Our culture tends to exaggerate the burdens placed on the presidency. In our mythology, shaped by a less-than-enlightened and weak political culture, the Philippine president is a superman, omniscient and omnipresent. That flawed perception, precisely, was the void filled up by hacks and flacks of Mr. Aquino. As he is wrapping up his unlamented term, he is touted as an overachieving superman based on some GDP charts and credit upgrades.
Ok, what really took place during the six years of the Aquino administration ?
The Aquino administration posted nice charts and much of its claims are true. Six years of growth, incremental credit upgrades and fiscal prudence. Were these three taken in isolation, without regard as to their impact on ordinary lives, Mr. Aquino, indeed, will exit as a great president. The problem is leadership is all about the grand concept of parens patria – the leader is the parent to all the citizens. Once you measure the accomplishments of Mr. Aquino on this grand and universal benchmark of leadership, he will exit as a miserable failure.
The grand accomplishments of Mr. Aquino benefited a very small segment of society, the Top 1 percent, ironically the sector most capable of advancing its personal and economic interests without support from government. On the rare occasions he invoked “ inclusive growth,” you can immediately tell his tone was condescending.
Mr. Aquino neglected the 99 percent, which have to fight over the crumbs not sucked up by the Top 1 percent. To be candid about it, Mr. Aquino never cared about the less fortunate and proudly stood by – and has been unapologetic of – his Social Darwinism. That was the main point raised by his uncle, Peping Cojuangco, as he called Mr. Aquino the “ real threat to our democracy.”
Put simply, Mr. Aquino’s policies engineered the most sweeping and the most ambitious upward redistribution in the country’s history at the expense, naturally, of the 99 percent. While good leadership can escape from the trap of zero sum and spread gains throughout, Mr. Aquino did not even bothered to consider that route, He channeled all gains to the already wealthy and zero to those outside the favored elite. His nice growth charts came at the expense of more suffering to the have-nots. Can you square off these two things – sustained growth rates and the most decrepit urban railway system in the world ? And a less than 1 percent growth for the agriculture sector, which employs close to 30 percent of Filipinos ?
Were this the time of Domingo Cavallo and the Washington Consensus, Mr. Aquino’s reckless capitalism would not have been that badly regarded. But today is the time of Jorge Bergoglio and his passionate message for a better, more egalitarian world, less focused on charts and more focused on human lives.
A leader fit for the 80s, Mr. Aquino does not stand up to the test of good leadership in the 21st century.
So, what should the next president do. Simple enough. Junk Mr. Aquino’s favor-the-super rich policies and attempt to build an egalitarian society. The next president and his/her policy managers have to craft the specifics on how to build a more egalitarian society but it is easy to pinpoint on where some of the urgent policy recasting should be done.
One is the PPP, which involves 55 projects worth P1.14 trillion. Mr. Aquino designed the PPP exclusively for the big players, the corporate giants and the tycoons he is most comfortable with. The PPP focus on bigness was deliberate. Mr. Aquino wanted the P1.14 trillion to be cornered by his friends and cronies, the tycoons, the taipans, the Makati Business Club types.
Why not recast the rules. Say, a dozen Triple A contractors from Region 1 or from any other region of the country pooling their capital and expertise to get entry into the bidding process. They may be better and more up to the job than the construction companies of the blue-chip corporations. A regional consortium winning a PPP project will not only democratically spread the proceeds from a PPP project. It will be a boost to the economy of that region as well.
The next president should also reject, with extreme prejudice, the extreme bias that Mr. Aquino displayed against any token legislation for the poor. Remember the inadequate Magna Carta for the Poor that Mr. Aquino loathed on the grounds it would “ bust” his beloved budget? Remember the refusal of Mr. Aquino, over his dead body, to increase the monthly pension of SSS pensioners ? Remember the joy on the face of Mr. Aquino as he used the Napoles scam to cut off the token subsidies to the country’s small farmers?
Remember the irrational exuberance of monetary authorities when it comes to the closure of small rural and cooperative rural banks ?
Anything for the underclass was anathema to Mr. Aquino.
If I were the next president, I will make the CCT at least P150 billion a year and do helicopter money drops into areas ravaged by poverty and natural calamities.
A president who will genuinely take care of the poor will not get fond farewells and long goodbyes from the Makati Business Club and the chambers of commerce. But his or her name will be enshrined in the hearts of those mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount and that fond remembrance will be carried several generations over.