Back in November of 2010, President BS Aquino 3rd made a comment in connection with one of the first of his many fool-headed administrative decisions to which, in hindsight, we all should have paid closer attention.
In explaining his arbitrary cancellation of the planned Laguna Lake flood control project Aquino declared that, “Even a Grade 5 student will easily see that this project is illogical.”
While most of the public at the time simply thought he was trying (and failing) to demonstrate that he had a sense of humor, what we didn’t realize is that the statement was actually a formal articulation of the Aquino Administration’s policy approach:
Management issues would be addressed at the level of complexity and in the same terms as a fifth-grader.
Anyone who has had a fifth-grader in the house knows exactly what I’m talking about. Kids that age have only three answers for everything: “This is stupid,” “This is too hard,” and “It wasn’t me.”
In line with this approach to problem-solving, Secretary of Who-Knows-What Rene Almendras, who is currently heading the Cabinet Cluster on Port Congestion, offered this explanation for the logistical crisis that has somehow managed to go from bad to worse since Malacañang got involved in it at a Senate committee hearing this week: “Some chambers of commerce said there was no foresight but, in reality, there was. It’s just that we’re restrained by actions in the past administrations that really just put it aside [i.e. the problem of port congestion]…. It is an unfair accusation that there’s no foresight. There’s a lot of foresight. The realities of political considerations, at that time, play the role,” he said.
In other words, the congestion at the Port of Manila, which has slowed the flow of goods, led to shortages of some commodities and higher prices of others, and contributed to Metro Manila’s out-of-control traffic congestion, and which began in February of this year, is the fault of previous administrations, the most recent of which has been out of office for four years, three months, and eighteen days.
Not only is that an immature explanation, it’s completely dishonest; search for news related to “port congestion” in a time period encompassing the three administrations preceding Aquino’s and you will be able to count the number of items you find on one hand.
The port congestion, and all the knock-on effects it is creating in certain parts of the economy, is entirely attributable to the Aquino Administration, for two reasons: First, the most obvious scapegoat – the non-Administration aligned city government of Manila – removed itself from the equation by suspending its “truck ban” more than a month ago when the Administration deployed its “cabinet cluster,” and the problem has only gotten worse since then. From a day-to-day total of eight to 10 ships waiting in the anchorage for berth space to unload at that time, the number has gone up to 15 to 20. Second, even if actions or failures to act on the part of previous administrations contributed to the present problem – and there may actually be some validity to that assertion – the present Administration has had four years, three months, and 18 days to apply the “foresight” Secretary-of-Whatever Almendras believes his organization has to identify and solve potential problems, and it has done basically nothing. Nothing, that is, except to dispatch him to a Senate hearing to complain that critics are being unfair, because the mess wasn’t Gang PNoy’s fault.
Two specific steps the Administration could have taken that might have earned them a compliment rather than the sniping mockery of the print media would have been to streamline the more stringent inspection regimes now being imposed by the Bureau of Customs and the inappropriate and unproductive oversight of commercial trucking by the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB). The latter problem, at least, is an actual artifact of past administrations; trucks plying the routes between the port and landside customers have been regulated in the same manner as buses, jeepneys, and taxis since the LTFRB was created during the term of the current president’s mother.
That, along with a slow, paperwork-choked Customs clearing process that results in containers being held for inspection at the port for weeks, are now being blamed by most business groups and – albeit in cautiously diplomatic terms – by the port operators for the continuing congestion now that the “truck ban” is no longer an issue.
The bigger problem is that, even if the Aquino Administration follows through on suggested solutions to the many practical problems facing the country – whether it’s port congestion, the dangerously poor condition of the light rail system, or the glacial pace of recovery from last year’s Typhoon Yolanda – it is nearly impossible to have any confidence that those actions are reliable. Having adopted the “It’s not our fault” approach, the Administration has set a very low bar of standards for itself, in effect excusing itself from achieving any results. The business community and the general public won’t see it that way, of course, but the business community and the general public aren’t the ones whose butts are in the seats of power, and so their opinions can be, and are taken with a grain of salt.
Unless something unforeseen happens, we have one year, seven months, and 12 days before we can even hope for a change in that discouraging reality. But at least it’s something to look forward to.