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 The Aquino Presidency: Challenges and Prospects

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PostSubject: The Aquino Presidency: Challenges and Prospects   Tue Jun 08, 2010 11:08 pm

With a president whose hands will be tied to compromise deals and powerful
pressure groups, it would be a long shot whether Aquino will lock horns
with the systemic problem of corruption.


By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
June 8, 2010


A TV campaign ad of the presidential candidate shows him leading a flock
of people – actually mostly showbiz personalities – all bearing torches as
they march up a hill. The scene is reminiscent of the biblical prophet
Moses who parted the Red Sea with his cane allowing the Hebrew people to
cross away from the pursuing chariot-riding army of the Egyptian Pharaoh.
The TV ad exudes a strong biblical affinity to Filipino voters. Unlike
Moses, however, the 21st century candidate stops atop a hill to scan the
horizon – probably to await a new dawn, a promise land.


Then, what?


That is what Benigno Aquino III just did – he got the votes for the
presidency in an automated election marred by systemic failures and
inaccuracies. Now, he must do the Moses act – to perform the deliverance
that he promised.


For Aquino, time is of the essence. The right hand that he raises in
taking his oath as the country's 15th president must now be used to plough
the field, so to speak, that now begs for action. The economy is in bad
shape, joblessness is at its worst since the past 50 years, corruption has
become endemic with billions of pesos lost every year. There has been no
effective governance, with the system of accountability and justice system
rendered toothless and the dynasties-dominated Congress less equal than –
and virtually a rubber stamp of – the president. The human rights
situation is at its worst since martial law. The peace process with the
armed Left and the Moro secessionist movement is grounded for years
leaving the country in a state of siege.


Three issues


Three major issues will hound Aquino from Day 1 of his presidency:
Corruption, the economy, and the peace process.


Having run on an anti-corruption and clean government platform, he must
now summon presidential power to ensure that outgoing President Gloria M.
Arroyo is brought to court to face charges of alleged large-scale
corruption as well as election fraud, and culpable violation of the
constitution. This move, however, should be done along with initiating the
colossal task of weeding out corruption that has become systemic to the
state bureaucracy from the national down to the local levels.


Under Arroyo's watch, the economy went into a nosedive aggravated even
further by the global recession. There are high expectations for the
provision of immediate economic relief especially to the poor, a freeze on
new taxes, a wage increase, and measures to arrest high unemployment. The
next economic program must now review erroneous institutional policies
that look at economic growth from the narrow perspective of promoting the
hegemonic interests of foreign and local investors. Economic strategies
should be reoriented toward addressing the roots of social inequality,
advancing the social and economic rights of the people, and ensuring
mechanisms where the interest of those who are less in life is reflected
in policy making.


'Peace process'


The government policy of forcing the capitulation of revolutionary
movements as the main track of the “peace process” and, hence, the use of
military solution no longer holds. Clearly, this track has failed for the
past 25 years of peace talks with both the Marxist revolutionary movement
and the Moro rebellion. The new government should consider the peace
process as a step in the roadmap of addressing the fundamental roots of
war through a thoroughgoing social, economic, and political reform. The
resumption of peace process can be signaled with a clear and unequivocal
commitment by the incoming president to stop the political killings and,
with respect to both the armed Left and the MILF, to remove their labeling
as “terrorist organizations.”


There are high expectations for Aquino to show a “reform agenda” and a
presidency different from Arroyo's. Aside from leadership, the push for a
“reform agenda” needs to be propelled by a strong, reform-oriented
government. On these aspects, Aquino faces what may emerge to be an
executive department shared by contending Liberal Party factions, and
PDP-Laban headed by Jejomar Binay, the new vice president. Congress may
remain under Arroyo's Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition unless Aquino's LP is able
to increase its seats from 44 through a party-switching by members of the
coalition and thus become the majority party. A divided Congress will tie
the new president's hands to exercising patronage politics through the
pork barrel mechanism in order to ensure legislative support. A Congress,
whose ability to function is generally dictated by pork barrel and other
self-serving interests with the president acting as the key provider can
never be an effective forum for reform.


Same economic agenda


As the new administration machinery takes shape, current indications show
that Aquino will basically continue the same economic policies pursued by
Arroyo. The cabinet faces who will lead the economic management had served
under Arroyo and previous presidents whose pro-globalization and
pro-business policies proved to be inimical not only to the economy but
the people as a whole. Right now, foreign business groups led by the
American Chamber of Commerce have offered a blueprint for the country's
economic growth. The pro-corporate and pro-foreign capital agenda of both
these cabinet officials and Aquino himself will make the electoral promise
of giving up Hacienda Luisita to its rightful owners highly remote.


In the middle of the election campaign, Aquino also said he would continue
Arroyo's counter-insurgency program ignoring the fact that it is the same
coercive campaign marked by extra-judicial killing of at least 1,000
unarmed activists that partly led to the political isolation of the
outgoing president. This commitment only means Aquino will be unwilling to
support the prosecution of Arroyo in human rights terms because doing so
will also implicate the security and military officials whose support he
cannot sacrifice as the new commander-in-chief. Backing the Armed Forces
of the Philippines' (AFP) counter-insurgency paradigm is always a
guarantee to ensuring the loyalty of the military – a power broker by
itself – to the president.


Failure of the Aquino administration to make Arroyo accountable for the
gross and systematic violations of human rights will only show that a
reconciliation is in the works. Reconciliation can only mean choosing the
side of repression and a readiness to part ways with some church-based
human rights advocates who had backed his candidacy. Does this also mean
Aquino will also consider the 2004 Hacienda Luisita massacre as a closed
case even if security men were involved, according to witnesses?


Visiting Forces Agreement


Aquino's pro-counter insurgency policy is tied to a pre-determined support
to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) subject, so he had said, to its
review insofar as criminal jurisdiction of erring U.S. personnel is
concerned. This also means he will continue a strong defense partnership
with the U.S. in exchange for continued economic and military assistance
which the new government will badly need. Recent history tells that where
a president leads a strong counter-insurgency campaign and support for
U.S. defense objectives the peace process has always been undermined.


With a president whose hands will be tied to compromise deals and powerful
pressure groups, it would be a long shot whether Aquino will lock horns
with the systemic problem of corruption. His inaugural speech will talk of
an avowed mission to deal with corruption. But an institutional malady
requires not just messianic words of deliverance in the style of Moses but
radical institutional solutions that will have to deal with the structural
roots of corruption from the presidency and its extensive bureaucracy, to
Congress, the LGUs, and the judiciary.


The presidency is a powerful institution and its vast powers can be used
in accordance with law to deal with corruption. However, this requires not
just a political will but also constructive confrontation with the
occupant's own allies and powerful political dynasties that encourage –
actually benefit from - corruption.


The question really is, will he do it?



For reference:

Bobby Tuazon
Director for Policy Studies
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
3/F CSWCD Bldg., UP Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines
TelFax +9299526; Mobile Phone No. 0929 8007965
Email: info@cenpeg.org; cenpeg.info@gmail.com
www.cenpeg.org; www.eu-cenpeg.com
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