PNoy can ignore his critics. But he needs to jettison his policy orthodoxy

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Marlen V. Ronquillo

Acclaimed economist Jeffrey Sachs is the face of universal do-gooding. Right after the fall of the communist regimes in Eastern Europe, he set forth on a mission to help former communist states transition into modern free market economies. He worked in Poland, then in Yeltsin’s Russia.

He even volunteered to help the government of Mrs. Aquino after the fall of Marcos, by way of smoothening the transition from a country run by despots to a country run by the liberal democratic ideals and institutions. He does not stop from trying to save the universe.

His latest mission, the Millennium Village Project, seeks to transform dirt-poor villages in Africa into decent, viable, self-sustaining communities. The project, which will wind down in 2015, will end up a massive failure, just like many of Sachs previous mission and quests to save the world. The missionary zeal and the integrity and the efforts that Sachs and his staff poured into his undertakings will be all for naught, according to his critics, as his self-confident and muscle-bound determination to save the world has been hounded by wrong approaches and wrong applications of development processes.

The most noble of intentions (and in Sachs case the noble intentions are legion) often go awry.

What critics have pointed out as the reason for the failure is this: the 147 handbook that guided the supposed liberation of the African villages from underdevelopment and massive poverty did not factor in so many things, including droughts and “social and environmental complexities” that were at work in the villages to be saved.

Sachs and his failed missionary zeal eminently reminds us of President Aquino 3rd and his dogged determination to mend the broken and corrupt institutions, produce amazing growth rates and bring the country to international respectability.

Would President Aquino’s quest to reform the country, like Sachs’ quest to change the world, end up a dismal and utter failure despite PNoys muscular, self-confident policies? Time will tell but the sad truth is we are heading into something of a mixed scenario. Not a failure as dismal as Sachs collapse, but nothing to leave in terms of a presidential legacy either.

Why I am saying this? The list of positives are quite easy to list down.

The growth figures, which for the first three years of the Aquino 3rd administration have been one of the brightest in the region, will be most likely sustained. A 6 to 7 percent growth clip is a perfectly attainable figure for the remaining three years, barring a monumental collapse which will have an almost zero chance of taking place.

A 6.5 to 7 percent average growth rate will be impressive, given the lethargy of the traditional economic growth centers and their mind set to adopt austerity as the way out of the economic malaise. In 2016, as Aquino 3rd exits from the presidency, there will be no shame were the judgment of his administration would be on the GDP metrics.

The credit rating agencies may even rate the Philippines with a glowing assessment. The multilateral institutions will chant the expected alleluias. The business writers will write puff pieces and glowing valedictories of the existing government.

Yet, the stark, dark figures on poverty and underemployment (the less than 7 percent unemployment rate is illusory too), the morbidity and mortality rates due to poverty, the dropout rate in schools, the number of malnourished children will not change. Spectacular growth, jobless and joyless, will impact on the wealth of the plutocrats but never on the lives of the poor.

Kayo ang Boss Ko, his commitment to the Everyman, will be proven an empty, meaningless slogan. The president shall have slaved—after all—in six tough and grueling years to comfort the most comfortable sections of Philippine society. And with all others deemed as invisible.

The Left‘s army and mass base will not be dented a bit. In fact, to mark the exit of the Aquino presidency, the Left may even borrow from the words of the late journalist Scotty Reston, who told the cocky, overbearing Kennedy aides this: Long after you are out of Washington, we will still be here.

The integrity factor? Forget it. Valte and Lacierda may try to hype on the legacy of integrity but the great suffering mass would have none of it. Integrity, the Aquino aides would realize, is bullsh_t once it fails to change lives.

All the do-gooding will be for naught. All the growth statistics will be figures without meaning.

Worse, there is a real danger that for all his work at reforms and growth, which are enough by his standards, he will be a tangential, marginal figure by the time the new government sits President Binay, or President Cayetano, or President Lacson or President Defensor-Santiago.

This is looming as the tough reality that President Aquino would have to deal with on turnover day: Whoever will be inaugurated as the new president will be declared by the people as a welcome relief—a clean break—from the departing presidency.


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  1. You nailed in Mr. Ronquillo. I do hope the good President will still have time to recognize his weaknesses. But it takes a great leader to do that.