First of Four Parts
Last Saturday’s column, “Is it moral to oust Aquino?”, urged citizens to be involved, informed and active in national affairs, rather than tuning out in exasperation or fear of making mistakes. This four-part article aims to inform readers about the rule of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, particularly truths largely ignored or obscured in media.
It’s common for news outfits and their audiences to frame events and issues in overarching story lines, usually with themes like good vs. evil, David facing Goliath, or some other narrative worthy of a Hollywood movie.
Thus, the South China Sea frictions are presented as big, bad China bullying the Philippines, with Uncle Sam sailing to the rescue. The Ukraine narrative also features an evil giant (Russia) threatening a small neighbor (Ukraine) with the West as the protector.
For the Philippines under Aquino and now, Indonesia under new President Joko Widodo, the story line is one of a clean reformer transforming a nation long mired in corruption, misgovernance, and poverty.
Such narratives are hard to change or discard, even when they no longer square with reality. For one thing, media never want to admit they were wrong in the story line they created and propagated, and their audiences hate to admit they were fooled.
In sum, propagators and believers of false narrative would rather not let the facts get in the way of a good tale, even if it’s not true. So the myths persist despite mounting evidence contradicting them.
Aquino inherited growth and reform
Eventually, however, the undeniable truth emerges, as we have been seeing over the past year in the purported honest reformer narrative of President Aquino.
This dominant narrative was projected some time after his mother’s death in July 2009 and still prevails today. It tells of an untarnished leader continuing the legacy of his late parents, the martyred hero Ninoy Aquino and the democracy icon Corazon, and finally bringing reform, progress and good governance to the Philippines.
National and foreign media adopted and propagated this narrative (as they are doing in Indonesia), and held fast to it even when Aquino’s actions and record showed the story line to be dubious. People too also found it hard to abandon the narrative, always insisting that all the bad news was concocted by his opponents or perpetrated by his associates, never him. It’s well beyond time to bust the myth and face the truth.
Myth No. 1: President Aquino’s reforms lifted the economy to its high-growth trajectory.
In fact, as economists have pointed out, he inherited a growing economy with tough fiscal reforms already in place. In the last three full years of the Arroyo administration, the Philippines already ranked third among major Southeast Asian economies (see table). Business confidence strengthened after the implementation of tax reforms in 2006, especially the increase in value-added tax to 12 percent, and VAT’s imposition on power, fuel, and professional services.
To his credit, Aquino maintained his predecessor’s macroeconomic and fiscal policies, and the economy overtook Vietnam and climbed one rank higher in the GDP-PPP growth ranking for 2010-13.
Aquino reappointed the Bangko Sentral Governor, brought in a former Arroyo finance secretary, and named a tough Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner to boost collections. He also harnessed the National Competitiveness Council, a government-business entity created in 2007 to address policy and other factors hampering industry and commerce. Both BIR and NCC boosted Philippine competitiveness rankings.
Aquino did make changes in Arroyo’s economic formula. In 2011, his first full year as president, Aquino slowed state outlays to slash the budget deficit and impress credit rating agencies. With public works spending halved in the first semester, overall growth plunged. Aquino also pushed public-private partnerships as the main mode of funding and implementing key projects, instead of state spending. But that PPP strategy went nowhere for years, when some badly needed infrastructure could have been built and later privaitized.
Social development slowed
Of course, growth isn’t the ultimate goal of economic management, but the upliftment of living standards and the eradication of poverty. From a three-part article on “Aquino’s Real Score”, published August 18-20 and 22, here is analysis based on the United Nations Human Development Reports for 2013 and 2014, which assesses both economic and social indicators.
“In the decade to 2010, mostly under then-President Gloria Arroyo, the country’s Human Development Index (HDI) improved by an average of 0.61 percent a year, as cited in the 2013 report. That’s up from 0.49 in 1990-2000 and 0.35 in 1980-90.
“Incorporating the first two full years under President Benigno Aquino 3rd, when gross domestic product returned to the 6-7 percent annual growth before the 2008-09 global slump, the HDI should have improved even faster.
“It didn’t. Average increase slowed to 0.58 percent a year for 2000-12 after the Aquino years of 2011-12 were averaged with the Arroyo decade. Adding 2013 data, the annual average HDI increase for 2000-13 further slowed to 0.49 percent in the Human Development Report 2014, although it might have been computed differently.”
On Thursday, we look at Aquino’s anti-corruption campaign. That too is a myth.