• Aquino had tough time parrying ‘pork’ brickbats

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    THE controversies surrounding the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the “selective justice” on the alleged misuse of lawmakers’ Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the corruption issue involving suspended Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Alan Purisima and the traffic congestion at the Port of Manila were among the toughest challenges that President Benigno Aquino 3rd hurdled in 2014, according to a Palace spokesman.

    In an interview with The Manila Times, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said the DAP topped these challenges because it even dragged down the President’s ratings.

    “The Supreme Court [SC] ruling on the [DAP] was one of the most difficult challenges for the President in 2014. This also brought on the President’s lowest performance and trust ratings since mid-2010,” he explained. Coloma was referring to the downtrend in Aquino’s ratings since the SC ruling. He noted that in the fourth quarter, however, the numbers rebounded.

    The High Tribunal’s decision declaring the DAP unconstitutional can also be blamed for the uncertainty in government spending, which slowed down the country’s economic growth.

    The Times earlier reported that the SC was bound to uphold its earlier decision and junk the motion for reconsideration filed by the Office of the Solicitor General. The voting on the matter, however, was deferred until the resumption of en banc sessions in January.

    Besides the DAP, Coloma said President Aquino was also affected by the negative public opinion brought by his supposed continuing defense of the PNP chief, who was ordered suspended for six months by the Office of the Ombudsman over a contract he signed with a delivery firm.

    “In regaining his lofty approval ratings in the fourth quarter, the President also overcame criticism on how he responded to negative publicity surrounding PNP Director General Alan Purisima,” Coloma said.

    “There were also attempts to discredit the administration on account of alleged ‘selective justice’ in the investigation and prosecution of legislators said to be involved in anomalies related to the disbursement of PDAF or ‘pork barrel’ funds but these were eventually hurdled, too. The serious port congestion in Manila was addressed through a broad-based, multi-stakeholder approach,” he added.

    Greatest achievements
    On the other hand, Coloma said among the government’s greatest achievements in 2014 was the sharp drop in unemployment, which meant that nearly two million people found new jobs.

    “Before the end of the year, the DOLE [Department of Labor and Employment] reported that unemployment has been reduced to 6 percent from 6.4 percent, on the back of the creation of more than 1.6 million new jobs,” he noted.

    Coloma said the country’s investment grade ratings were affirmed during the year and the deleterious effects of the disasters, including Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, were overcome by the middle of 2014.

    “The President sailed through the mid-point of his six-year tenure with flying colors. The extensive European and US tour he conducted also contributed significantly to building goodwill for the Philippines as well as enhanced support for its rules-based approach to the peaceful resolution of the South China Sea maritime entitlements dispute. Asean centrality and the adoption of a legally binding Code of Conduct—issues which the President almost single-handedly advocated until late 2012—have gained traction and broad-based acceptance among regional leaders,” he added.

    Despite the challenges facing the administration in its last years in power, the Palace official was optimistic that Aquino will deliver in 2015 on the promises he made during the campaign and his last four years in office.

    “In 2015, President Aquino wants to demonstrate the full fruition of the promises he made to the people in terms of making them believe that it is possible to dream about and realize a better future for themselves and their country,” Coloma said.

    “He believes that the foundations for inclusive growth have been established, especially in terms of sound macroeconomic fundamentals that have earned the country investment grade ratings. Hence, there has been a significant change in the country’s image from being the ‘sick man of Asia’ to being ‘Asia’s rising star,’” he added.

    Among Aquino’s top priorities in 2015 are the enactment of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the visit of Pope Francis in January and the hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit.

    “He [Aquino] is determined to implement the key programs and reforms that will ensure sustainability of the gains already achieved in terms of reducing poverty; increasing social protection [universal education and health care, socialized shelter]; mitigating the ill effects of calamities and drastic climate change; and delivering justice for all without fear or favor,” Coloma said.

    “By actions and deeds, the President has led the way in showing that government has the political will to do the right things and do things right,” he added.

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