Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Noynoy's SONA: More of the same plunder

During his maiden State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 26, 2010 before the Philippine Congress, President Benigno Aquino III stumbled right away with a false vision of government. At the beginning of his speech, the new President talked about the two directions, which his government is going.

“Our administration is facing a forked road,” he says. In very basic terms, the President referred to one road as good, and the other, bad. The good one takes us to the heart of what every government stands to deliver: the welfare and interest of the people. Opposed to this path is to put personal interest and political considerations above all else to the detriment of the nation.

President Aquino’s vision of two paths to choose is absurd, if not downright silly. As leader of the nation, the President has no other choice but to lead the government to what is best for the people. The people installed him to power. This leaves him no other options, no two ways to achieve his goals. No matter if the road ahead might be bumpy, rocky or full of potholes, but that’s the only way the government must go.

So much is expected from this President, yet it would appear there’s little that he can he deliver.

After laying the two roads open for his administration, President Aquino then painted an ugly and dismal picture of the country. He should have borrowed from the famous Clint Eastwood spaghetti western and added ugly as a third option, in addition to the good and the bad.

In contrast to the U.S. ritual of State of the Union Address, upon which our own practice was largely based, both as a constitutional obligation and traditional rite of passage to the opening of Congress, American presidents have always stressed the fact, although not necessarily true, that the state of their union is strong. This reference to strength has hardened into oratorical tradition in every American president’s State of the Union message. Perhaps, it drives the instinctive desire of every American president to be optimistic about the future by starting from a position of strength, rather than admitting things aren’t going well.

Diagnosis: “Critical but stable”

However, it is to President Aquino’s credit that he takes the courage, absent noblesse oblige, to admit the sordid state of our nation. Truth be told, he expressed it in the simplest way he can get the message across.

This traditional state of the nation address could be aptly likened to a medical diagnosis of a patient. To summarize President Noynoy Aquino’s prognosis, he was stating that the country is in a critical but stable condition, with immediate changes expected. We’re not yet dead but the situation could turn to worse if changes are not made, the President seemed to imply in a single sentence.

Nothing spectacular about the President’s message. It’s plain and simple acceptance of the fact that our nation is broken and his task is to fix it. The only problem with President Aquino’s diagnosis is his prescription on how to fix the country’s conundrum.

“For a long time, our country lost its way in the crooked path. As days go by (since I became President), the massive scope of the problems we have inherited becomes much clearer. I could almost feel the weight of my responsibilities.”

How did this epiphany come about to President Aquino?

Continuing his state of the nation address (SONA), President Aquino said: “In the first three weeks of our administration, we discovered many things, and I will report to you some of the problems we have uncovered, and the steps we are taking to solve them. This report is merely a glimpse of our situation. It is not the entire picture of the crises we are facing. The reality was hidden from our people, who seem to have been deliberately obfuscated on the real state of our nation.”

President Aquino talked about reality being hidden from the people, an act that was deliberate in order to conceal the truth. Nevertheless, just three weeks into his term as President, he suddenly experienced a quantum leap of understanding the truth. What was he doing during the whole time when this “reality” was being foisted on the Filipino people? As a former Congressman and Senator, President Aquino appeared to have slept on the job, not knowing what’s happening with the country.

The point behind the Truth Commission

Granting Aquino has finally come to an understanding of the ugly truth about the previous Gloria Arroyo administration, what then is the point of a Truth Commission? To investigate what he already knew?

The problem with our system of justice in the Philippines is the lack of faith, even by the current President, that it works. He can’t order the Office of the Ombudsman to initiate the prosecution of Gloria Arroyo and her minions because the sitting Ombudsman was appointed by Arroyo and was a classmate in law school of her husband Mike Arroyo.

President Aquino does not have the full support of a rambunctious Congress which appears to be the most logical place to conduct an inquiry into the wrongdoings of the Arroyo government. Besides, if Congress were allowed to investigate the sins of the past administration, it would create a bad precedent and open a floodgate for future governments to follow every time a new president is installed.

The best recourse for the people is to go directly to the courts and file criminal and civil suits against Gloria Arroyo and all those responsible for corruption in the previous government. Every citizen must have legal standing to sue a corrupt government. What does the phrase “the people” stand for in a criminal litigation against an offender if not for “the state”?

Failed liberalization policies

There is, however, a more dreadful and sinister truth in the President’s state of the nation message. This refers to “public-private partnerships” which Aquino said would be the solution to the country’s massive deficit. The President hinted to a contractual arrangement between the government and private investors for projects like building expressways and leasing government facilities such as the Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard and the Naval Station in Fort Bonifacio. Moreover, he was talking only for starters, because there’s still plenty to come.

The public-private partnership platform has been the favourite model for project execution by the World Bank, especially in infrastructure, health and education. While its effectiveness is still open to debate, this model has only limited success in developing countries where it has opened up issues of access, equity, and proof of further marginalization of the poor.

A country’s critical resources could best be managed by the public sector because of its ability to bundle in the responsibility for effecting public welfare, and to take into consideration the rights of the citizens. This is opposed to the privatization of public service as a consequence of globalization. President Aquino should draw lessons from the failed experiences of the World Bank and other international institutions in the liberalization of resources such as water and electricity. These failures clearly show that the provision of commercialized services in pursuit of profits cannot be expected to meet the needs of the population because they undermine the basic principle of public service.

No matter what economic system the state believes in, there are certain resources or sectors of the national economy that are never or rarely left entirely to the free market. Access to these sectors should be maintained as a right of every citizen.

Not so long ago, the same partnerships were explored and used by the Marcos government to the benefit of cronies and foreign investors. Most public-private partnerships carried out in other parts of the world have been accompanied by partial (or ultimately) privatization of public services. The net result of such arrangements is clearly to advance the interest of big business, and not really to reduce the public debt. It is foreseeable that this will not change under the Aquino government.

Not surprisingly, President Aquino’s state of the nation address echoes the liberalization strategies of the governments before him which constitute the principal cause of the nation’s current malaise. Maybe the President was right after all in his vision of two paths, but he has opted for the road towards more of the same plunder of the country’s economy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Fiddling with the truth

The wrongdoings of the past administration under former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo are almost public knowledge that a Truth Commission set up to ferret out the truth becomes totally unnecessary. Conversations in barbershops, chat groups and blogs on the Internet and even among people on the streets have been glued on the Arroyo corrupt government for a long time that the jokes have become stale by now.

Yes, they are just allegations or perhaps mere gossip going around town. But the people are tired of all this talk about prosecuting the former president for her involvement in some of the biggest corruption and election cheating scandals in government since the Ferdinand Marcos era.

President Noynoy Aquino made a promise during the election that he will prosecute those guilty of corruption in the past government. For starters, he could have ordered an investigation through the Office of the Ombudsman, except that the current Ombudsman is an appointee of former President Arroyo. Not a logical choice.

Congress could be the most legitimate venue to conduct a full-scale inquiry. After all, members of Congress are elected representatives of the people and the truth being a public good, they would be doing a great service for the country. But then Gloria Arroyo and her two sons, Mikey and Diosdado, her in-laws, Maria Lourdes Tuazon-Arroyo and Iggy Arroyo, including her former allies during the last administration, are all sitting members of Congress and an inquiry would have to pass approval through the proverbial needle in the haystack. So, fat chance.

Why not go directly to court?

Yes, why not, instead of creating a Truth Commission that sounds grand in scale and invokes comparison to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions (TRC) that emerged from civil strife during the 1970s in South America, Africa and Asia. These TRCs, however, were born from a period of repression, and closure was necessary in order to move on to a new peaceful future. Not because the previous government was so heavy-laden with corruption. If it were the modus operandi of every new government, there will be no end to backward-looking investigations and witchhunts. This is why we have elections so corrupt governments can be booted out.

Most commissions or panels of inquiry to investigate prior misconduct in government are initiated by the legislature, not by executive fiat. A mere presidential order revives the old ways of the dictatorship under the Marcos era. The Philippine Congress has created commissions before to inquire on the conduct of government or its officials. Passing the responsibility of the Noynoy Aquino Truth Commission to a bipartisan panel, for example, of elected senators and Congressional representatives, does not seem odd or illogical.

A Truth Commission or a TRC is most suitable and the ideal body to set up when investigating widespread human rights violations or abuses emerging from periods of internal unrest, civil war or a dictatorship like that of the Marcos regime. Was a TRC created to investigate the Marcos dictatorial regime in order to record its crimes and human rights abuses and punish those who were responsible?

Upon assuming the presidency after the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, former President Cory Aquino immediately granted immunity from prosecution to all Marcos officials and generals involved in human rights violations. That was a self-defeatist decision. Investigations were rendered pointless as those responsible were already granted amnesty. No record of human rights abuses was ever documented. And if one relies simply on government reports, we see plenty of revisionism in historical accounts of the Marcos era. No wonder, his surviving wife, Imelda Marcos, and children, Imee and Bongbong, are still around and elected to powerful positions in government.

The present Aquino government seems indifferent to investigating continuing human rights violations and abuses of the military, especially disappearances and extra-judicial killings. For one thing, there are more photo-ops and self-serving media coverage in going after corrupt officials, especially the Big Kahuna in Gloria Arroyo. So, the widows and mothers of those who have disappeared will continue to grieve for not knowing where their children are buried. Those detained will continue to be in jail for mere suspicion of being members or supporters of the NPA or the communist insurgency. All murdered journalists, workers, peasants and students for vigorously protesting against the government will continue to remain as cold statistics. Truth and justice for these people will be set aside; for how long, no one knows.

President Aquino’s Truth Commission pays lip service to the search for truth. The president is playing around with the insular notion that flushing out the truth about corruption during the Arroyo administration is sufficient for Filipinos to deal with their recent past, that is, to establish a historical confirmation that the Arroyo government was corrupt, and to deter government officials from committing the same violations and abuses. Let us remember that it is still hazy and unclear at this stage whether this Truth Commission has the power to impose criminal fines or sentences. Suffice it to say that most commissions of inquiry have no such power, so where’s the justice after all?

Or is this part of the Noynoy Aquino mantra that without corruption, there is no poverty? That public revelation of corruption and the shaming that accompanies it are more than enough to deter further acts of corruption. Therefore, it will be good for the country in the long run because there will be no more poverty.

Either President Noynoy Aquino should have his head re-examined (his opponents during the last election had hinted about his competence to lead) or he fires his adviser who’s been feeding him with this entire gobbledegook about the linear correlation between corruption and poverty.

The U.S. Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg, Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, said that establishing an authoritative record of Nazi atrocities is one of the most important legacies of the international war crimes trials following the Second World War. Jackson further said, with “such authenticity and in such detail there can be no responsible denial of these crimes in the future and no tradition of martyrdom of the Nazi leaders can arise among informed people.”

In the case of President Noynoy Aquino, he has chosen the wrong path to find the truth. He could be gambling against the odds of even beatifying Gloria Arroyo into a martyr. Or, perhaps, the idea behind the Truth Commission was really to exonerate Arroyo and her minions, and thereby confirm in the process that corruption is a way of life and an integral part of the Filipino political culture. But didn’t we know this already?

To lull the republic that as a country we have moved beyond years of repression, the Truth Commission becomes a clever subterfuge to make the people believe that corruption is our real conundrum. The truth could be that President Aquino is trying to avoid making a public admission of the gross and systematic abuses of human rights in the country by the government and its military from the Marcos era up until today. This includes the killing of innocent farmers during their peaceful picket at Hacienda Luisita on November 16, 2006, a place very close to the new president’s heart.

If President Noynoy Aquino is dead serious about the truth, he should start by digging in his own backyard.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Truth without justice

The honest truth about our government and leaders is that they have never been truly honest at all.

Since the First Republic, the Philippine government has been rocked by corruption, a dysfunctional political behaviour inherited from American tutelage during the colonial days and the Commonwealth era. Yet, no one has ever been prosecuted and sent to prison for government malfeasance, except for former President Joseph Estrada. Estrada eventually was pardoned and allowed to run again for the presidency in the last election.

Our own experience with Truth Commissions or similar initiatives in the past is a good indicator of their futility. When opposition leader Senator Ninoy Aquino, the father of the new president, was assassinated upon his return from exile in 1983, Ferdinand Marcos set up the Agrava Commission to investigate the cold-blooded murder of the former senator. Everyone had an inkling at that time who ordered to kill Ninoy Aquino but the Agrava Commission kept probing as if they didn’t know. In the end, the commission linked the military to the Aquino assassination, its mastermind remains unknown (or so they say) up to this day.

Then, we had the Davide Commission (named after its chair, the former Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Jr., who has been personally selected by President Noynoy Aquino to head the present Truth Commission) and the Feliciano Commission (Oakwood mutiny, 2003), which were both formed to look into the failed putsches against the government.

The Davide Commission treated the coup instigators with kid’s gloves and nothing vital was achieved by its investigation. Leaders of the Oakwood mutiny were detained and tried but the issues they raised about corruption in the armed forces had fallen on deaf ears.

In 2006, the Melo Commission was established by the Arroyo government to investigate political and extra-judicial killings. The Commission was used as a political ploy by the Arroyo administration to whitewash its complicity with the abuses of the military and neutralize the growing international outrage over extra-judicial killings and systematic human rights violations in the Philippines.

When confronted in the early months of his presidency with demands to set up a commission to investigate excesses of the Bush Administration’s war on terror, U.S. President Barack Obama told Congressional leaders that it would be a big mistake. With his hands full with the pressing issues facing the country, Obama said that a backward-looking investigation would not be productive. He also added that it was important that there be no witch-hunt.

So, what can this current Truth Commission really accomplish?

President Noynoy Aquino’s Truth Commission was formed to investigate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s alleged wrongdoing during the nine years of her presidency. Most notable among these allegations are the bribery scandals, the Chinese company ZTE-NBN (National Broadband Network) deal and the fertilizer fund scam. It could also look into the huge political cover-up, the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal that caught President Arroyo on tape in a clear attempt to rig the May 2004 presidential election.

Nothing new in these scandals that the public doesn’t know already. There are courses of action open to independent groups in prosecuting former President Arroyo without waiting for the Truth Commission to complete its mandate, or for President Noynoy Aquino to fulfill his campaign promise to prosecute the previous administration for graft and corruption.

During her term as president, four successive impeachment complaints were brought against Arroyo for election fraud, major cases of corruption, plunder, and gross and systematic human rights violations. But with the complicity of her allies in Congress, members of her cabinet, business cronies, military generals and others, Arroyo marvellously survived all attempts to impeach her.

Justice has already been denied before. Now with this Truth Commission—how independent could this body be when it is headed by a former Chief Justice who has been tainted, whether true or not, with allegations of disregarding the rule of law and misuse of the Judiciary Development Fund that prompted attempts to impeach him? The former Chief Justice was involved in the impeachment trial of Joseph Estrada and he had sworn Arroyo to the presidency in what many had thought was a violation of the Constitution. He also assumed the position of Philippine permanent representative to the United Nations without first being confirmed by the Commission on Appointments.

President Noynoy Aquino should have chosen someone without the stigma of previous allegations of improprieties and ties with the previous administration. There are a few good men and women still out there, with clear hearts and ideals, who could have easily championed Noynoy Aquino’s campaign promise to truly discover and reveal the previous government’s wrongdoings with the hope of achieving justice and reconciliation over the past.

The new president appears prone to repeat the same mistakes made by his mother, former President Corazon Aquino. After Ferdinand Marcos was ousted by people power in 1986 following almost two decades of corruption, plunder, abuse of power, and human rights abuses, the first directive issued by Cory Aquino when she took over the presidency was to provide immunity from prosecution to all Marcos officials and generals involved in human rights violations.

Cory Aquino rationalized her decision under the mantra of “justice with reconciliation.” But it was reconciliation with the oppressors, at the expense of the victims who have long been forgotten until today. Thousands of torture victims would later file a class suit against the Marcoses in Honolulu in order to get a conviction after the Cory Aquino government betrayed their cry for justice.

Justice with reconciliation rings hollow if the truth is revealed without punishment, especially when those guilty of corruption would continue to enjoy the bounties of their plunder.

Should this Truth Commission expand its work to include human rights violations, the search for the truth could be a benefit in itself. For instance, for the grieving widows and mothers of those who have disappeared and become victims of extra-judicial killings, knowing where their loved ones are buried is in itself a form of justice.

It would serve us well to refresh our memories that human rights violations during the martial law years remain unresolved. Until today, we have neither punishment nor truth. The justice system in the Philippines or any truth commission formed by the government has evaded this issue for so long and failed to render a true account of the tortures and killings that happened.

History also tells us that the quest for justice cannot entirely rest upon the shoulders of the government. Those who could be involved in the investigations are still entrenched in powerful positions in government, and should they ever cross the divide and cooperate, this present Truth Commission may grant them immunity from prosecution. The process defeats itself and self-destructs.

A better alternative is for the victims of human rights violations and those directly or indirectly affected by corruption, plunder and electoral fraud to take the matter into their hands and let justice bear upon the perpetrators.

Legitimate cases can be filed against Gloria Arroyo and her ilk. Let the collective will of the people restore the hope that this could be done.

The Truth Commissions that emerged from civil strife in South America, Africa and Asia during the 1970s were part of the healing process that aimed to bring closure to a period of repression and provide restorative justice to its victims and their families. Naturally, expectations were high but they were not generally met because of the lack of impartiality or independence of these commissions. As had happened in the Philippines after martial law, amnesty was given right away to the perpetrators at the expense of the victims.

The philosopher George Santayana once wrote that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. President Noynoy Aquino’s present Truth Commission is likely to suffer a similar fate. This could be Noynoy Aquino’s personal struggle to come to terms and reconcile with the past, but at a heavy price of denying justice to the victims.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Truth and Consequence

Oftentimes, people twist the truth to serve their own selfish purposes. This is very common in today’s politics. If politics were a game, maybe we can call it Truth or Consequence.

One of the very first things the newly-minted Philippine President Noynoy Aquino did after being sworn to office was to establish a Truth Commission, which would look into allegations of corruption during the last administration. True or not, it is public knowledge that the previous term of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is littered with scandalous contracts like the bungled national broadband network (NBN) deal with China’s ZTE Corp. and the so-called P700-million fertilizer scam.

President Noynoy Aquino in his inaugural speech said he would adopt the “justice with reconciliation” policy of his late mother, former President Corazon Aquino. Towards the end of her term, however, President Cory Aquino failed to prosecute anyone for participation in any government anomaly, especially during the repressive and corrupt Marcos regime.

Perhaps, it would serve the new president well to learn from recent history. Upon assuming the presidency in 1998, Joseph Estrada created his own fact-finding commission to investigate alleged anomalous transactions that went into the Centennial projects undertaken by his immediate predecessor, former President Fidel V. Ramos.

After the Philippine Senate turned over its findings and recommendations on the Centennial projects, Estrada found himself caught in a web of political intrigues and battles with Ramos, ending in Estrada’s ouster from office in the EDSA 2 People Power Revolution in January 2001. We hope that Noynoy Aquino’s Truth Commission will not suffer the same consequence.

The search for the truth doesn’t always end with the results we want. There could be power struggles among protagonists who would rather hide the truth, so they try to mask the truth with lies. Or in some cases, they ignore the real truth and substitute it with another, which is not necessarily true but enough to keep the masses at bay and prevent them from waging an uprising. Or, perhaps staging a peaceful People Power Revolution like the ones we have witnessed in the Philippines every time there is a national political crisis.

In smaller organizations, though, the truth could yield a different and totally surprising matrix of consequences. Emotions are usually more intense when friendship or fellowship is involved. When someone is exposed, say, his avowed claims about his credentials for acceptance in the group have been uncovered, his friends in high places with whom he has made some favourable impression would rally to keep him, instead of embracing the truth that he had lied to get into the group. It is even worse when the same person has the habit of hurling obscenity, profanity and malice towards those whom he deems as his enemies, an aberrant behaviour that is not condoned by many, if not by the group’s code of conduct. Put the situation in a public forum, and no one would be willing or be brave enough to deplore such behaviour, either for fear of being ostracized or being considered an outsider.

Sometimes, the truth becomes a vulnerable casualty of our moral deficit, our seeming lack of probity just to keep the fellowship of those we idolize and put onto a pedestal even for vacuous reasons. For instance, some would prefer the company of an upstart or a fake, someone who feigns intelligence or puts up a front to cover for their shallowness. It is not surprising to find a number of these types in many organizations. In most cases, the life of a party is a clown or a buffoon. Many would prefer the buffoon or show-off to someone who doesn’t flaunt and tend to be more inward-looking.

This moral deficit is the cause of the loss of civility in this modern age. We have replaced social feeling with defensiveness, with being in the company of like-minded people who would circle their wagons around petty concepts of identity and commonality of interests. We tend to put barriers against others we don’t see eye to eye. We fragment ourselves into subgroups armed with abrasive self-boosterism and disregard of others.

Some of us have lost what Goethe called the “courtesy of the heart.” There are some in our midst who disrespect the value of the individual and the rights of people different from themselves. As a consequence, we become malevolent and fill ourselves with ill will because we fall short of our estimation of our own self-worth. The defences we put up become the walls that keep us from seeing the total picture.

Truth-telling is the most fundamental tenet of life in general. It makes sense that the moral functioning of any individual and society as a whole is enhanced by the truth. But since every aspect of our lives has been touched by almost everything around us, whether these be institutions, values, religious beliefs, fads, gadgets, friends or idols, the truth has mutated under their influence or effect on us. As pervasive as truth is, oftentimes it is not so clearly defined. We tend to be subjective, accepting the truth or falsity of propositions depending on what we believe, rather than hold our truths in an objective and fair-minded way, independent of our beliefs or sensibilities.

In smaller groups, we tend to accept as true those that are held in common by virtue of mutual affection, admiration and association. We believe in someone, for instance, because he is cool, hip or tech-savvy, and tend to ignore that person’s predilection for insincerity and pretence. And so we defend fiercely these deeply-held convictions, even foreswear good manners—a vital cog in healthy relationships—over what is the real truth and its consequences.

Civility is paramount in the pursuit of truth. Although conflict is endemic to the human condition, it rests upon us to manage it in such a way that we allow reason to prevail, instead of warping it to inflict pain on others. Over the long haul, hiding or masking the truth to protect our injured egos has dire consequences. Without the light of truth, we will be lost in the dark recesses of our own lies and deceptions. Not seeing the other side but our own—a consequence of our human frailty—will sink us further into our fear of acknowledging what is true and noble, what defines us as truly human and humane beings.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Noynoy Aquino’s inaugural speech: All sentiment, no substance

One consolation for Philippine President Noynoy Aquino after making his inaugural speech is that most inaugurals are often forgotten almost as they are delivered, with only a few surviving the test of time and becoming part of history and literature. Even U.S. President Barack Obama, a highly accomplished orator and speaker, failed to set the tone of his administration during his inauguration with the famed rhetoric and oratory people had expected from him.

Obama’s inauguration speech was deemed by some well-meaning critics as realistic but not soaring, with very few truly memorable pieces of phraseology, no Kennnedy-esque or Rooseveltian quotations for the ages.

It would be asking too much of Noynoy Aquino to deliver a soaring acceptance speech like that of a Ferdinand Marcos or a Manuel Quezon. Noynoy is not an orator and does not pretend to be one.

As the spokesman of the new president said before the inauguration, Noynoy’s speech will be short, clear, and straight to the point. It was said that Noynoy Aquino wrote the speech himself and made nine revisions to it.

Repeating his social contract with the Filipino people which he pledged during the campaign, Noynoy for the umpteenth time, defines the foundation of his administration: “If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor.” Then he rattled off his series of “No mores” such as no more junkets, no more senseless spending, no more influence peddling, no more patronage politics, no more stealing, no more sirens (“wala ng wangwang”), no more short cuts, and no more bribes.

Noynoy Aquino’s inaugural speech hardly sets the tone or the vision for his government, something we all reasonably expect from an incoming president. Instead of taking the opportunity to articulate his administration’s goals, policy and philosophy, Noynoy simply wallows with populist sentiments and vapid rhetoric with meaningless promises, which, to the minds of those who have heard such empty words, will inevitably be broken anyway.

The new president did not offer much of a window through which one can examine the change of political power in the Philippines. On the contrary, Noynoy Aquino’s speech merely signals the continuation of the failed policies of previous administrations, starting from his own mother’s presidency. It seems obvious that Noynoy Aquino has not learned a valuable lesson from her mother’s uneasy tenure as president.

Appointing to the cabinet the same economic managers who presided over the country’s dismal economic performance during the Cory Aquino presidency ensures the perpetuation of deregulation, tariff liberalization and privatizations. These are the same economic policies continued during the Fidel Ramos presidency and consolidated under the presidencies of Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which constitute the main reason for the country’s economic malaise.

While Cory Aquino reinstated the democratic institutions of free elections, representative government, free press and other civil liberties after the fall of the Marcos repressive dictatorship, her legacy, however, will be forever tainted by the missteps taken by her economic policy advisers. Not only did her economic managers surrender to the demands of the International Monetary Fund and large U.S. banks, they were also responsible for laying the groundwork for deregulation, tariff liberalization and privatization that continued with succeeding administrations.

Foreign debt repayment became the national economic priority of the Cory Aquino presidency, an onerous burden caused by the Marcos regime. Debt servicing had been institutionalized in the Automatic Appropriations Act. This means that the repayment of debt must have the first cut in the annual government budget. During the current economic recession, this policy has drastic consequences because it limits what the government could spend in order to stimulate the economy. Noynoy Aquino will be naturally burdened with the consequences of this policy of servicing foreign debt that was laid down by his mother’s administration, with the help and advice of her economic stalwarts some of whom are now in the new president’s cabinet.

Noynoy Aquino must face the fact that there are now more poor people in the Philippines than at any other time in its history. That this is not simply because of corruption but due to misguided economic policies. The country cannot well afford to have more of the same in the next six years if President Noynoy is serious about delivering the Filipino people from the throes of poverty.

The correlation between corruption and poverty, especially by this present administration, is overblown. No one disagrees with Noynoy Aquino’s assertion that if no one is corrupt, no one will be poor. But this kind of association is ineffectual as a prescription for dealing with the country’s fundamental problem of poverty. Moral leadership is not necessarily a sufficient condition for successful leadership and governance. Foolhardy policies are, and smart and well-groomed technocrats have been responsible for more poverty than corrupt politicians.

If the presidency of Noynoy Aquino does not reverse the course from the structural adjustment policies of the last 30 years, we will never rise from the economic havoc these policies have created. We will continue to witness debt repayment, huge cutbacks in government spending, trade and financial liberalization, privatization and deregulation and export-oriented production.

Unfortunately, President Noynoy Aquino’s inaugural speech only provided us with some glimmer of hope, mostly on the issues of justice and political reform, and almost without hope in uplifting the majority of our countrymen from the quagmire of poverty.

Some would plea to give the new president a chance. See what happens after the first 100 days, they say. As if that is all the time needed to solve our country’s pressing problems.