3 years of Aquino only entrenched elite governance #SONA2013

This is a press statement from Center for People Empowerment in Governance

Not the change that he promised but the entrenchment of elite governance.

This in a nutshell is what the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), a think tank based in the University of the Philippines, today said in its assessment of the first three years of the Aquino presidency.

Prof. Bobby Tuazon, CenPEG director for policy studies, said President Aquino III’s first three years in office only further entrenched elite rule in all major aspects of governance, politically and economically. The much-touted latest GDP growth was actually sustained by the country’s marginalized sector – remittances from OFWs – as well as by election spending. The claimed GDP growth, Tuazon said, had no trickle-down effect and only widened the gap between the small super-rich and majority of Filipinos who continue to wallow in untold poverty under Aquino.

Three years of empty promises nuanced by vacillations and inaction only point to an “Ampaw presidency” – deceptively solid outside but only hot air inside, Tuazon said. (Ampaw is a street lingo for a blowhard or for someone full of hot air.)

In the end, Aquino’s vaunted “Kayo ang boss ko” (the masses are my boss) shibboleth is hypocritical and meaningless. “Such deceptive phrase has been repeated over and over again a la Goebbels the motive being to hide the truth,” Tuazon said. “And the truth is that Aquino’s real bosses are his fellow political oligarchs, big business, and the Obama administration.”

Tuazon summed up the assessment of CenPEG’s panel of eight analysts during its pre-SONA 5th State of the Presidency forum held July 20 in UP Diliman.

In explaining, Tuazon said Aquino defied the constitutional ban and a burgeoning mass movement calling for an end to political dynasties by campaigning openly for a cousin for the Senate and numerous leaders of traditional clans to ensure their election at all levels in the recent mid-term elections.

Prof. Temario Rivera, CenPEG Fellow and Board chair, said the mid-term elections resulted in the entrenchment of political dynasties in 95% of 81 provinces. Indications are that the system of political dynasties has not only perpetuated but became more entrenched in Congress and local levels under Aquino.

Despite the public outrage over the latest pork barrel scam, President Aquino saw no need to remove the controversial outlay for Congress in the guise of Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) in the 2014 budget. Tuazon said, Aquino’s nod on the retention of pork barrel is a clear message of presidential tolerance if not tacit endorsement of corruption in the guise of seeking “friendly relations” with Congress to ensure passage of Malacanang’s priority bills.

Tuazon said whatever little improvement of public perception on Aquino’s anti-corruption program there is has been molded by the Corona impeachment. Beyond this, he said, no comprehensive and institutional reform has been set in place to curb corruption. In fact, Tuazon said, recent reports show an upsurge in corruption at the local level – among LGUs and the police. Corruption and inept bureaucracy has driven away foreign investments, to say the least, making the country least attractive to foreign investment in Southeast Asia today.

The much-hyped GDP growth of 7.8% does not tell the whole truth. Another CenPEG analyst, Prof. Ben Lim, said “While Aquino’s economists and business cronies as well as foreign financial experts extol about the phenomenal rise in the country’s GDP growth, they were silent on the fact that along with the GDP rise is the sensational rise in the prices of all basic commodities including tuition. They were also silent that the mid-term expenditures contributed to GDP growth.”

People are skeptical however of the economy booming at a breakneck pace, Lim said. “They see no progress or improvement in their daily lives…25 million Filipinos or 27.9% of the country are living in poverty – largely the same as in previous years. Wages of those employed have not caught up with inflation.”

The poverty figures, Tuazon added, should be higher given that the number of jobless Filipinos – including the unemployed – Aquino has grown by one million to 11 million under Aquino. Citing an IBON Foundation and Fortune magazine reports, Tuazon said that the net worth of the 40 richest Filipinos has increased dramatically under Aquino – from $22.8B in 2010 to $47.4B in 2012. The combined net worth is equivalent to the combined income of 60M Filipinos – and is equivalent to over one-fifth (21%) of the 2012 GDP. “Income inequality and social injustice has worsened under Aquino,” Tuazon said.

Tuazon also said the country’s foreign policy has never been tied more closely to the U.S.’ war policy than under Aquino. Elaborating, UP Prof. Roland G. Simbulan, another CenPEG Fellow, said since 2010, the President has placed foreign policy “in the hands of Albert del Rosario and security policy with Voltaire Gazmin, both considered to be very close to Washington circles. Lately, the two have been arrogating foreign policy and security policy formulation from the President, and have acted as articulators and spokespersons of Washington and Pentagon in Malacanang.”

Simbulan, an authority on foreign policy, said Aquino’s foreign policy “highlights a restoration of U.S. military forces in the Philippines. Not only that. On a strategic level, this foreign policy has adjusted itself to be beyond being a supporting column of Pentagon policy in the Asia-Pacific. It has become like a drone, directed by Washington and Pentagon for surveillance and as an attack dog to those who challenge U.S. hegemony in the Asia Pacific region.”
Dean Julkipli Wadi of the UP Institute of Islamic Studies criticized Aquino’s non-inclusive peace road map saying that current GPH-MILF talks is not enough in establishing peace in Bangsamoro. Past peace agreements with the MNLF have not been fully implemented and thus remain a thorny issue, Wadi, also a CenPEG Fellow, said. Aquino did not heed a popular call from Moro groups to pursue a comprehensive peace process and as a result the GPH-MILF will not only be protracted but will remain unsettling given lingering issues with the MNLF, Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, and the Sabah claim. Wadi doubts whether the GPH-MILF peace process will be completed when Aquino’s term ends in 2016.

Discussing separate issues were CenPEG analysts Dr. Felix Muga II and Pablo R. Manalastas (on the questionable mid-term elections) and lawyer Felix Carao, Jr. on the foiled Freedom of Information bill.

Tuazon said it is high time for Filipinos to stop placing on the pedestal – and pinning their hopes on – the Aquino mystique. Aquino has done no institutional reforms – which are the call of the times – and never will he. “The country’s social, economic, and political challenges are beyond the presidency and prudence dictates that the country’s future should be laid squarely in the people’s hands themselves,” Tuazon said.

What the Presidency should now do in the next three years is to fill in substantively the vacuum inside the sweetened “ampaw” that it continues to build around his elite rule, but will he?” Tuazon asked.