Get real
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 May 2019


The midterm elections are upon us, and my colleagues in the political sciences and in public administration say that the results will be an indication of how the country assesses the President, as he hits the middle of his administration.

True, we do have surveys that do that—quarterly or twice yearly. But this is the real thing, not just getting a representative sample of 1,800 adults to speak for all. This is essentially a census, compared to a survey.

The most recent surveys show that the President has about an 80-percent approval rating, so that indeed may be translatable to an electoral victory of his endorsees.

Why the high approval rating? The economic and social evidence of his performance certainly does not warrant it. Take for example, the performance of the GDP (its growth rate) in the last three years.  The Duterte administration targeted a 7-8 percent growth. What is the actual rate? It shows a downward trend—growth slowing down: 6.9 percent in 2016, a lower 6.7 percent in 2017, a still lower 6.2 percent in 2018, and now, for the first quarter of 2019, a 5.6-percent growth rate. We’re moving further and further away from the target. And note that this is an election year, when growth rates usually spike.

Aside from the slowdown in the growth of the economy, we also see that what growth there is can be described as jobless. Note that the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) 2017-2022 targets a 950,000 to 1.1 million annual increase in employment. As Ciel Habito pointed out in his column, between 2016 and 2019, employment actually decreased by about 300,000 jobs.

This suggests that whatever growth we experienced has not been inclusive. The Human Development Report calls this kind of growth a “ruthless” growth, where the poor are left out. Related to that, the poverty incidence in the Philippines in 2015 was 21.6 percent. For the first half of 2018, it was 21 percent. Not exactly a sterling performance.

I think once the public realizes this, those approval ratings are going to plummet. But this is the age of fake news, so we have to take that into consideration.

Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia has been quoted as pointing out that the 17th Congress is to blame for the dismal first quarter economic performance. Because of the delay in approving the 2019 budget, government could not spend what it should have been spending.

True enough, the national income data bear this out.  Public construction in the first quarter last year grew at a rate of 25 percent. Public construction this year contracted (registered negative growth) by 8.6 percent. All because we didn’t have a budget. So Pernia’s charges have hard evidence backing him up.

But the 17th Congress’ shortcomings in helping the country grow and develop do not end there. The PDP chapters all have a legislative agenda which it recommends Congress undertakes to facilitate the attainment of all the Plan objectives. There are at least 100 of these bills. What happened to them?

The first 21 of them were approved by the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council. How many were passed by the 17th Congress?  Seven, for a 33-percent batting average. It should have been eight , but the President vetoed the Utilization of the Coconut Levy Fund act. Why veto it? Well, because Congress wanted its sticky fingers in that fund. Good for the President.

Anyway, the 17th Congress’ dismal performance with respect to the PDP should be noted by us voters. On election day, we must look at every  reelectionist with a jaundiced eye. What has he/she done to deserve our vote? But we should also ask ourselves—is the President partly to blame for the poor performance of a Congress that is so deferential to him on political issues (e.g., martial law)?

Voters, please consider this when you vote. I am told that a congressman (or senator) earns, all in, something like P3 million a year—for a total of P9 million (P18 million for a senator) during their term. Why then is their average expenditure P100 million (much more for senators) to get elected?

This suggests that those who have spared no expense to get elected (we know who they are) should be scratched off our list. They will only steal us and the country blind.