The first 100 days of any administration are unique – this is the moment of transition from the old government, and the new administration is at the height of its optimism, trust and popularity. These are all vital political capital for reform.
What it does in the first 100 days is not necessarily final for the remaining six years and, to be sure, just so much can be realistically done in so short a time. Yet the first 100 days offer important insight into the character of the new administration and go far in establishing the directions of governance.
At this point, the new Aquino administration is showing few signs of conviction and a real reform agenda. It has not used its first 100 days to establish any real momentum for the economic and political reform that the country has long needed– belying its promise of real change.
In terms of national economic policy, the administration must aim for more democratic outcomes and more inclusive growth. But the Aquino administration’s economic directions are wanting; redistributive wealth and asset reforms have not been placed on its agenda, with a striking low priority for real land reform. Hacienda Luisita is perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of Pres. Aquino to underscore the sincerity of his administration in bringing about agrarian change and social justice; the administration has not put a stop to non-land-distributive methods such as the stock distribution option and continues to ignore the clamor of peasants for genuine land reform.
The US $434-million Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) grant for the Philippines to fight corruption which was signed last Sept. 23 in the US as witnessed by Aquino and Hillary Clinton requires the Philippines to meet certain indicators such as open trade, economic freedom, good governance, adherence to human rights, etc. to continue receiving the ‘grant’. To qualify for support, recipient countries are required to implement neoliberal economic and political policies such as opening up the economy to foreign capital and minimizing government intervention. It must be pointed out that the MCC grant was negotiated and practically clinched during the Arroyo administration’s term. That it was officially signed under the Aquino government only highlights the fact that the US sees in the new government the perpetuation and even strengthening of national economic, political, and military policies that kowtow to US agenda at the expense of Philippine sovereignty. Moreover, projects under the MCC are criticized as part of military’s counterinsurgency campaign thereby shortcutting the process of achieving sustainable and lasting peace.
More alarming is the administration’s declaration that that it will pursue as many free trade agreements as possible – such as an EU-RP trade deal and the TransPacific Partnership with the US. Despite his track record of voting against the one-sided Japan-Philippine Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA) when he was senator in 2008, Aquino is now pushing for similar and even potentially worse free trade agreements with other countries. The EU-RP trade deal, for instance, will even unavoidably be “WTO+” or entail commitments even far beyond those the country has already made in the World Trade Organization (WTO). Moreover, the US has made overtones on the need for Charter change (Cha-cha) if the Philippines is serious in pushing for free trade deals.
The proposed 2011 national government budget currently being deliberated in Congress demonstrates a lack of priority for the people’s fundamental needs: there are alarming cuts in the budgets for health and education (especially for state colleges and universities) and scant allocation for housing and local rice procurement. In contrast, the executive branch allotted a huge budget for defense and also to pump-prime private-public partnerships (PPPs), which Pres. Aquino has promised in his inaugural speech will be cost-free for the government. Lastly as in the past administrations, a huge portion of the proposed national budget is allotted for debt servicing.
Aquino, in a renewed bid to fast track financing, construction, and operation of vital government infrastructure, signed Executive Order (EO) No. 8 to attract foreign capital and give them guaranteed and almost unlimited opportunities to profit from the country’s infrastructure. The much-hyped yet not-so-novel PPP is unmindful of the country’s experience with privatization. Among others, the incessant rate hikes in utilities such as power and water as well as the looming increases in toll fees and MRT/LRT fare are bitter results of previous and current PPP initiatives.
Even as it promised not to impose new taxes, the Aquino administration has pushed for additional tax burden such as through collection of the 12% VAT on toll, which is supposedly allowed under the reformed value-added tax (RVAT) law but the previous Arroyo administration refused to implement. Its much-hyped campaign to run after tax evaders, which has supposedly netted some big fish, avoids confronting the largest local and foreign businesses. The Commission on Audit (COA) for instance, recently revealed that big foreign firms Shell and Chevron have not been paying due income taxes from its Malampaya operations. All these show that the administration continues to rely on regressive taxes that unduly burden the country’s poor while avoiding taxes on the rich.
Instead of a long-term, productive, and sustainable poverty alleviation program, Aquino continues Pres. Arroyo’s conditional cash transfers (CCT) program, which is a dole-out program that only tends to obscure the underlying reasons behind lack of access to education and health and overall poverty of the people. In the end, the CCT is a waste of resources, especially because it is funded by foreign debt, which will be repaid with interest.
Lastly, the hyped anti-corruption stance of the Aquino administration has yet to really manifest. There is no sense of determination nor urgency in going after former Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo for her administration’s accumulated corruption charges and electoral fraud. The supposed anti-corruption drive also does not show in its revenue generation for the coming year, which remains poor.
The new administration has so far fell short in crafting concrete steps towards real change in its first 100 days. It is thus urgent for Pres. Aquino to immediately reveal his vision for the country, present a viable program for development, and prove that he has the ability to rally the people according to their genuine interests.