Department of Labor and Employment

The President’s speech

Image credit: Eaglenews.ph
Image credit: Eaglenews.ph

In his new year’s address, President Aquino spoke of the urgency to complete his administration’s good governance agenda alluding to the remainder of his term as the “last two minutes”.

Several challenges faced this year were mentioned including the PDAF scandal, severe weather events and the continuing task of providing employment for our people. Achievements to date were the prosecution of cases against corrupt officials implicated in the PDAF scam, signing of the annex to the framework agreement to end conflict in the South, resilient growth in the face of a regional slowdown, and the granting of investment grade status to the Philippines.

The president mentioned the ongoing tasks needing completion before the end of his term, which are eradicating corruption, solving the skills mismatch in labour markets and providing enough employment opportunities, and bringing about a final peace settlement in Mindanao.

Unfortunately, in seeking to play up the positive achievements under his administration, the president may have undermined his own credibility. The president intoned, “because of good governance, we are destroying the last bastions of corruption, and at the same time, creating more opportunities for our countrymen.”

The last bastions of corruption? As evidence of this, the president cited our improvement in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index moving 29 places up from 134th to 105th place out of 177 countries in the ranking. Actually, TI’s 2013 report shows us at equal 94th place along with countries like Djibouti, India, Suriname and Ecuador (see below).


Of course one can argue that the methodology used by TI necessarily makes it vulnerable to criticism based as it is on perceptions of the country, which can be influenced by the “halo effect”. The real proof of the pudding is  in the actual experience of investors when they try to do business in the country. And here a better yardstick comes from the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators.

Although the World Bank’s findings show the country’s Control of Corruption score in 2012 recovered from its recent lows, it was still at 33 with 100 being the highest possible. This puts us slightly below what we attained in 2005. I doubt that anyone would regard that as a banner year for beating corruption. It doesn’t suggest that we have limited corruption past the historical mean if you look back at the WB’s time series. We are way below our highest score of 55 attained back in 1998.

WB CoC

As far as providing jobs, the president said, “Through the cooperation of DOLE, TESDA, DepEd, CHED, and the private sector, we are finding solutions to the job-skills mismatch. Therefore, it is not surprising that the unemployment rate decreased this year.” This statement can be questioned. While the unemployment rate recorded for October 2013 was 6.5 per cent, lower than the 6.8 per cent in the same month of 2012, the average for 2013 was 7.1 per cent compared to 7.0 per cent in 2012. Also, it is worth noting that the October estimates excluded the province of Leyte.

It is standard practice in dealing with employment figures to use full year averages to smoothen out the volatility of results. While average total employment rose 0.8 per cent to 37.9 million in 2013 up from 37.6 million in 2012, the number of unemployed people also rose by 2.5 per cent to 2.9 million from 2.8 million during this period. This does not suggest that employment conditions improved much in the last year.

It is likewise hard to know what to make of the administrative statistics the president cites with respect to TESDA’s performance. He compares a study performed by the Department of Budget and Management showing that only 28.5 per cent of graduates between 2006 and 2008 found employment after training to a study performed by TESDA in 2012 that showed that this had increased to 62.4 per cent.

We are not told whether the methodologies used by the two agencies in deriving these results were consistent with each other. Was the length of time the same for both studies (the former was for three years, what about the latter)? How long since graduating were the former pupils surveyed in each study? How were respondents sampled? The seemingly vague language used in the president’s statement does not really help clarify the issue.

The seeming lack of rigour in subjecting the president’s statements to analytical scrutiny opens up his message to criticism. If the premise of his argument appears faulty, then the conclusions and policy direction he derives from them could be discredited as well.

For me, the cherry picking of statistics that favours his arguments simply undermines the very thesis that good governance reforms are in fact working to improve things and are close to their culmination. In our pursuit of the straight path, there ought to be no hint of deception or bias in our analysis of the situation. To be fair, I don’t think it is their intention to deceive us. Perhaps it is a case of the spin meisters not seeking help from technical analysts in proofreading the speech.

Finally, what was sorely lacking in the president’s narrative was a cogent strategy and clear policy direction for the remainder of his term. The president again seemed to resort to rhetorical flourishes, rather than spelling out his roadmap. He has left it to commentators to fill in the blanks for him. This is not what we would expect from a president at this stage of his term. Worryingly, the president’s speech has left us with more questions than answers.

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (First of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

When Malacañang submits to Congress for confirmation its list of Cabinet appointees, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, who is under fire for supposedly mishandling the August 23 hostage-taking crisis at the Quirino Grandstand, won’t be on it. A list of appointments made by President Benigno Aquino 3rd since he assumed office on June 30 showed that Robredo and two other secretaries—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz—were named only “acting” secretaries instead of being issued “ad interim” appointments for transmittal to the Commission on Appointments.

“The ad interim appointees enjoy his [President Aquino’s] trust,” a high-ranking Palace official said. “The acting appointees are under probation.”

Robredo, a three-term mayor of Naga City and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service, was appointed on July 9 and was among the last named to Mr. Aquino’s Cabinet.

Individuals close to the President and those who had helped in his presidential campaign told VERA Files that Robredo does not quite enjoy President Aquino’s trust, owing to differences that erupted during the campaign.

The President, they said, was unhappy with the campaign schedules Robredo drew up, which were packed with appointments and events that he had difficulty following.

And while President Aquino has given his Cabinet appointees free rein to select their undersecretaries, Robredo had to settle for working with Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno, who was appointed on July 2, or one week ahead of the Local Government secretary.

Puno, a close friend of the President and fellow gun enthusiast, was assigned to handle the August 23 incident and reported directly to the President.

Robredo admitted he “was out of the loop” during the 12-hour hostage crisis.

On Friday, 11 days after the hostage-taking incident, President Aquino took responsibility for the debacle, admitting that when he offered the Department of Interior and Local Government top post to Robredo, he told him “to address concerns such as coming up with a comprehensive plan on delivering social services to and relocating informal settlers in coordination with the local governments.”

When Malacañang submits to Congress for confirmation its list of Cabinet appointees, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo, who is under fire for supposedly mishandling the August 23 hostage-taking crisis at the Quirino Grandstand, won’t be on it. A list of appointments made by President Benigno Aquino 3rd since he assumed office on June 30 showed that Robredo and two other secretaries—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and Labor Secretary Rosalinda Baldoz—were named only “acting” secretaries instead of being issued “ad interim” appointments for transmittal to the Commission on Appointments.

“The ad interim appointees enjoy his [President Aquino’s] trust,” a high-ranking Palace official said. “The acting appointees are under probation.”

Robredo, a three-term mayor of Naga City and a Ramon Magsaysay awardee for public service, was appointed on July 9 and was among the last named to Mr. Aquino’s Cabinet.

Individuals close to the President and those who had helped in his presidential campaign told VERA Files that Robredo does not quite enjoy President Aquino’s trust, owing to differences that erupted during the campaign.

The President, they said, was unhappy with the campaign schedules Robredo drew up, which were packed with appointments and events that he had difficulty following.

And while President Aquino has given his Cabinet appointees free rein to select their undersecretaries, Robredo had to settle for working with Undersecretary for Peace and Order Rico Puno, who was appointed on July 2, or one week ahead of the Local Government secretary.

Puno, a close friend of the President and fellow gun enthusiast, was assigned to handle the August 23 incident and reported directly to the President.

Robredo admitted he “was out of the loop” during the 12-hour hostage crisis.

On Friday, 11 days after the hostage-taking incident, President Aquino took responsibility for the debacle, admitting that when he offered the Department of Interior and Local Government top post to Robredo, he told him “to address concerns such as coming up with a comprehensive plan on delivering social services to and relocating informal settlers in coordination with the local governments.”

Aquino alliance rocked by factions, interests (Last of three parts)

(Series by VERA Files; first published in The Manila Times)

Another source also said that President Aquino was reluctant to sign the appointment papers of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo that was causing complications in foreign relations. Although Romulo took his oath of office first week of July, his appointment was signed only on August 10. As a result, Romulo missed the 43rd meeting of foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Hanoi on July 20, since his lack of an official appointment prevented him from signing official international agreements for the Philippines.

Sources also cited the appointment of Education Secretary Armin Luistro, former president of De La Salle University, as another case of utang na loob [debt of gratitude]. The La Salle brothers had offered their Greenhills campus as the venue for the wake former President Corazon Aquino, who died August last year, when the Ateneo de Manila University and Santo Domingo Church were unavailable.

Luistro was appointed despite his lack of expertise in basic education, according to Aquino supporters, in the process shutting out former Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz who had helped craft President Aquino’s education agenda during the campaign.

In many cases, Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. admits, the last word on appointments rests with him and the President. The two enjoy a friendship that dates back to when their fathers were Liberal Party members in the 1960s. Ochoa’s father was former mayor of Pulilan, Bulacan.

Classmates Inc.

In 1998, Ochoa became President Aquino’s legal counsel when the latter was elected to the House of Representatives. President Aquino’s first choice was Eulalio “Galland” Diaz 3rd, his classmate at Ateneo, but Diaz was not available.

Ochoa took pre-law studies at the University of Santo Tomas but enrolled at the Ateneo Law School where he had for classmates those who attended Ateneo undergrad with President Aquino, including Diaz and now Sen. Teofisto “TG” Guingona Jr.

Many of President Aquino’s classmates who went to the Ateneo Law School belong to Class of 1985 whose class valedictorian was Edward Serapio, who was once former President Joseph Estrada’s lawyer and was jailed along with him on charges of plunder. Serapio was subsequently acquitted.

In fact, President Aquino has fallen back on his classmates at the Ateneo in his search for appointees, leading critics to dub them as “Kaklase [Classmates] Incorporated.”

Among those who have been named to the Aquino government are Kim Jacinto-Henares, Diaz as administrator of the Land Registration Authority, Rene Almendras as Energy Secretary, Cristino Naguiat as chairman of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., and Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Jose Amor Amorado.

Other Atenean lawyers in Aquino’s government are Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda, Juan Andres Bautista as chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government, Pio Lorenzo Batino as defense undersecretary, Michael Frederick Musngi as deputy executive secretary, and Francis Tolentino as chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority. A number of them were part of the group called Pinoy Lawyers that served as the legal arm of the Aquino campaign in the elections on May.

Ochoa said he and President Aquino act like they are still members of a barkada and are often the only two officials at Malacañang’s Premier Guesthouse. “Ang lungkot sa Premier Guesthouse. Kami lang dalawa ni Noynoy [It’s lonely at the Premier Guesthouse; it’s just the two of us],” he said.

Barkada-style relationship

The barkada-style relationship prevails to this day and Ochoa said he often forgets he is dealing with the President. During a meeting with World Bank, Ochoa said, he answered Aquino with a “Sige, pare [Okay, dude].”

“Then I corrected myself. ‘Mr. Pre-sident,’” he said.

This relationship and his position as executive secretary, often considered the “little president,” have practically given him a monopoly on the President’s attention. When President Aquino didn’t like the names recommended by the search committee to head the Department of Science and Technology, he turned to Ochoa for help.

“He [Aquino] said he didn’t know anyone on the list. So I offered to consult my brother-in-law,” Ochoa recalled, referring to Mario Montejo, a mechanical engineer.

But Ochoa said that the President instead replied, “Bakit hindi siya [Why not him]?”

Ochoa also said he recommended Enrique Ona as Health secretary after hearing about his work at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute. “I know him only by reputation,” he added.

Critics have slammed Ona’s appointment, especially his promotion of the sale of organs for transplant. “He is for Filipinos to sell their organs. That’s against medical ethics. It’s exploitation of the poor. One donates organ to save another life, not for pay,” said a leading doctor.

Ona and Romulo are said to be among five individuals recommended by the Iglesia Ni Cristo (INC), a two-million-strong church group whose support the LP reportedly courted during the campaign. The INC also recommended the appointments of Environment Secretary Ramon Paje and National Bureau of Investigation chief Magtanggol Gatdula.

Paje, however, was named in an acting capacity to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources portfolio that would reportedly be given to former Rep. Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon, the President’s fellow Liberal Party member, who lost in the senatorial race. Acosta is covered by the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates.

Ochoa acknowledges that “everyone tries to influence” the President in the appointments. In cases when his advisers clash, the executive secretary said he and Aquino end up having the last say.

But he also said, “At the end of the day, it’s P-Noy [President Aquino] who decides. It’s the personal choice of the President. It’s his personal judgment.”

(Read the first part here and the second part here.)