Business World, 16 September 2014


Some things really never change. Overall consumer confidence index (CI) rose to -26.3% — the weakest in 17 quarters or since the -28.7% registered in the second quarter of 2010, or approximately before President Aquino took office. This indicates that the number of pessimists increased and continued to exceed the number of optimists in the third quarter of 2014.

Why has pessimism increased? The short answer is that Filipino consumers are unhappy with the current state of affairs. Prices of basic commodities are rising, household expenses are soaring, and decent jobs are getting scarce.

In addition, in the light of recent Supreme Court decisions on the unconstitutionality of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and key aspects of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), Filipinos are mad that their taxes are being misused, mishandled and stolen by their political leaders.

Even more worrisome, consumer outlook for the next 12 months also worsened — to 9.7% from 15.9%.

These bleak results came out of the latest Consumer Expectations Survey conducted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) from July 1 to 12 among 6,106 households nationwide.


What should have been the appropriate response to this growing pessimism? For one, Mr. Aquino should have shown greater resolved in addressing the pressing economic and political problems. He should have shown a concrete, doable program of action to be put in place in his last 21 months in office.

He should have come up with clear action plans for solving the problems of rising food prices, worsening traffic in the metropolis, the imminent power crisis, and the crumbling roads, bridges, urban transit systems, airports and seaports.

He should have cleared the air of uncertainties by making clear his political plan.

Instead, President Aquino continues with his divisive streak. In his hastily assembled powwow with his loyal troops (Cabinet members except Vice President Binay, legislators and allied NGOs) in Malacanang, he lambasted the political opposition and his critics.

But muzzling the political opposition and taming the critical media will not solve the problem. They only make things worse. It gives a false sense of confidence that things are all right when they are not. It lulls poor performing Executive officials into a sense of doing something worthwhile while the problems get worse.


I know how President Aquino hates unsolicited advice or any advice for that matter. But I’m going to submit the following just the same.

First, he should consider firing his non-performing or misbehaving men. His attitude of protecting his men or women, no matter how serious their transgressions are, gives his erring men a feeling that they can get away with murder.

For example, somebody has to pay for the monumental disaster called DAP (the Disbursement Acceleration Program) which cost the taxpayers some P149 billion. Somebody should be held accountable for the decrepit airports and seaports system and the fast-deteriorating urban transit systems.

Having two secretaries of agriculture is an anomaly. Somebody has to be held accountable for rising food prices.

Police officers who violate the rights of citizens who they are supposed to protect should not go unpunished. But why are crimes committed by police officers so rampant? Perhaps, because they know that they can get away with their shenanigans with low probability of getting caught, fired or punished.

A good manager holds his men accountable for their performance and acts decisively. Good performers get rewarded, while poor ones get sacked.

Second, he should encourage and support the independence of the Supreme Court. Such behavior strengthens political institutions. It’s also good for Philippine democracy.

He should embrace, not fight, the High Court’s decisions on the PDAF and the DAP. Both decisions will go down in the annals of Philippine history as the most game changing decisions that helped strengthen fiscal institutions and improve fiscal administration in the country.

Third, he should welcome rather than muzzle criticisms. Mr. Aquino’s penchant for ‘good news’ is his major shortcoming. By making his preference for ‘good’ news known to his men, ‘bad’ though accurate news are filtered out while “good’ news are magnified. Under such working environment, the president is prone to arrive at wrong decisions.

Criticism is an essential part of a truly working democracy. Remember Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” Criticisms keep those in power on their toes always. If Mr. Aquino truly want to strengthen Philippine democracy, he should welcome, not discourage, dissent.

Fourth, in his final 21 months in Malacanang, he should make known his concrete action plan, and who’s in charge, for each of the pressing problems of Philippine society. These include rising food prices, growing poverty, joblessness, traffic gridlock in Metro Manila, unreliable power supply, disaster unpreparedness, lethargic bureaucracy, and crumbling infrastructure.

As far as Filipino consumers are concerned, nothing has changed after four years. Worse, consumer outlook for the next 12 months also worsened. But I assume that they are eagerly watching what Mr. Aquino will do during his final days in office. Is his exit going to be spectacular or unimpressive?