Change the car, or replace the driver?
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First published in The Philippine Star of July 31, 2014
CORRECT MOVE: The plan of President Noynoy Aquino to ask the Congress for a supplemental budget for his projects that are not covered in the national budget is a welcome admission that his using forced savings for off-budget undertakings is illegal.
The President announced this remedial action in his State of the Nation Address last Monday although he still defended his Disbursement Acceleration Program whose cross-border fund diversion had been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
The moment he noticed that some major plans and projects were neither listed nor funded in the General Appropriations Act, the President should have told Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to draw up a supplemental budget instead of raiding lump sums and forced savings in the budget.
Going supplemental was how he should have acted under his vaunted tuwid na daan – instead of slyly usurping legislative powers over the budget and then attacking the Supreme Court for pointing out the violation of the Constitution.
The President already has a mountain of money at his disposal, on top of the legal and political powers that he can wield anytime he wishes. To govern effectively, he did/does not need DAP to mobilize extra funding.
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MIRACLE NEEDED: Judging from people’s reactions to the SONA, it is difficult to conclude that the President’s report has buoyed optimism that in his last two years in office Mr. Aquino will finally perform a miracle.
To impact on the grassroots, that miracle better be about the economy, because rightly or wrongly all social problems in a developing country like the Philippines are eventually gut issues.
The administration should do something miraculous to upgrade the quality of people’s lives, especially after it has been shown that billions upon billions meant for public welfare are routinely stolen by officials.
But after listening to the President’s one-and-a-half-hour report, one is wont to ask: Is there an integrated development plan? Where are the resources, the managerial acumen, et cetera, to be brought to play to make the miracle happen?
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BLAME WHO?: But if/when it becomes obvious after some time that the economic miracle prayed for is not coming, someone or something has got to be blamed.
Now too embarrassed to blame his predecessor wasting away in the hospital, the President has started to blame other hate-objects: his critics. That is another sign of incipient panic.
“Critics” refers to those who have nothing nice to say about him and his management style. It does not matter if the criticisms are made in good faith or with the intention of pointing out a possible area of reform.
Don’t look now, but soon the President might just segue into blaming the System. The line: How can anyone succeed in running a government that is tied to a defective system inherited from past dispensations?
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THE SYSTEM: As the panic spreads, watch how the town criers scream from the rooftops “It’s the System, stupid!”
Like, why can’t the President govern as well as he should? Because his hands are tied by the system.
Why can’t we have adequate power supply and lower electricity rates? Because the system is so riddled with loopholes that only a total overhaul can plug.
Why are there too many people, most of them poor, sapping limited resources? Because the system is dominated by the Church that advises the ignorant to go forth and multiply, then consoles them that the poor shall inherit the earth.
Why is the Philippines getting a minuscule share of foreign investors looking for better locations? Because the system, the Constitution, does not allow them to own land for their factories and offices.
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CHANGE CAR OR DRIVER: Do we then change the system? Maybe shift from a presidential to a parliamentary form so the Aquino administration can pursue more aggressively its anti-corruption campaign?
Or do we change instead the people running the government? Or do both at the same time? There is no point in changing the system without replacing the dregs of society running it and, yes, without educating the electorate.
When a car gets involved in accidents too often, the owner may start thinking that there is something wrong, or something unlucky, with the vehicle and may decide to change it with another model.
The owner might miss entirely the other possibility that there might be something wrong with the driver -- and not with the poor car.
Come to think of it: Does this country need a new driver?
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TRUST: There was something that the President said that caught my attention: Trust would always be the foundation of good governance.
He elaborated: “Trust that those who abuse will be made accountable and processes will be corrected along with the institution used to steal from you. Trust that if you follow what is right, you can get what is rightfully yours. Regaining all of your trust: That is what reforms mean.”
But trust is a two-way street.
The President also said he was still trying to break the status quo and in doing so had to step on the toes of powerful individuals who he claimed never wanted the people to explore and reach their full potential.
What an unpresidential way to divide the nation, to promote mistrust, to turn the people against critics of the Aquino administration.
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