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.

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