State of the Nation

Hope is down, Pessimism is up

Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III

BusinessWorld wrote that pessimism is up in the Philippines as it talked about the first quarter confidence index. It is now down to -23.1 percent, from -8.5 percent in the previous three months. Inflationary pressures are to be blamed, and gloom is across all income groups.

This isn’t helped by the culture of schadenfreude that seem to thrive.

Legislation is expected to take a backseat as the Senate convenes to try the Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for breach of public trust. The trial could take up to four months. Gutierrez, a long time ally of former President Arroyo is viewed by many together with an Arroyo appointed Supreme Court to be the key stumbling block to bring the former President and her ilk to justice.

As Manuel Buencamino points out, in the event that Gutierrez is acquitted, Aquino simply appoints a new Ombudsman heading towards the mid-term elections. Cases filed against Mrs. Arroyo and her allies at that key juncture could still do much damage.

In “Promises, Promises,” Doy points out the folly of no new taxes. He also points out the frustration that most people feel. It is the slowness of change that Aquino promised. This, above all else drives people to pessimism.

There are many quiet changes happening in Government. What’s endemic is that these are not the big, loud, things one would normally associate with politics and political change. It is mostly quiet, and under the hood. The Finance department for example is getting its act together.  There is also the universal health care agenda, labor governance, also the first batch of public-private partnerships.

These have all been eclipsed by faux pas. The ineptitude and mishandling of the Hostage crisis in August is the first of many. What’s sad is how Aquino seem to have protected key allies post crisis, and this beyond what transpired on that day makes it a faux pas. Another, it took a full 8 months before the government submitted to Congress its priority measures.

Part of the problem is that no one seem to be able to grasp the depth and breadth of the situation. The unwieldy condition of the bureaucracy makes matters worst. This inertia is difficult to overcome. And amidst all the structural changes, this too has to be overcome.

The state of the nation is indeed like that old Spanish house made of narra, but it is now old, with its roof leaking, and its pipes broken. The doors of the house are all in a state of disrepair. The electrical wiring are all worn out, and is a fire hazard. Try as one might to put an LCD TV, and Macs and WiFi in the house, and other modern conveniences like a microwave and updated refrigerator, and aircon, it clearly shows the dichotomy of two worlds. It clearly shows the separation between the past and the present, and we are carrying the burden of the past into the future.

So where do we go from here?

With the Merci trial underway, rest assured that many of the bills that the Government wants and needs to pass will take a backseat. And with the Palace indicating that it intends to offer up its own version of the RH Bill, this puts into doubt the current debate on it. At best, the RH Bill could be passed later in the year, and worst, it could drag on into the election year where pressure from the Church would dampen its approval. Well, perhaps the President’s version will see the light of day if the Church goes with it.

If Merci’s trial drags into August, it becomes tougher for LEDAC 23 bills to get passed, unless there is already an agreement between the executive and congress to get the job done. The government will also need to pass a generation appropriation’s measure by year’s end. It would theoretically give five months of debate to get it done.

The schedule seems iffy, but if Aquino puts his weight behind it, maybe. What good will that weight be if his approval ratings go down, and dissent starts to creep in is another threat to be considered.

Prior the election campaign, Aquino rode high, but all the campaign’s promise had to give way to tactical considerations when the President’s lead was destroyed by Manny Villar entering the election campaign proper. It would seem that something similar is happening in this administration. Perhaps, with a much more diminished trust rating, the administration would hustle.

What is also clear is that the problems facing the nation are deeper than anyone suspects, or anyone understands. The systematic state of disrepair the Republic is in, is clearly not understood by critics, or by the general public, and I suspect, the administration sees only the surface of it.  It isn’t a slight to administration or critics or the public. It is simply a realization that the problem is complex and interdependent, and no one has the entire picture.   It will take decades and several presidencies to steer the ship of state properly, and that much is clear.   What is also clear is that nation building is not an exclusive providence of government.  Social impact, and real change happens in the little things we do as private citizens.  That’s how change happens.

Photo credit: Malacañang Photo Bureau

On Noynoy is repeating his mother's mistake

Torn and Frayed in Manila wrote an interesting piece, “Noynoy is repeating his mother’s mistake.”

A house divided against itself cannot stand
It’s early days and Noynoy, who has very little management experience to my knowledge, is presumably learning from these bruising battles. Let’s hope so because the country needs the son to be a better team leader than his mother was.

He has to be tougher than her, to squash the squabbling between his associates, and to be ruthless when needed. Unlike Cory, who, in the words of Joel Rocamora, “allowed her brother to sabotage the reform process by recruiting KBL and other unsavory trapo (traditional politician) types” into the ruling party, Noynoy has to end the perceptions of cronyism that the recent headlines about Puno have generated. If not, he will spend the next 6 years looking inward instead of focusing on the many problems and opportunities he was elected to address.

Three things:

1. It is almost universally accepted that Aquino is sincere in his promise— 70 percent trust rating and an electoral mandate better than Erap Estrada has it going for him.

2. There have been numerous quiet success stories in the past 100 days. PAGASA is just one of many. The organs of the government are working, where only a year ago during Ondoy, was one freaking mess. So things are moving along, sometimes too slow— but you have this sense that somethings are changing. So, so far, the nation is improving.

3. The IIRC report really is a sore thumb. It is obvious to anyone who reads it— that heavy charges needed to be filed against Alfredo Lim and other officers of the government. The IIRC report glaringly was mute with regard to Puno— yet there are reasonable questions that persist. As the President’s appointed representative to the hostage taking crisis, why didn’t he

a) advice the president to take it to the national level,

b) why didn’t he ensure that the President’s order was not carried out?

The sore thumb really isn’t that one thinks Lim or Puno are innocent. The sore thumb really is that they should have been charged and let the courts decide on the merit of the case. Let them defend themselves in court as they have the right to do so, and we the people— and the dead have a right to justice. Hence, the perception of a whitewash or favoritism because a) it took so long to come out with the report and b) there seem to be universal disgust with Puno’s government service.

It is the President’s prerogative to appoint his officers. The argument that he shouldn’t appoint his friends, is a gray area, at best. We appoint our friends and allies to positions of power because it is the natural human thing. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t the wisest course of action. That doesn’t mean that we glaringly turn our back on incompetence. That doesn’t mean that we do not look into the capability of the candidate if he or she is the right one for the job.

The President should either remove Puno from the DILG or bring him somewhere else— Presidential adviser on something because it is quite obvious he wasn’t up to the task.

Alfredo Lim ought to be charged properly in court for his role in the botched hostage taking. What’s certain too is that his brand of leadership is at an end. He ought to be given the right to defend himself in court.

The lackluster charges filed against Lim, and other officials of the government gives the people the license to doubt and be disappointed, which is such waste for a man of his many years in government service. Mister President, it is such a waste of political capital to be defending Lim and Puno, et.al., because this nation will need your political capital to fight the more important battles— fiscal situation, reproductive health, freedom of information, corruption and many more.

So far the nation is improving and given the state of the nation, those results do matter. Just the lives saved during Juan’s visit is an achievement worth remembering and worth building upon, but there is creeping doubt and disappointment is on the prowl.

(Photo by: Ryan Lim / Malacañang Photo Bureau) via gov.ph