CONgratulations! Aquino’s Pretend Achievements (Part 1 of 2)
Congratulations to our famous celebrity politician for showing the world how fierce and aggressive politicians in this country are. Despite all the missteps and intentional mistakes, you have prevailed and continued your rule in your field of expertise. Many Filipinos continue loving you even with those undesirable buddies you keep. Congratulations on your latest victories as you successfully knocked down the opposition six times, earning for yourself a fresh wave of popularity. Congratulations President Noynoy Aquino! Well, we’d also like to congratulate Congressman Manny Pacquiao for his recent unanimous decision win against the younger and taller Algieri. You certainly warmed the hearts of Filipinos and provided that needed relief from the frustrations over the evil political maneuvers of President Aquino and his gang.
No reenacted budget
President Aquino seems to have this obsession for a budget that is not reenacted. In many of his speeches and interviews with the media, he has been trying to emphasize the idea that reenacted budgets are prone to various corrupt practices – and he is not wrong in saying so. However, the real reason for his obsession for a hastily passed budget, at least when it comes to the 2015 budget, appears to be something else.
President Aquino and his allies in Congress somehow successfully made people believe that there is a need to do the national budget the way they did it, and implementing the maneuvers they wanted to maintain the existence of funds that further patronage politics one way or another. President Aquino’s minions in Congress successfully changed the definition of savings without allowing the opposition to have ample time to object and amplify the issue in public through the use of a lengthy set of deceptive errata. He certainly knocked the opposition down with this skillfully thought out plan.
No More Pork Barrel
It seems President Aquino and his DBM Secretary Florencio Abad are so used to lying and deceiving the public that he can easily claim to have eliminated pork from the national budget without any hint of discomfort and hesitation. Of course, contentions to their declarations abound. Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Chiz Escudero publicly expressed their belief that there is still pork in the 2015 budget. The Supreme Court was even asked to declare the 2015 national budget unconstitutional. Several advocacy groups decry the government’s deceit in the crafting of next year’s national budget.
Still, congratulations to the Aquino government for successfully preventing any major reaction that could potentially upset his recovering popularity. The President seems to be getting better advice these days. The claim of having eliminated pork barrel seems to be solid enough that there’s not that much noise being created. Well, it helps that only two major and credible political figures, Senator Santiago and Escudero, are speaking their minds out.
Other personalities who expressed their concerns over the pork or DAP-like mechanisms infused into the 2015 budget, leftist Representative Neri Colmenares and former Iloilo Representative Augusto Syjuco for example, are hardly capable of drawing any reaction from the public. Of note, in online news items about their (Colmenares’ and Syjuco’s) 2015 budget “exposes,” many of the comments posted tend to look past the pork-in-the-budget issue as people focus on the critics’ less than desirable personalities and track record. Syjuco himself has his own corruption allegations to deal with. Colmenares, on the other hand, will forever suffer from the association with militant or leftist groups. Even the opinions of former budget secretary Leonor Magtolis Briones, now a convenor of Social Watch, no longer carry that much weight as she is accused of being a perennial Aquino critic who refuses to see anything good in the current government.
Interestingly, Randy David, one of the media personalities who continue to defend the current Aquino government, acknowledges the existence of pork in the 2015 national budget. However, he points out that at least the setup is “more transparent” this time around.
The illusion of sinking the pork barrel mess to at least temporarily keep it off the public’s attention is without a doubt a knockdown achievement for President Aquino. It can also be said that one of the reasons for this is the confluence of issues hounding Vice-President Jejomar Binay. Before, it was easier to harm the gargantuan Aquino popularity because there was someone perceived to be better than him. Now that that someone, the perceived alternative to Aquino, is also suffering from myriad allegations of misdeeds and corrupt practices, there seems to be a reversal of roles. Aquino now appears to be the better political figure as people realize that the alternative they used to look up to could actually be worse, even worse than Aquino’s favorite punching bag, Gloria Arroyo.
At last, the long promised Freedom of Information Bill finally sees some progress . After many years of calls for Aquino to deliver on his campaign promise, the bill is finally hitting the first essential steps towards becoming a law. However, is it really the FOI Bill real reform-minded Filipinos wanted? Apparently, it hardly is.
The advancement of FOI in Congress looks like another deceitful act of the Aquino government or at least by Aquino’s unscrupulous allies in in the Legislature. Perhaps President Aquino really wants an FOI Law that genuinely inures to the benefit of the people. His allies in Congress, however, could be doing everything possible to prevent the creation of a law that will end their already reduced opportunities to abuse their powers.
The version currently hitting its baby steps in Congress does not possess the ideals of what a truly useful FOI Law ought to be. Many, some congressmen included, are criticizing the allegedly watered-down FOI bill. The fine details of this issue will have to be set aside for a more thorough discussion in another post. For now, here are the main arguments as to why the development of the FOI Bill is a victory for the Aquino government but not for the people:
- The recently approved House version of the FOI Bill has a multitude of restrictions that can hide government documents than show them. Kabataan party list Rep. Terry Ridon said that the FOI passed at the committee level is “so watered-down and full of restrictions that it cannot even qualify as an FOI bill.”
- The Makabayan bloc in Congress pointed out specific provisions that allegedly create the restrictions that make the FOI bill virtually inutile. These provisions are mostly found in Section 7, which lists restrictions on which government documents can be made publicly accessible.
Higher Tax-Free Bonus Ceiling Made Into Law
The timely law that raises the ceiling for taxable bonuses (from PhP30,000 to PhP82,000) sounds like real good news. It’s important to bear in mind, though, that it’s just the Senate version. There’s still the Lower House version, which has set a ceiling lower than PhP82,000. Additionally, there’s President Aquino’s veto power that can be quickly used if the ever-stern Kim Henares successfully convinces the President that citizens shouldn’t be allowed to experience tax reductions, lest they get used to it and demand more. Remember how Henares invented ridiculously high numbers of the supposed losses to the government if the cap is raised on tax exempt bonuses? The BIR will certainly try to convince President Aquino to avoid any attempt to reduce taxes and Aquino is not unlikely to lend his ears.
It’s common knowledge. The BIR will never agree to any measure that will reduce the collectable taxes in this country. BIR Chief Kim Henares has no qualms admitting this and demonstrating her compulsory greed in media interviews. As such, it would make sense taking a guarded optimism stance when it comes to developments involving tax reduction efforts.
Nevertheless, President Aquino is knocking down his critics with the news of reducing taxes on bonuses. This development is so timely that it easily reaches the appreciative thoughts of most Filipinos. Well, congratulations Mr. President for this new step in your efforts in restoring your reduced popularity.
The International Community Backs the Philippines Against China’s Aggression
This is the claim of Malacañang’s mouthpieces, especially after President Aquino’s meeting with other leaders during the APEC and ASEAN summits. Unfortunately, they fail to mention that what all members of the international community have been saying is that they are supporting the Philippines’ position in trying to reach a resolution through peaceful means. There hasn’t been any state, not even Vietnam that expressed a clear intention of supporting the Philippines per se. What the European Union, the United States, and members of the ASEAN bloc have been expressing is support for the peaceful and lawful resolution of the conflict. This kind of support is something that yields myriad interpretations that even the Chinese can also interpret in ways that would be favorable to them.
It’s also worth noting that even EDCA, it appears, can’t be relied upon in case China decides to continue its conquest of the territory rightfully claimed by the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea. While interpolating Acting Solicitor General Florin Hilbay during the oral arguments on the constitutionality of EDCA, Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio reiterated his position that there is no guarantee that the United States will be there to support the Philippines in case tensions in the West Philippine Sea continue to escalate. While the Aquino government considers the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) as an achievement for the country, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not really a very beneficial treaty after all.
Binay’s Popularity Declines
The fall of VP Binay’s Aquino-rivaling immense popularity is something not only the Liberal Party and other Aquino allies would want to see. Many citizens also want other Filipinos to realize what kind of a politician and person the second highest official of the Philippine government is. The issues raised against Binay have been in the news for months but it’s only in the most recent surveys that the effects of the allegations manifested. As Binay continues to elude the obligation to properly answer the accusations hurled against him, his popularity will and should continue falling. It’s just like what happened to Aquino. He continued insisting that he did no wrong and his popularity and approval ratings started to dwindle.
A definite knockdown – The deluge of revelations and allegations against the Vice-President greatly benefits President Aquino. Now, the attention that once focused on the Aquino government’s various misdeeds has shifted to Binay. Just when the veep started to get bold enough to criticize the Aquino government, he is now encountering an unfamiliar force that eclipses the popularity and virtually unquestioning approval he enjoyed in Makati. Binay knew what was coming for him so he decided to withdraw from direct attacks and focused his efforts in wooing the public through his TV and radio infomercials, which are viewed by many as forms of premature campaigning. Well, he is not refuting the criticisms of premature campaigning anyway. He also has a bunch of columnists in a number of papers regularly writing pieces for this defense.
Without a doubt, President Aquino has been getting the upper hand these days. He is poised to recover his popularity soon not because he managed to prove his accusers and critics wrong but because many of his critics have entangled themselves with similar issues of corruption and wrongdoing.
The little victories of not having to reenact a budget, “getting rid” of pork in the national budget, having a milestone for the FOI bill, reducing taxes on bonuses, gaining the “backing” of the international community in the West Philippine Sea conflict, and finally putting a dent on the inexplicable popularity of VP Binay are things worth celebrating not by the Filipino people. These are small triumphs for Aquino and his allies alone, not for the many Filipinos who continue to suffer from the evils of patronage politics, incompetence, and hypocrisy in government. Thankfully, these are just six knockdowns against Aquino’s political opponents. There’s no knockout win for Aquino yet as a number of political figures who somehow remain credible are providing the much needed voices to tell Aquino that that there are things he still has to rectify.
Stock photos from POC. Some rights reserved.
See Part 2 here.