Nobody uses the eponym now, not the cabinet secretary who brashly tried to sell it to the media and the public. Nor the business leaders and opinion writers who fell for the con and gave it life, however fleeting.
(eponym, n., the name of an object or activity which is also the name of the person who first produced the object or did the activity. From Cambridge English dictionary)
I started researching this column with full civility toward President Aquino and his administration.
I said to myself, if in my research, I discover some substance and rigor to Aquinomics, comparable say to the authenticity of Reaganomics, I would give credence to its existence, perhaps even to its claimed achievements.
Towards the close of Aquino’s first year in office in June 2011, there was a lot of talk about the President’s positive impact on the economy. Oddly, his first economic planning secretary, Cayetano Paderanga Jr., resigned his post, before the country could feel his presence and after he had boasted that the economy could attain 8 percent GDP growth.
Finance Cesar Purisima started the buzz about Aquinomics, on the wild theory that Aquino had as much claim to his own eponym since he studied economics at the Ateneo, whereas Ronald Reagan was just a graduate of Hollywood.
Not surprisingly, the crony newspapers were receptive to using the eponym. Their columnists amplified the claims.
Inquirer briefing on Aquinomics
The earliest article on Aquinomics that I found was a column by Cielito Habito in the Inquirer, June 21, 2011. (Habito is a bona fide economist; he served as economic planning secretary in the government of president Fidel V. Ramos).
The piece was boldly titled “Aquinomics’: What difference has it made?”
Habito reported that he had spoken in an Inquirer briefing attended by “business leaders and other movers and shakers.” He spoke on the state of the Philippine economy one year into the Aquino administration. He entitled his talk, “A Year Under ‘Aquinomics’,” which prompted the immediate query if there was something to “Aquinomics” beyond playing on the President’s name.
Before he could even get started, Habito was already offering a disclaimer. “Aquinomics” cannot be likened to, say, “Reaganomics” of the 1980s, which was defined by a distinct economic philosophy known at the time as “supply side economics.” This had challenged traditional demand-side or “Keynesian” economics, which until then was the mainstream thinking in macroeconomics.”
He then retreated to what he considered as descriptive features of Aquinomics:
First, It is “the economics of business confidence,” which has been the driver of the economy under Aquino’s leadership so far. There has been a huge growth in private sector domestic investments, since Aquino’s takeover. But this investment growth was marred by a significant drop in foreign direct investments (FDI) and a deep decline of 37.3 % in government public investment.
He then let the cat out of the bag. “At face value, the drop in government spending appears to be a downside to the Aquino government’s performance.”
Second, Habito contended that Aquinomics might also stand for “the economics of fiscal responsibility.”
In the end, Habito, like St. Peter, wound up denying his subject. No one was moved or shaken by his rationalization of the government’s policy of underspending.
Deploying less, accomplishing more
My second research discovery was a column by Ana Marie Pamintuan, editor of the Star, published on July 22, 2011. It was simply titled, “Aquinomics.”
At the start of the Aquino administration in 2010,
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and his team visited the Star to explain the financial goals and strategies of the Aquino government.
In July 2011, just before Aquino was to deliver his first state of the nation address (SONA), Purisima and his team visited again to discuss what has been achieved and what’s in store. This time, “Aquinomics” had become the buzz word of Aquino’s economic management team.
Purisima explained: “Aquinomics has four pillars. One is fiscal sustainability and macroeconomic stability. In this the country is on track, with reserves at historic highs and borrowing costs down, a balance of payments surplus, moderate inflation, and deficit targets within range.
“The second pillar is the private-public partnership or PPP program. This has stalled a bit, with seven instead of 10 projects scheduled for bidding within the year.
“The third pillar is ease in doing business, for both local and foreign investors.
“The fourth pillar is investment in people – giving Filipinos health care, education and the skills necessary to become “productive participants in the economy.”
Corruption led to wastage in the past, Purisima said. “Now, even if we’re deploying less, we’re accomplishing more.”
Putting two and two together, this is the thinking that led to the creation of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) by President Aquino and Budget Secretary Butch Abad.
To deploy less, they impounded budgets already appropriated by Congress; they transferred funds from one agency and government branch to another – acts which the Supreme Court ruled were illegal and unconstitutional.
Aquinomics is no economics
My third research find was a column by Rigoberto Tiglao in the Inquirer, published on September 5, 2011. This was before he left the paper and joined the Manila Times.
Tiglao’s piece, entitled “Aquinomics: no economics,” blew away my other research discoveries.
He bluntly declared: “Awe-struck writers read profundity in President Aquino’s actions to even call these as making up “Aquinomics.” Assuming that the term refers to something, it would be “no economics.”
The heart of his argument went like this:
“President Aquino has a penchant for eschewing economic thinking. After a year in power, we may be seeing the upper-class version of the masa’s Erap Estrada.
“The Aquino government’s underspending, which most economists blame for the disappointing GDP growth rate in the first half of the year, had nothing to do with economic policy. Government underspending this year was due to Aquino’s frame of mind, embraced by his officials, that it is the rule rather than the exception that all government contracts made during the last administration were tainted with corruption.”
What passes for a flagship project in “Aquinomics” is its conditional cash-transfer program, which is mainly a dole for the poor.
It’s the economy, student
My final research find was a devastating essay by former president Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, Aquino’s predecessor. She is a real, albeit ailing, economist; and she knows how governments and economies work.
The essay was pointedly titled, “It’s the economy, student.” Aquino was her economics student at the Ateneo. She wrote the piece from October to December 2011, while she was in house recuperation and hospital detention.
The heart of the piece is a critique of Aquino’s management of the economy.
“In the last year and a half, I have noted with sadness the increasing vacuum of leadership, vision, energy and execution in managing our economic affairs. The gains achieved by previous administrations — mine included — are being squandered in an obsessive pursuit of political warfare meant to blacken the past and conceal the dark corners of the present dispensation. Rather than building on our nation’s achievements, this regime has extolled itself as the sole harbinger of all that is good. And the Filipino people are paying for this obsession–in slumping growth, under-achieving government, escalating crime and conflict, and the excesses of a presidential clique that enjoys fancy cars and gun culture…”
Arroyo’s critique resonated throughout the country. Aquinomics went into seclusion.
It’s not surprising why Aquinomics disappeared from public life soon after the Arroyo essay was released. Just as nobody can really say whether Aquino is an economist, no one knows whether Aquinomics is a coherent set of serious policies,
Purisima, its biggest proponent, is an accountant, not an economist.
As with all Aquino initiatives, only the slogan remains of Aquinomics. Aquino and Purisima still mouth now and then the tagline “Good governance is good economics.”
But they will absolutely not take questions about Aquinomics.