by: Harvey S. Keh
The Manila Times
THIS was the grade I gave President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III in his first year in office when I was asked by reporters during last Sunday’s Balitaan sa Tinapayan media forum held in Manila. 85 is a mark that is neither too low nor too high for a president who has actually been at the forefront of our country’s fight against corruption but at the same time still needs some improvement in addressing other social problems. Let us be more objective and see what are the accomplishments of the Aquino administration and the issues that the President still needs to address after one year in office.
Victories and accomplishments
One of the major victories of this administration is the recent impeachment and subsequent resignation of former Ombudsman Merceditas Guttierez, whom we all know is very close to the previous tenant of Malacañang. The resignation of Guttierez now paves the way for Aquino to pursue graft and corruption charges against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her allies. We hope that he would be able to make an objective, well thought of and impartial choice in appointing the next Ombudsman. Many Filipinos are still waiting for justice to be served to those who have taken part in corruption scams such as the NBN-ZTE broadband deal, fertilizer scam and the recently discovered rice scam wherein several thousands of tons of spoiled rice were found in the National Food Authority warehouse.
A good development has been the recent suspension of known Arroyo ally, former Congressman and current Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA) Head Prospero Pichay for graft charges related to his allowing the use of LWUA funds to purchase a rural bank in Laguna.
Another accomplishment of this administration is a more proactive PAG-ASA wherein the general public now receives hourly updates on the coming typhoons and weather disturbances. This has allowed many of our citizens and government offices to prepare early as can be seen during the recent typhoon Falcon wherein the residents of Marikina were evacuated properly before the Marikina river overflowed. PAG-ASA has also utilized new technology such as Twitter and other forms of social networking so that it can easily and quickly inform the public on its latest weather bulletins.
Aside from this, credit should also be given to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) led by Sec. Dinky Soliman for always responding to disasters very quickly and efficiently. Soliman has been very visible in making sure that relief goods are distributed properly to those who need it the most and are not just given to those who have the right political connections.
In the field of transparency and public accountability, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) led by Sec. Butch Abad has been able to control the use of our congressmen and senators’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), better known as the Pork Barrel. In the past administrations, the PDAF was a big source of corruption. It has been known to be used by our legislators for their personal expenses. Right now, the DBM has come up with a menu of projects and programs for which the PDAF can be used. This menu serves as a guide on where the money can be used and where it cannot be used. Our legislators are then asked to submit a breakdown of where they intend to use their PDAF which will then be approved by the DBM prior to it being released. With DBM doing this, gone are the days when the PDAF could be used by lawmakers and their families to travel abroad lavishly or to purchase luxury vehicles.
Transparency is also being advocated at the local government level wherein Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo has required all local government units to publish their budget and expenditures for their constituents to see.
Also at the DILG, there are now reforms in procurement being instituted at the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) and the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. For example, in the purchase of fire trucks, Robredo has required that a proper bidding process be followed unlike in the previous years wherein there was just one supplier whom the BFP bought the fire trucks from. The proper bidding requirement has enabled the BFP to purchase better equipped fire trucks and at the same time save more than P400 Million that could now be used to further modernize their life-saving equipment.
In the area of justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, the feisty and dynamic Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has made sure that the wheels of justice move towards the immediate resolution of this case. The Supreme Court has also allowed the live coverage of the trial so that the general public can easily follow what is transpiring as the trial progresses.
Areas still needing attention
Now let us look at some areas that need the immediate attention of our President. Up until now, jueteng and illegal gambling activities continue to thrive all over the country. If our government is sincere in eradicating all forms of bribery and corruption, the President should immediately order the leaders of the Philippine National Police (PNP) to work doubly hard in arresting this growing social menace. The effects of jueteng can be felt even more during elections wherein honest leaders often lose out to jueteng-supported candidates because of vote-buying and electoral fraud.
Many civil society and media groups are also waiting for the President to prioritize the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act which he promised to do during the campaign. Passing the FOI Act sends a clear message to the Filipino people that this government has nothing to hide unlike in the previous administration where access to public information was always been curtailed. I hope that in the coming year, the President will make sure that these two major issues are addressed properly but nonetheless, we should always remember that our country’s future does not only rest in the hands of one Filipino but in each and every one of us.