For what the Aquino government has done in creating and implementing the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), there is no term in modern political science and public administration. “Misrule” and “maladministration” are the nearest words that come to mind.
I am referring to the bizarre phenomenon of a supposedly constitutional government resorting to deliberately creating problems for itself, so it can look good and profit from solving them.
This is the only way to describe what the Administration has done in its DAP program, when it willfully adopted a policy of underspending upon assuming office on June 30, 2010.
Over the following six months, it fabricated savings in the budgets of government agencies, aborted public works projects and impounded their budgets, in order to collar billions of pesos of funding for the DAP.
When the GDP growth rate of 7.2 percent plunged to just a shade over 3 percent in 2011, the government found its justification for creating the DAP, by describing it as a fiscal stimulus to restore growth and fund various new projects that included giving over P10 billion to rebel armies, and over P1 billion as bribe money for the impeachment of former chief justice Renato Corona.
The problem that the DAP sought to solve was non-existent until underspending and the forced-savings command were implemented.
With the tens of billions of pesos generated for the DAP, Aquino got his P220 billion pork barrel fund. He was able to assign, among others, a hefty P5.4 billion for landowners’ compensation, a significant part of which went to his relatives in Hacienda Luisita.
The accelerated spending spread far and wide, to cover virtually every whim of Aquino and Abad, involving all departments of government.
Humongous as it is, the DAP is not the only instance where the Administration created or aggravated a problem, so that it could look good in solving it.
There are other notable exhibits to shock and awe us.
1. The sick man of Asia hoax
One striking example is the repeated use by the President, his economic managers and his propagandists of “the sick man of Asia” mantra as the condition of the Philippines before Benigno Aquino 3rd took office in 2010.
By drumming up economic weakness, they thought they could dramatize how under Aquino’s leadership the Philippines would accomplish an economic miracle and achieve tiger-economy status. A worthy objective surely, but the spin was all hokum.
The big problem with this sick-man theme is that it was China, not the Philippines, which was tagged as “the sick man of Asia” after World War II. I’ve challenged government officials to cite one foreign publication or report that labeled the Philippines as such, and they could not produce one.
On the other hand, I have discovered in my own research that in December 2011, after 18 months of Aquino, the Asia editor of the Financial Times, David Pilling, called this country “Asia’s economic equivalent of the mad lady in the attic.” See my column (“Asia’s mad lady in the Attic”, Times, February 11)
Aquino’s program to remove the sick-man label invested millions of dollars in securing an investment upgrade for the country and bogus awards of excellence for our finance secretary.
The World Bank and the foreign press were not taken in by the hype. The WB noted that the key policies that turned around the economy were laid down during the Arroyo government, and much credit was due to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas for the macroeconomy, and to the hefty $22 billion a year being contributed by the OFW sector.
In another article published on July11 in the Financial Times, David Pilling commented that much of what the government of President Aquino has achieved over the last four years is primarily attributable to Arroyo’s legacy:
“In truth, some of the macroeconomic improvements have been the fruit of policy changes outside his administration, particularly at the central bank. Although his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was deeply unpopular and accused of overseeing a corrupt administration, much of the improvement in economic fundamentals can be dated to her government.”
Pilling did not repeat his “mad lady in the attic” criticism, but he might change his mind once he learns about the irrational and malevolent details of the DAP.
2. Picking a quarrel with China
This second exhibit could be the most dangerous and delusional misadventure of the Aquino presidency.
In what should have been just an insignificant intrusion by Chinese vessels into Philippine-claimed waters, the Aquino government loudly transformed it into a sensational international incident and accused China of bullying a neighbor.
The policy of constant criticism of China severely damaged Philippine-China relations, and raised doubts within Asean about Philippine policy.
Instead of engaging in diplomacy and applying serious statecraft, Aquino himself exacerbated the situation and called Chinese leaders as the modern reincarnation of Hitler, and he sought to draw the United States into the spat.
The objective is apparently threefold:
First, to compensate for the Aquino government’s lack of a foreign policy, and to gain international attention to the competing claims in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea as Aquino personally prefers), and to China’s nine-dash line map claiming all of the Spratlys and reefs within.
Second, to secure US funding and technical support for the modernization of the Philippine armed forces. This tack has netted so far some old vessels and helicopters.
Third, to ensure popular and congressional support for an expanded US military presence in the Philippines, as embodied in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which has been a US project all along under its Asia pivot policy.
3. Zamboanga siege and future of Mindanao
By unilaterally setting aside the GRP- MNLF Final Peace Agreement signed on September 2, 1996 by President Fidel V. Ramos and MNLF chairman Nur Misuari, and by setting out on his own to forge a separate peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Libaration Front (MILF), President Aquino turned a relatively calm situation in Mindanao and Sulu into a powder keg, ready to explode at any time. To get the agreement, Aquino sidelined the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to make way for a projected Bangsamoro substate led and administered by the MILF.
This radical change in Philippine policy in Mindanao has already resulted in two violent incidents:
The sending of an armed force and civilians to Sabah by the heirs of the Sultan of Sulu in 2013, to enforce their hereditary claim to the territory. This resulted in clashes with Malaysian police, the death of scores of Filipinos and the detention of several hundred Filipino non-combatants.
The siege of Zamboanga City by a band of the MNLF that sought to raise the Bangsamoro flag in city hall.
This led to a lengthy standoff between the rebel group and Philippine troops. In the clashes that ensued, many died on both sides, and parts of the famous city were burned to the ground and over 10,000 people were rendered homeless.
Administration management of the standoff, with Aquino showing up at the scene, showed that the government had no clear and comprehensive policy for peace in Mindanao and no capability for negotiating real peace for the future of the South.
Under the DAP, more than P11 billion has already been expended for the peace initiative, but what has been achieved is only a gigantic question mark looming over Mindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
The 12 hours or less rule
These exhibits could be the ultimate perversion of leadership, done for the worst of motives, self-promotion to project an image of strong leadership, that is belied by the facts on the ground and does great harm to the nation’s sovereignty, territory, fiscal position and foreign relations.
The DAP, without doubt, is the most harmful of all, and it could saddle the Aquino administration with the tag of worst government in Philippine history.
As I write these words, President Aquino is six hours away from delivering his televised address to the nation, which will address the DAP controversy, defend the program, defend its architect Butch Abad, and adamantly insist that the DAP has been beneficial to the nation.
The big question is, will Aquino finally acknowledge that the DAP is a big mistake of his Administration? Will he say the three most difficult words in his vocabulary: “I am sorry?”
“Leaders who fail to own up to mistakes are unfit for office” — Benjamin Carson, Washington Times
Defiant, rejecting error and responsibility, Aquino is Humpty Dumpty. All his apologists cannot put him back together again.
On the other hand… Alas, with this president, there is no other hand.
Reputation experts talk about the “12 hours or less” rule in reputation management in the middle of a big mistake.
Chris Komisarjevsky, retired CEO OF Burson-Marsteller, in his book, The Power of Reputation, explains the rule this way: “You have twelve hours or less within which to take responsibility and say, I am sorry. And within that same time you will have to commit to a fresh start, assuring those around you that nothing like what happened will happen again.”
It’s now been two weeks since the Supreme Court announced its ruling that the DAP is illegal and unconstitutional.
The leadership opportunity is gone.