The headline was drawn from what Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1862, in a moment of great self-doubt. The Civil War was going badly and critics were heaping abuse on his leadership. He wrote that even if ten angels were to testify that he had done well, all of that would mean nothing if things did not turn out well for his divided, bloodied country.
People who have read that tend to think in terms of the local context and ask this question? In 2016, would PNoy need ten angels to say that he did all right?
Candidly, the question should be answered using two sets of considerations, reckonings and benchmarks. The first set should rate and judge his six-years in power from the point of view of pure technocracy. Using the first set, and assuming that the general trend will continue up to the last days of his presidency, the popular verdict would be this: He did all right. In fact, he did better than most of his predecessors.
Growth rate was higher. GDP figures elicited praise and admiration from many sectors, and the multilateral institutions have thrown caution to the wind to drop some superlatives about his performance. The historically arduous task of getting growth figures that would impress the foreign impresarios of growth took place under the Aquino administration.
The rating agencies cooed the same tune and raised the country’s creditworthiness.
All the three major rating agencies, Fitch, Mood and Standard and Poor’s, have raised the creditworthiness of the country.
When other corrupt leaders were in need of straw men to punch, they did not turn to the corruption in the Philippines. We can still recall the recent past when we were named as the culprit for anything that stank, including the surging global rice prices.
On big-ticket projects, the bidding and awards process was mostly transparent. There were the usual complaints of favoritism, of course. And the complaints from the Czechs appear to be valid.
The rub, though, comes with the second round of benchmarking—and this is definitely far more important than higher GDP, or the positive nod from the credit rating agencies. Have lives improved? Have all of these positive figures dented massive poverty? Can the Everyman say he is better off now than in the past? Is there a noticeable, palpable upgrade in human well-being?
The answer is a variation of these three: No, not much, not a chance.
There is no mirth, no joy, no national celebration amid the giant economic strides as reflected in the national growth metrics. And you really have to wonder why those ideally life-changing strides on the economic front have done little to improve lives and ease human suffering.
The answer is this: All those strides no longer impact on human well-being. The new normal is a situation where you can have spectacular growth amid so much poverty and misery. What the ruling government sees as a collection of impressive economic data – under this new normal – is a collection of antiquities.
Antiquities. Orthodoxies. Old benchmarks that should be put to pasture and into the scrap heap of history. Just a cursory look at the WhatsApp economy and you will perfectly understand why such impressive data do not and will not impact on human well-being.
WhatsApp, the cross platform instant messaging subscription service, was recently acquired by Facebook for $19 billion in cash, shares and restricted stock units. This was a major acquisition by any means. The $19 billion cost will be more appreciated when contrasted to the paltry, fire-sale of the iconic Washington Post for $250 million.
WhatsApp does not make stuff and goods that you can eat, ride in, or serve as roof over your head. It is a messaging service and totally irrelevant to people and communities not linked to the Web. More, the entire number of owners, officers and employees is a grand total of 55 people. You can put the equation this way – $19 billion that will mostly benefit 55 people and a handful of venture capitalists.
We have the equivalent of a WhatsApp economy. All the gains from growth go to the Top 1 percent. We have a situation where one man owns $11 billion and most of the struggling mass below have to sell kidneys and other body organs to put food on the table.
There is no viable center. If there is one, it is the diaspora of overseas workers that has no other function but to send money home and prop up the economy. The civil society is a collection of pretentious and pompous do-gooders who can plot scams such as the multi-billion Peace Bonds without remorse.
The grand programs of government are under a Public-Private Partnership scheme that is exclusively for the big players – the ones that least need the support of government.
The government incentives and economic stimulus are designed to fatten the fattest corporate cats and indenture those below them.
On the real test, on whether the government has truly succeeded in promoting overall human well-being, no ten angels would come forth and say the PNoy administration was all right.