Thursday, August 28, 2014

The unbearable lightness of PNoy’s so-called reforms

In his speech marking the celebration of National Heroes’ Day, President Noynoy Aquino put down the growing popular protests against his administration as disruptive of the government reforms he has initiated. Calling them forces against social reforms, the President’s own pro-administration coalition on the other hand has vowed to continue to fight for his “straight path” of governance.
What could yet be his strongest admonition against the popular protest, Aquino branded these protesters as “a few who are determined to bring back the old system of corruption and abuses.”
The popular protests against the Aquino government have been inflamed by the President’s own hints of calling for an amendment of the Constitution to extend his term of office and to restrain judicial overreach of the Supreme Court. Stirred up by public clamor for an end to pork barrel politics through total abolition of discretionary and lump sum funds in the national budget, several progressive groups and civil society organizations have joined forces to enlist 6 million signatures for a people’s initiative to enact these legislative reforms.
Popular protests against the Aquino administration gain momentum as several
progressive groups and civil organizations join  forces to gather 6 million
 signatures to enact legislative reform that will totally scrap pork barrel.
Instead of embracing the protesters’ demands, President Noynoy Aquino has chosen to roll the dice. It’s them versus him, the forces of change against the President’s self-convoluted vision of “daang matuwid.”
But what are these reforms President Aquino is talking about?
He has not achieved much in terms of stimulating the economy except earn some brownie points to upgrade the country’s credit rating. This is a hollow accomplishment since it only means that it is easier for the country to borrow money. Unless public expenditures designed as stimulus translate to more jobs, reduction in poverty and income inequalities, a credit upgrade is nothing but hot air.
Former Comelec Chairman Christian Monsod summed it up correctly when he recently criticized those who support the government’s posturing with Charter Change. “They are looking at the wrong places for sustained inclusive growth. Our social reform programs are dead in the water: housing, agrarian reform, ancestral domain, municipal fishermen. They are the poorest of the poor,” he said.
Delivery of public services and social programs remains slow and inefficient. Traffic in the biggest city in the country is not freely moving and has affected the flow of goods and made life unbearable to the majority of the population who rely on public transit. The government bureaucracy continues to struggle against red tape and incompetence of the civil service.
Public corruption is one of the highest in the region, which brings us to Aquino’s self-proclaimed delusions of “walang korap kung walang mahirap” (there’s no corrupt if there’s no poor) and the “daang matuwid” (straight path).
Aquino was successful in placing his predecessor, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in jail since 2012 for crimes of graft and corruption and economic plunder. Two years in detention, no trial date has been set for the former president but a number of complaints against her have already been dismissed for lack of evidence.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court was successfully impeached by Congress for violation of public trust for not completely disclosing his statement of assets and net worth. But the impeachment is now tainted by allegations that the President bribed members of Congress through his pork barrel, the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP, which has been declared unconstitutional by the high court.
Last July, the 10-billion-peso-pork-barrel scandal imploded. But this was not due to efforts of the Aquino administration to weed out corruption in government. The Napoles-masterminded scheme of channeling pork barrel funds (the Priority Development Assistance Fund) designated for members of Congress to fake NGOs was exposed through whistleblowers and not by zealous government scrutiny. Only after a congressional investigation did the government really stamp its official approval of going after three leading opposition senators and putting them in jail for charges of plunder. Whether the government will be able to successfully prosecute these senators still remains a big question.
The congressional pork barrel known as PDAF has been dismantled when the Supreme Court declared it was unconstitutional; again, not because of the honest efforts of the incumbent administration, but through petitions made by progressive groups and civil society organizations.
The same thing happened to the Aquino administration’s own pork barrel, the DAP, which was also declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. If not for several progressive groups and civil society organizations, the pork barrel system of illegal and irregular allocation of government funds to members of Congress and to Aquino’s pet programs and projects would not have been exposed. Thus, even the Aquino government’s priority of keeping the straight path was not accomplished by the President and his staff but by the ever-vigilant public.
Here is the harsh truth: the Aquino government is planning to subvert the high court’s decision in disallowing the PDAF and DAP by insisting on the President’s discretion to keep lump sum allocations in the national budget, and at the same time, dropping hints of amending the Constitution to restrain judicial overreach of the Supreme Court. Minimizing the influence of the judiciary in a government of separation of powers and checks and balances between the three branches of government is only a prelude to an Aquino imperial presidency. With a subservient Congress on his lap, a populist president like Aquino could easily push for dubious reforms that would keep him in power for a long time.

President Noynoy Aquino insists that his administration was right in implementing the
Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) despite being declared unconstitutional by
the Supreme Court.
The current political situation in the Philippines may be warped, but this is not because of a fault in the Constitution. There is no provision in the body of the Constitution that needs to be altered or amended to meet current apprehensions. One only needs to give the Constitution one more thorough and careful reading, asking where and how one would alter it. The wisdom of the framers of the current Constitution and the fears of a re-run of the Marcos dictatorship speak clearly for a new vision of democracy in 1987, after more than two decades of authoritarianism and suppression of civil and political liberties.
President Aquino relies heavily on the role of his close advisers who would spin the political issues that beset the government by denial, on one hand, and by offering a better and more palatable version to the public, on the other. For instance, despite the Supreme Court’s decision on the unconstitutionality of the DAP, Aquino and his cabal of advisers still insist on the good faith behind their actions even when the facts of the beneficial effects of the DAP are questionable. When they were unable to influence public opinion, they resorted to a trial balloon of possibly amending the Constitution to amend the President’s term of office and floated around threats to reduce the powers of the judiciary.
Instead of respecting the Supreme Court’s decision, President Aquino keeps slugging the judiciary with a negative and self-serving interpretation of judicial oversight. Rather than welcome the people’s initiative for legislative reforms which Congress will not act upon because of the vested interests of members of the legislature, the Aquino administration dismisses the popular initiative as pushing the government back into what he describes as the “old system of past abuses and corruption.”
The problem with the President’s mindset is that it reinforces a cycle of political vendetta. His party was the last administration’s main political opposition and chances are that next time they will be at the receiving end of the vitriol, or perhaps they may suffer the same fate as their current political enemies who are now in jail.
It is becoming clearer everyday that a six-year term is too long for a bad president. Rotation of leaders is vital to a representative democracy, but the current President and his puppet Congress are willing to destroy this important democratic principle for their own vested and selfish interests.
President Aquino brags of reforms he has initiated but he’s come up empty. All he has accomplished is to promote an empty slogan of corruption-free governance. He talks of the straight path, yet he and the people around him walk the crooked line.
It has been a perplexing period during the political life of this presidency. Some of my liberal friends imagine themselves to be reformers and send their blank check of loyalty to the President in the belief that they are advancing the cause of democracy, even believing that only this President could effectively lead the country out of the doldrums of corruption and economic stagnation.
It will be the greatest distraction and only worsen our political condition if the Constitution or the political institutions it has envisaged as co-equal branches of government are wrongly and ignorantly blamed and subjected to yet more meddling, all because we have a popular president who is imperfectly perceived as incorruptible and worthy of a democratic legacy for which he is totally undeserving.

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