FIRST moves and first impressions count big. In a new administration, they lay groundwork for overarching goals and strategies. They also set the tone that tells the government and the nation at large how the new leadership really operates. Get the first 100 days wrong, and it could mess up the next six years.
So in drawing up initiatives for his first 100 days in office, incoming President Rodrigo Duterte would do well to learn from his predecessor’s opening moves—and how they led to big failings in the six years of the Aquino presidency.
Aquino’s original sins
President Benigno Aquino 3rd burdened his rule right from the start with several unforced errors right in his first few months:
• Aquino constantly defended and refused to sanction cronies, starting with shooting buddy Interior Undersecretary Rico Puno for the Aug. 2010 Luneta hostage crisis.
• Aquino openly flaunted the law and disdained judicial restraints, starting with his first Executive Order and leading to the illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program.
• Aquino let jueteng and smuggling flourish, fueling graft and lawlessness, by restraining gaming nemesis Secretary Jesse Robredo and Customs reformer Guillermo Parayno.
• Aquino refused to implement the June 2010 Disaster Risk Reduction Act’s mandate to create a billion-peso calamity response and preparedness agency.
• Aquino was averse to regular Cabinet meetings, leading to slow infrastructure implementation and chronic underspending.
Let’s look at these boondoggles one by one.
Double-standard Daang Matuwid
Aquino put politics above all, so even Daang Matuwid was skewed. Under his anti-graft policy, adversaries were excoriated, prosecuted and punished. But his classmates, allies, and shooting buddies (KKK by their Filipino initials) were spared investigations and sanctions.
Result: presidential associates could be caught in sensitive or even illegal situations without fear of presidential censure. Thus, gaming czar Cristino Naguiat, Jr. wasn’t even investigated for a Macau family junket illicitly funded by a casino magnate, and Liberal Party stalwarts even got Aquino bail money in their graft cases.
The double-standard Daang Matuwid extended to matters of law, which could be flouted for presidential ends. Aquino’s first EO was voided for targeting the previous administration. The Supreme Court suggested making the EO applicable to all past regimes, to comply with equal protection under the law.
Aquino dismissed the High Court’s advice, and that arrogant disdain for legal strictures marked his presidency. His legal excesses reached their height with the Disbursement Acceleration Program usurping Congress’s power of the purse. Yet despite the Supreme Court itself noting that DAP funds “were allocated to [programs and projects]not covered by any appropriations” in the budget, Aquino insisted he was right.
Unleashing the lawlessness scourge
If those first two failings did not directly harm many Filipinos, the next two did: Aquino’s willful abetting of jueteng and smuggling, and his refusal to create and fund a billion-peso calamity agency as provided by the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Law.
The flourishing of illicit gambling and contraband spurred the explosive growth of lawless groups and their cohorts in government and police. Thus, crime incidents tripled from 324,083 in 2010 to more than a million a year since 2013—spawning the nationwide fear of lawlessness, even among the affluent and educated, which propelled Duterte to his landslide victory.
Aquino himself triggered the jueteng and smuggling surge by shielding these illicit activities from two proven nemeses: then-Local Government Secretary Robredo, who wiped out the numbers game in Naga City; and former customs and revenue chief Guillermo Parayno, hired by the International Monetary Fund as customs reform consultant for his success at the ports.
Aquino took the Philippine National Police away from Robredo’s supervision and placed the PNP under Undersecretary Puno, named by Archbishop Oscar Cruz as “ultimate recipient” of jueteng payoffs. And after interviewing Parayno for Customs, Aquino gave it to others, then looked away as contraband trebled to $26.6 billion in 2014. Plus: 2,000 uninspected containers vanished in 2011, many probably with guns and drugs.
The do-nothing President
If letting jueteng and smuggling flourish inflicted crime and drugs on Filipinos, Aquino’s refusal to create a national disaster agency exacerbated calamity.
The NDRRM Act, crafted with input from leading disaster experts here and abroad, envisioned a billion-peso entity similar to America’s formidable Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Aquino never implemented this provision of the law, which would have greatly enhanced disaster preparedness, response and recovery at both national and local levels. Also unfunded was the billion-peso People’s Protection Fund, legislated under Aquino for projects safeguarding communities threatened by disasters triggered by climate change.
Also affected by Aquino’s so-called “Noynoying” style were infrastructure projects marked by long delays, even his pet public-private partnership initiatives. And these hold-ups began with Aquino’s lack of enthusiasm for Cabinet meetings.
With little presidential follow-up, public works spending halved for the first time in 2011. Even the vaunted PPP, which Aquino played up in his first State of the Nation Address in 2010, suffered interminable delays. Thus, for all our growth, the country remains an infrastructure laggard.
Five moves for Duterte’s first 100
So what should the next Malacañang man do to correct the incumbent’s failings?
First, draw up a code of conduct for presidential appointees, drawn from similar norms and standards set by Transparency International, the World Bank, and similar high-integrity entities. Then create a Presidential Transparency Commission with both Palace and non-government members, to monitor compliance with the code.
Second, convene the Judicial-Executive-Legislative Advisory Council, created during the Arroyo administration, to restore mutual respect among the co-equal branches of government and affirm the Duterte administration’s commitment to the rule of law.
Third, implement the NDRRM Act’s mandate for a billion-peso disaster agency and the People’s Protection Fund projects, with a supplemental budget for 2016, if necessary.
Fourth, revive the Palace body monitoring major projects during the Estrada and Arroyo administrations, with regular reports at frequent Cabinet meetings.
Fifth, include jueteng and smuggling in the war against lawlessness, for those illicit activities corrupt law enforcers and border authorities and fund crime groups.
Over to you, Mayor President.