The Central Issue

Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This was published in the December 21, 2009 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

The central issue for the 2010 elections is governance.  The wide lead that Noynoy Aquino enjoys in poll surveys stems from the people’s desire for good government.

Good government is the exact opposite of Gloria Arroyo’s administration. The people will vote to repudiate Gloria’s corrupt, egregious rule. The people will choose Noynoy, for he embodies honesty, integrity and trust—the necessary attributes to clean up government and institute the hard reforms.

As I will discuss later, a program that revolves around good governance, institutions, and accountability is a pro-poor progtram.

Other candidates try to polish their image as pro-poor. Manny Villar, Noynoy’s main challenger, waves his poor origins.  It is of course absurd reasoning to claim that one is pro-poor because he comes from the poor.

That was the line of Gloria’s father Diosdado, the poor boy from Lubao.  Politics made Disosdado wealthy; he was able to acquire a home at Forbes Park and was able to send his children to elite schools.  But the Filipino poor rejected Disodado when he sought re-election for president.  He failed to uplift the welfare of all, despite his pro-poor rhetoric. His bungled presidency led to his humiliating defeat in the 1965 election. He thus paved the way for the rise of Ferdinand Marcos, another rabble-rousing politician who claimed he was not born rich.

So Manny Villar is merely rehashing a tired slogan of discredited leaders—“galing sa mahirap.”  The fact is Villar is so rich, helped along the way by the use of his political power, the C-5 controversy just being the tip of the iceberg. Beside Villar, Noynoy Aquino is reduced to middle class status.  Indeed, some call him the middle-class Cojuangco.

But of course the rich can also be pro-poor.  Jose Maria Sison, whose class origin is that of a big landlord, has ideologically remolded himself and has become a proletarian vanguard.  He and his party are supporting Villar, because the party platform of the Nacionalista Party, they say,  approximates the program of the national democrats.  My colleague Manuel Buencamino no longer calls the NDF the National Democratic Front.  In light of the Left’s united front with Villar, he now calls the NDF the Nacionalista Democratic Front.

And all the while, I thought that the national democrats viewed the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party as no different from each other.  That one is Pepsi Cola and the other is Coca Cola.

But Villar was caught on TV, when interviewed by Ricky Carandang, saying that platforms are easy to copy and are therefore non-essential.

And so, the Nacionalista program to fight poverty is a hodgepodge of Marcos’s vision of Bagong Lipunan, the NDF’s revolutionary program, and the trapo promise of a better world for everyone.  And let’s not forget Miriam Defensor Santiago’s contribution to the platform.  It’s turning out to be a mad platform.

The Nacionalista program does not specifically spell out how to combat poverty and create jobs for the poor.

At least Gibo Teodoro has a more transparent program—continue the program initiated by Arroyo, which is trumpeted to have brought forth high growth, only to be negated by the global recession.

Indeed, the growth rate was above the average for some years.  It was growth fueled by consumption, thanks to the foreign exchange remittances of Pinoy overseas workers.  The volume of remittances has been as big as the foreign direct investments that have flowed to high-growth Vietnam.

But unlike Vietnam’s economic performance, Philippine growth is unsustainable and hollow, unable to spur productive investments and create sufficient quality jobs.

The fact is, the Philippine economy would have registered the same growth rate, even without Arroyo.   Even if Dolphy were at the helm, we would have presided over an economy that would have followed the same growth trajectory.  Probably, Dolphy would have performed better because he’s not a rapacious Gloria.

Some highly educated people are attracted to Gibo because he projects an image of firmness and intelligence.  But Gibo’s program is Gloria’s program.  His firmness thus shows—as he does not let go of Gloria’s economics and politics.  But by being with Gloria,, Gibo betrays the kind of intelligence he possesses.

Of all the main candidates for president, Noynoy is the only one who has identified the country’s main challenge at this juncture—repudiating the bad governance that has harmed Philippine economic and political life. Noynoy has time and again articulated that he will restore people’s trust in government by being the exact opposite of Gloria.

Bad government—expressed in terms of the massive corruption, the erosion of the rule of the law, the damage to political and economic institutions, the flip-flopping of policies—is the central problem. Studies done by economists and other social scientists as well as by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank have identified bad governance as a main binding constraint on growth and investments.

Nonoy’s program to put in place governance and institutional reforms, including exacting accountability from officials who committed high crime, addresses two critical concerns:  Rebuilding Philippine politics and creating the conditions for sustained long-term growth.

To illustrate, the new administration will be facing a serious revenue problem as a consequence of the Arroyo administration’s fiscal recklessness and its lack of interest in pursuing tax reforms. The implication is that the new administration must raise substantial revenues not only to avert a fiscal crisis but also to finance pro-poor, pro-jobs programs.

Only a credible leader, one who can command the people’s trust mainly because he embodies clean and honest government, can ask citizens to rally around key reforms.

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