Business World, 15 October 2013


The partial government shutdown and the threat of a US default has gripped Washington during the last few days. But optimism for a possible compromise to end the political impasse and economic disaster is in the air. The solution could be a brief respite or a more permanent one, but it is imminent nevertheless.

Should that happen, reason would have prevailed over political partisanship. The whole world would heave a collective sigh of relief, as another global disaster would have been avoided.

Those who are responsible for this brinkmanship, as perceived by American voters, will be penalized in the next elections. That’s the American way.

With its developed two-party system and credible electoral process, electorates (the principal) are able to exact from their elected officials (the agents) a modicum of good behavior.

Evil acts by politicians are punished, good deeds are rewarded in the next elections.


Here, at home, with its weak political institutions, politicians can get away with murder. Candidates with virtually no experience and academic training can get elected. Lower level elected officials can get elected to higher posts (even to the Presidency) even with poor or mediocre performance in their previous posts.

Political parties are a dime a dozen. They are not held responsible for the performance of the candidates they offer to the voters. Hence, voters can’t penalize parties for the poor performance of their candidates. Public accountability is not demanded, and none is observed.

Of course, voters do not always vote on the basis of performance and qualifications. Vote buying and vote selling are rampant, hence the unqualified do get elected to office. Thanks, but no thanks, to our flawed electoral process.

Political candidates make promises they don’t keep. And voters are quick to forget. For example, then Senator Benigno Aquino III sponsored a bill called Budget Impoundment and Control Act (BICA), a measure that was meant to limit the abuses of the then President Arroyo. After he was elected President, he forgot all about it.

When Mr. Aquino was running for the Presidency, he promised to support the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. After he was elected to office, he conveniently forgot all about it. He sees the bill as inconvenient.

Both the BICA and FOI, had they been enacted into law, could have changed the public policy landscape.

Many analysts believed that with his high popularity and approval ratings, Mr. Aquino would push real reforms — without resorting to “bribing” legislators. They were wrong.

And even when Mr. Aquino and his budget secretary were caught dipping into the national treasury to influence the votes of legislators, he continued to hold on to the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and his presidential pork (off-budget sources of largesse such as the PAGCOR [Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp.], PCSO [Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office], and the Malampaya Funds).

His body language is unmistakably clear: he wants to keep his pork. He sent the Solicitor-General to defend the PDAF before the Supreme Court.

Is Mr. Aquino a spoiled child or a responsible adult? Why does he want to keep his pork, that the general public (his bosses) find repulsive, when he has full control of the P2-trillion President’s Budget?

Doesn’t he care about public opinion? According to the most recent Social Weather Stations survey results, Mr. Aquino’s net satisfaction rating has plunged by +15 — from a net score of +64 (76% satisfied, 12% dissatisfied) in June to a net score of 47 (68% satisfied, 19% dissatisfied) in September.

Malacanang spokesperson Valte acknowledged that they “recognized that the increase in those dissatisfied reflects the depth of anger and disappointment of the people at the way public funds have been stolen.”

Palace officials were hoping for a quick rebound in President Aquino’s net satisfaction rating. But they may be in for a major disappointment. Here’s why.

The SWS survey was conducted from Sept. 20 to 23. During that period, the anger of the Filipino people was focused on Janet Lim-Napoles and some legislators — not the President.

But after the Sept. 25 speech by Senator Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada, the people’s wrath has intensified. The public now doubt the President’s real commitment to Daang Matuwid (Straight Path) for his alleged bribery of Senators, using the PDAF and DAF, to ensure the conviction of then Supreme Court Chief Justice Corona.

On Oct. 9, the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) filed a case before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutionality of the DAP.

These developments which came after the last SWS survey will set the tone for the October SWS survey on the President’s net approval rating.

The public’s anger is now focused on the constitutionality of the DAP and the President’s leech-like hold on the presidential pork (PAGCOR, PCSO and Malampaya funds).

The public’s clamor for the permanent removal of the pork, in whatever form, and the adoption of long-lasting reforms in the budget process is expected to intensify, not die down.

President Aquino can’t afford to pussyfoot. He has to reform or perish.