Senator Poe has spoken to demolish Mr. Aquino’s mantra of inclusive growth, though not in a brutal takedown. Because it was about policy, not a catfight, media failed to notice. The gains from 6.2 percent growth rate, she said in a speech before she made her presidential declaration, have not trickled-down below and poverty remains massive. She did not actually say this but it was implied. The brutish, nasty and short lives of the underclass have remained brutish, nasty and short under Mr. Aquino’s presidency.
The solid proof that she is not a cheerleader of Aquino’s growth figures? She said that the Philippines has the worst Gini coefficient in the Asean Region and that more than one out of every four Filipinos live below the poverty line. Ms. Poe used the DBP Good Governance Forum to demolish the Aquino government’s spin of growth gains trickling down to the bottom. She said a society of great inequality is “simply unacceptable.” That line was clearly borrowed by her speechwriter from the lines of another woman seeking the presidency – Hillary Clinton.
Ms. Poe has yet to say that Mr. Aquino’s government is “ by the 1 percent, for the 1 percent and of the 1 percent.” But many think, she will be coming to that very soon. She may tame the language, but she will deliver the same message.
Why will she do a realistic, candid assessment on who benefited from the economic growth under the Aquino administration? Other than it is true, many reasons for that stepped-up rhetoric, mostly the need to win in the battle over governing ideas.
First, it is right on the mark and that message will find resonance and traction. No one is diminished by telling the unvarnished truth. Aquino’s government has primarily benefited the 1 percent. The Aquino government has been responsible for the emergence of dollar billionaires, no thanks to the upward trajectory of his redistribution policies. It is only now that I fully get the rationale. The Aquino administration decided early on to prop up society’s winners because it was the lazy, uninspired way to generate growth. A growth strategy that promotes the middle and the lower classes is something beyond the intellectual reach of the Aquino administration, and is challenging work to say the least. The Aquino people do not have enough brains for that challenge.
Whereas, promoting the interest of the 1 percent to ensure sustained growth levels, regardless of whether the beneficiaries are plain rentiers that do not really move the economy and create real jobs, can be done without much policy creativity. Just give three things: government contracts, government incentives and the lax regulatory environment required for their operations to flourish.
One more huge concession: just give them prime government lands – via sale or lease – at bargain basement prices. We have to have a study on this: the volume of state-owned land handed over by government to the property and mall giants at fire-sale rates.
The fact that Mr. Aquino’s key economic people were former employees of the favored firms just sweetened the pie, rather the sweetheart deals with the favored oligarchs.
Second, critiquing the failed economic policies of the Aquino administration will separate her from Mr. Roxas, the Aquino-anointed. The truth is Ms. Poe has yet to fully untangle herself from her identification with the Aquino administration. She ran as a guest senatorial candidate of Mr. Aquino’s coalition. She used to be invited to major LP events. For all intents and purposes, her political alliances, throughout her brief life in the Senate, were with the Aquino coalition. The fact that she sounds as stern as Mr. Aquino props up the Aquino connection.
Slamming Mr. Aquino, obliquely or bluntly, will convey the message that she is her own woman.
Owning a space in the inequality debate, and pointing out to Mr. Aquino’s utter neglect of vulnerable lives, will be an imperative for Candidate Poe as Mr. Binay will make this the centerpiece of his economic agenda. Mr. Binay is down but not out and his resiliency has been manifested in the polling numbers. A lesser candidate would have been blown out of the race with less than half of the negative publicity and pundit scorn that Mr. Binay has received. According to the polls, he is in statistical tie for the second place, still standing and competitive. That his numbers did not sink into the path of political oblivion indicate that the lumpen proletariat are more forgiving, and probably supportive of Mr. Binay.
With his back against the wall, Mr. Binay can go all-out in painting Mr. Aquino and Mr. Roxas as heartless technocrats that are, for and by the 1 percent. Which is entirely accurate, given the duo’s loathing of a simple tax break for ordinary workers. A play on economic populism, given his magkakaning-baboy background, is entirely credible for Mr. Binay.
So Ms. Poe cannot let Mr. Binay own this political space. She has to hit the Aquino administration and hit it hard on the upward redistribution, the brutal Social Darwinism that has been the hallmarks of the administration.
What about the supposed commitment of Ms. Poe not to hit the president? Take it as one of those meaningless parcels of he said-she said journalism. Once you give context and perspective to that story, you will know that she did that already, although in non-brutal rhetoric.
The whole truth is that her speech at the DBP Good Governance Forum was an indictment of the growth-at-all-cost policy of the Aquino administration. If that were not a harsh critique of Mr. Aquino, I don’t know what it was.