As it is, this bill is really a stop-gap measure addressing low wages and lack of appropriate job opportunities for graduates in the domestic economy. Creating paid apprenticeships and training subsidies would be a better way to go as I have discussed here.

Overall comments:

The three proposals are specifically targeted to a large chunk of voters sensitive to education issues: the youth and parents of school and college students. The problem with the measures is that they are all potentially expensive and unfunded. They pander to the electorate by promising a whole slue of benefits, but without proper costing and funding, they may simply become ‘paper entitlements’.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5


Benigno “Bam” Aquino (LP-Team PNoy) has a three-point agenda which are aimed at the youth, job hunters, and micro-to-medium sized business owners.

  1. GoTrabaho Act
    • Description: Addressing education-employment mismatch through a national internship program supported by a database with incentives for business and educational institutions to properly match training with demand
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

Although the funding issue is not tackled, this is a much more practical and manageable response to the problem of youth unemployment and skills mismatch than what Sonny Angara proposes above. I have previously tried to cost this program based on the level of demand from employers as per government released statistics. The cost of Php1.5 billion is not prohibitive and really well-targeted and cost-effective, as I discuss here. This makes this proposal realistic and actionable.

  1. GoNegosyo Act
    • Description: Supporting the creation of sustainable micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) through regulatory red-tape reduction, microfinance, market mapping, training and cluster road map development, as well as incentives to social enterprises
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

This proposal need not necessarily require additional funding. The package of reforms brings together several programs already operating, including the National Competitiveness Council’s efforts to address the cost of doing business, the DTI’s and BMBE program that provides credit to MSME’s and TESDA’s and DepEd’s entrepreneurial programs. What is new is the boost to social enterprise signalled by the policy statement and the creation of a cluster within government to develop a roadmap for MSMEs.

It is important to include MSMEs, research councils and scientists and civic society in cluster development and to have multiple industry clusters to develop roadmaps so that government can get behind these naturally forming clusters and help them expand and agglomerate. At some future stage, when priorities are identified, there may be a need to fund industry- or cluster- specific infrastructure, but only after stakeholder consultation and engagement has indicated that there is a need for it.

  1. PPP4E
    • Description: supporting public-private partnerships for education
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

PPP’s to close the classroom deficit have already been scheduled according to the responsible agency, DepEd. This proposal seeks “to arrive at the best form of partnership/s that will be beneficial and fair to all parties, while leapfrogging government’s resource constraints.” Perhaps what the proposal should do is seek to close other gaps such as those involving equipment and science labs. Connecting schools, colleges and universities with high speed broadband needs to be addressed either through PPPs or through a sovereign wealth fund model as per my suggestion here.

Overall comments:

Bam Aquino has not yet learned the bad habits of veteran legislators to enact broad sweeping entitlements with no costings or sources of funding. His more modest, measured proposals would require minimal or no cost as they involve better coordination and improvements to existing programs and policies. One cannot discount the impact that these will have on the broader economy, if done correctly.

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5


Alan Peter Cayetano (NP-Team PNoy) has recently launched his PiTiK program (P-presyo, T-trabaho, K-kita) an acronym he has obviously borrowed from former socio-economic planning secretary Cielito Habito, but failed to acknowledge (could this be a case of plagiarism?). The following is a list of proposals the senator seeking re-election has made in conjunction with this framework. These he claims were the product of his listening tour of the country.

  1. Reconsidering VAT on gas
    • Description: reconsidering the application of VAT on petroleum products.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The senator needs to propose revenue neutral ways for the government to recover the revenues lost from lowering or eliminating VAT on petroleum products. As it stands, this proposal could impact the gains which the government has already made in raising its revenues to close the budget gap. A more realistic proposal was offered by former budget secretary Ben Diokno wherein the VAT rate automatically adjusts to oil prices (the VAT rate goes down when prices are up, conversely the tax rate goes up when prices are down, although there is a ceiling which would limit the rate rise to the current 12%).

That proposal is meant to be revenue neutral, but what Cayetano does here is a classic case of pandering to the masses, because they would avoid the VAT but have to pay in the future through higher inflation if the government has to borrow more because it is unable to maintain its revenue base. Interestingly enough, Diokno’s recent pronouncements that VAT needs to be raised to 15% to deal with the infrastructure gap and chronic budget deficits might become necessary if Cayetano’s proposal is enacted into law.

  1. College scholarships to the top 10% of every graduating class from public schools
    • Description: exempting this cohort from student fees at state universities and colleges
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The proposal is representative of a number of pending bills in the senate. I have canvassed them here. Mandating SUCs to provide tuition free places to a cohort of students is in my view a band aid measure. One of the unintended consequences of this is that SUCs will have to fund these scholarships by raising the fees charged to the rest of their students. They either do that or lower the amount they spend upgrading their facilities and lecturers. At the rate at which legislators call for the creation of newer SUCs, government simply cannot keep up with the funding costs as there is much duplication of programs and administrative departments. It is in fact necessary to encourage SUCs to merge rather than to multiply to gain economies of scale.

Addressing the issues of equity, efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness of higher education is the more important reform agenda that needs to be tackled.

One important question to consider in all this is: Why should Juan dela Cruz, the grade school drop out who works in the informal sector, for instance be paying with his taxes the studies of Isko the scholar who will become a skilled professional after graduation and earn a high salary? The returns to training of both private individuals and society at large must be studied and assistance offered to scholars to deal with the incidence of costs to training on that basis. Rather than create a universal right to free higher education, government should help private individuals by shifting the timing not the value of the costs associated with their studies. I have offered a comprehensive program on how to do that here.

  1. Providing cheaper loans through cooperatives
    • Description: building more and expanding existing cooperatives that can lend to their members using cheap interest rates.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

 My critique:

The proposal is half-baked. What is the role of government in building and expanding voluntary organisations such as cooperatives? That is not defined. Studies have shown that it is the unavailability of credit rather than the cost of it that is the biggest roadblock the poor face in undertaking entrepreneurial endeavours. This proposal was framed in the context of public transport operators making less money as a result of high input costs but regulated prices in their industry. So if that is the case, offering them credit will not necessarily help them address that fundamental issue.

Overall comments:

The senator has used his so-called listening tour to launch his PiTiK campaign, which is really more of a loose organising principle for his policy pronouncements than a robust policy framework. As a result, his proposals seem to be shot from the hip and not well-thought out. The senator (currently sitting at no. 3 in the SWS and Pulse Asia polls) seems to be more focused on grabbing the headline than on governing responsibly. His proposals are laden with costly unintended consequences from a fiscal, economic and social standpoint and don’t really address the fundamental problems. They in fact misconstrue the very nature of these problems and as a result lead to false solutions. For violating the rule in public policy, which is “to do no harm,” Peter’s proposals are even worse than if he had done nothing.

Pander-o-meter: 6 out of 5 (off the scale!)


The next batch will include Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.



Filipino social enterprise a finalist in “Project Inspire: 5 Minutes to Change the World”

Image from the Hapinoy website

HAPINOY, a Filipino social enterprise working to empower “nanays” (mothers) through sari-sari store-based micro-enterprise and micro-finance programs, is a finalist in Project Inspire: 5 Minutes to Change the World, a joint initiative of UN Women Singapore and Mastercard.

The project is a global search for projects that “help empower disadvantaged women and girls, through education, skills training, financial inclusion, social entrepreneurship.” At stake is a US$25,000 grant “to go out there and bring your vision to life.”

Established in 2007 by MicroVentures Incorporated, Hapinoy extends credit and capital infusion for nanays to set up their own Hapinoy Stores and learn to operate and grow their businesses through Hapinoy’s proprietary system. By aggregating stores and using a franchise-like system, Hapinoy is able to assure its beneficiaries of access to lower-priced goods, training, and a support system that the nanays will not otherwise get on their own.

Run by a young and dynamic team of social entrepreneurs led by Bam Aquino and Mark Ruiz, Hapinoy and its founders have been the recipient of several awards, including the first-ever MVP Bossing Awards by PLDT, the Go Negosyo Inspiring Young Filipino Entrepreneurs Award, the Asia 21 Young Leaders Summit, and several others.

Part of their Project Inspire application was a five-minute video pitching their cause (see below), which, as a finalist of the global search, will be put through a public vote and a panel screening. Voting closes on August 19, 2011 and, unlike other voting contests that allow multiple voting (such as for CNN Hero of the Year), only one vote per user is allowed.

Hapinoy – Project Inspire entry

If you would like to put another Filipino social enterprise on the global map, click this page and cast your vote HERE.