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.
by: Harvey S. Keh, The Manila Times
In last week’s press conference with the three major television networks, President Noynoy Aquino firmly stated that the August 23 hostage crisis will not define his administration. This declaration, together with the moves of the present administration to immediately investigate and resolve the hostage crisis, were well received not only here in the Philippines but also by the international community. Proof of that is the huge demand for our Philippine bonds that were sold in the international market wherein a total of $1 billion was raised. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima even shared with me through a text message that the demand was actually for $13 billion! This just goes to show that many in the international community are now putting their bets on our country because of the kind of effective and ethical leadership that this present administration has shown.
In a recent youth leaders gathering by the World Bank and the Ateneo School of Government, one of the World Bank’s representatives mentioned the importance of promoting good governance in our country as a means to encourage more foreign investors. He mentioned that many foreign investors will look at a country’s government and see whether it practices genuine transparency and public accountability. Foreign investments are very important, especially for a developing country like ours since it would easily mean more high paying jobs for our citizens. With more jobs available here, Filipinos no longer need to go abroad anymore, leave their families behind, and risk being abused by their employers. More jobs will also mean a higher quality of life and higher purchasing power which will help prop up the local economy. Truly, the effects of a honest, upright and efficient government trickles down to the ordinary Filipino.
Speaking about good governance, I believe that if Aquino wants to truly cement his legacy as one of the country’s best presidents, he should tackle the perennial problem of illegal gambling or jueteng head on. Last week, Archbishop Oscar Cruz lamented that there are even some people close to Aquino who are now receiving millions every month from jueteng lords. The initial response of Malacañang was disappointing, since it just told Cruz to name these people. Does this mean that if Cruz fails to name these people they would no longer investigate and put an end to this growing menace in our society? Doesn’t Malacañang have hundreds of millions of pesos in intelligence funds that it could use to easily look into this matter? If Aquino is truly serious about putting an end to this illegal numbers game, which also put a blot on his beloved mother’s administration, he should categorically come out with a strong statement about stopping it, just like what he did about the hostage crisis issue when he met with representatives from the media last week. Aquino should give full trust, support and authority to DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo in this war against jueteng. Robredo has a very solid track record as Mayor of Naga City where, for the past 18 years that he has governed the city, all operations of jueteng was stopped. If Robredo can do it for Naga, I’m sure he can do it for the rest of the country if only Aquino will give him the necessary support.
If Aquino is able to stop jueteng in our country and put the big time jueteng lords in jail, this can be one of his greatest legacies. His mother failed to stop jueteng. Ramos also failed to stop it. Erap was ousted because of his alleged involvement in it and Arroyo didn’t even do anything to prevent it. The game is the root of many evils in our society, including the inability for upright leaders to win because of jueteng money that is poured out in the billions during election season. Moreover, it has also destroyed the lives of many Filipinos who have become addicted to gambling and have embraced a culture of mendicancy. If Aquino is truly serious about bringing our country down through the righteous path of governance, he needs to make sure that even before half of his term is over in 2013, he would have had eradicated jueteng from our country. Kung walang jueteng, walang mga corrupt at kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap!
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Many including me were surprised by President Noynoy Aquino’s decision to replace Prisco Nilo as PAGASA’s main man. Nilo is known to be one of the most loyal weather officials of our country, choosing to stay in the Philippines rather than leave the country in search of greener pastures unlike many of our other meteorologists. In fact, Aquino received some crticisms from different sectors saying that it wasn’t entirely Nilo’s fault that PAGASA had very poor equipment and facilities to accurately predict our weather. However, I believe that we should also respect the decision of the President here since ultimately, as we encounter more typhoons, it will not only be PAGASA who will be blamed for its poor forecasting but also the President. Nilo may be a good meteorologist but perhaps his management skills are suspect and this is the reason why Aquino opted to replace him with someone who may be able to better manage this very important government agency. Let us look at the example of our best hospitals such as Makati Medical Center, Cardinal Santos Medical Center and the Asian Hospital, these health institutions are managed not by its best doctors but by business people who know nothing about treating patients. Perhaps what PAGASA needs right now is a good manager at its helm so that its long time problems, organizational needs and capabilities can be addressed immediately. Only time will tell if Aquino is right or if he might just be walking unto a storm early in his administration. For now, lets trust our President that he is doing what is best for our nation.