Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 2 August 2014


We now know the answer to the question posed in last week’s column: “Will he or won’t he?” He didn’t.

The question was whether President Aquino would use the information provided by the National Statistical Coordination Board’s StatDev 2013 as relevant inputs to his State of the Nation Address. And what is the StatDev 2013? It puts in one place all the targets the President had set out for his administration (as contained in the Philippine Development Plan or PDP 2011-2016 Midterm Update, With Revalidated Results Matrices); the accomplishments he has achieved; and the probability, given these accomplishments, of the government reaching the targets by 2016.

Why have a Plan, 193 pages of it, if he refuses to tell the people how he has measured against it? What’s the point of targets, if no one knows if they have been met?

Of course, we, the people, can go to the NSCB website and judge for ourselves. But I thought that was what a Sona was: a report on where the country is vis-à-vis its targets, as set out at the start of a six-year term. Of course, other things, too, but this has to be the basic subject matter.

Understand, Reader, that this failure cannot be attributed only to P-Noy. Presidents Arroyo, Estrada, Ramos, Aquino (the Elder), and before them, Marcos, were all as guilty. They listed down accomplishments as if these were something to automatically crow about. Nothing about what was targeted in their Medium-Term PDPs.

If a janitor told his boss, “I cleaned 20 rooms today,” that statement would not be enough to evaluate his performance. It has to be measured against the number of rooms he was supposed to clean. So if that number were 15, the janitor would be commended for doing more than expected. If that number were 30, the janitor would be fired for incompetence. The Sona did not give us enough information to judge. Pity. So we are back to the question “What did you think of the Sona?” instead of “Did the President accomplish his targets or not?” Or: “What must this government do in the next two years to accomplish what it set out to do?”

But this has to do with judging the President against his own targets. We then are left with judging him against his predecessor(s), something that may have been overused by P-Noy himself.

I will say this in his favor:

• He has introduced reforms in the budget process, hopefully irreversible, that have improved the pace and the quality (transparency and accountability) of government spending. Examples: early preparation and submission of the budget (including online submission of budget proposals), which have resulted in four straight years of no reenacted budgets under P-Noy; zero-based budgeting to eliminate inefficient or ineffective projects and programs; greater coordination between the PDP and budget priorities; the practical elimination of Saros (special allotment release orders) through the adoption of the budget-as-release document; performance-based incentive system; bottom-up budget (projects chosen at the ground level); civil society’s formal participation in the budget process.

When Budget Secretary Butch Abad, backed by his Cabinet colleagues, was grilled for seven hours at a Senate hearing, it was brought to my attention that this was a 180-degree change from the time when Cabinet members refused to answer, or were prevented from answering, questions by the legislature. Transparency.

• When was the last time you heard about savings at the Department of Public Works and Highways, rather than cost overruns? Never. Until now. More transparent bidding procedures as well as reduced bureaucratic discretion have been put in place. I have been observing all administrations since 1986, and this was the first time I heard about such a thing going on in the DPWH, which had been almost synonymous with corruption. I don’t know whether these changes are irreversible, but I’m sure it won’t be for want of trying on the part of Public Works Secretary Babes Singson.

• The same thing can be said for schoolrooms, or the lack of them. Every year for the past 27 or so years, come the school-opening period, the news was always about lack of schoolrooms. Not this time around. Kudos to Education Secretary Armin Luistro, Singson, and private-sector cooperation.

• Has anyone noticed that there have been no maritime disasters (involving passengers, anyway) since P-Noy began his term? Thanks to improved Coast Guard equipment and mostly to a very simple but highly effective rule, introduced by Mar Roxas when he was transport secretary: Typhoon Signal No. 1, ships below a certain minimum tonnage not allowed to travel; Typhoon Signal No. 2, no travel by any ship. I hope I am not tempting fate.

• The Bureau of Internal Revenue, in all of P-Noy’s four years, has not been involved in any corruption scandal. That, too, is a big plus. Commissioner Kim Henares may be unpopular, but no one can even whisper that she is on the take.

• There has been, overall, although with mixed results, a concerted effort toward transparency and accountability. I see it in the Civil Service Commission, in the Armed Forces, obviously in the DPWH. The websites of most government agencies are now more informative and more consumer-friendly.

Does this mean that P-Noy’s administration is blameless? Of course not. That’s for next week. But one thing sure, the move to impeach him on grounds of culpable violation of the Constitution, betrayal of public trust, and corruption is so far out of bounds that it is nothing but political theatre, of the most irresponsible kind. Has anyone thought forward to what would happen if he were impeached and convicted? Heaven help us.