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Parang bulalakaw?

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Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and his allies must have thought it was time to take the counter-offensive following another decline in President Benigno S. Aquino III’s approval rating. After keeping a low profile in the first year of Aquino’s tenure, Arroyo suddenly held a press conference to blast her successor for the latter’s alleged lack of leadership and allegedly questionable economic policies which, she said, has eroded the economic gains during her administration.

At a news conference in her home turf in Lubao, Pampanga, Arroyo said: “Today a year later, the economy is still benefiting from that sustainable growth but this is not to say that there are no danger signs, there are danger signs.”

“The economy that I left was very strong at the time there was a global crisis, now when the rest of Asia is recovering our economy is decelerating, so that’s the problem. One columnist said this is the characterization of ‘nobody home,’ that there may be danger lurking ahead for our economy,” she said.

I can only explain Arroyo’s guts to make this statement, without blinking an eye, as follows: 1) she’s in a continued state of denial; 2) she’s lying as usual; 3) or both of the above.

But Arroyo’s counter-offensive may have been launched too early because she brought attention to herself at a time when Aquino was busy with something else. The day after Arroyo’s press conference, PCSO chairman Maggie Juico revealed alleged anomalies in the government lottery agency involving P4 billion that led to Arroyo. Unwittingly, Arroyo set herself as a target for the Aquino administration’s verbal attacks.

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, who is more credible than Aquino’s four spokespersons, snapped back at Arroyo: “The first question that comes to mind is what gains? The people’s gains or her gains? Prudent expenditures took a backseat to political survival and political patronage during the previous administration.”

Abad then went on to mention some of the budget anomalies in the Arroyo administration.

“The previous administration left us with our largest projected fiscal deficit to date of P325-billion or 3.9 percent of gross domestic product. Is she saying that is sustainable?” Abad said. He added that when Aquino took over in July 2010, more than 60 percent of the P1.541-trillion national budget of 2010 had already been disbursed by the Arroyo administration that left his new administration with just 40 percent to survive its first semester in office. He added that 70 percent of the P2-billion calamity fund in 2010 had also been used up by the Arroyo administration during the first half of the year, or even before the typhoon season had started.

Expect another word war, this time between Aquino’s spokespersons and Arroyo’s lackeys. It seems Aquino’s spokespersons love to trade barbs with their boss’ critics, from the bishops to the Chinese. In fact, as I write this, presidential deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte is engaging Arroyo’s most avid defender, Zambales Rep. Mila Magsaysay, in a word battle in Twitter.

Like a choir taking a cue from their maestro’s baton, a handful of Arroyo’s allies almost simultaneously took a dig at Aquino after the results of the latest Social Weather Station survey showed another 5-point drop in the President’s net approval rating – from “very good” at 51 percent, to just “good” at 46 percent.

Rep. Ignacio Arroyo said, “P-Noy’s disapproval increased due to the mismanagement of the economy. We are leaderless, so to speak.”

Magsaysay said: “He has not done anything concrete that will positively affect their lives. PNoy was too focused on politicking and hitting back at his detractors and political enemies that he forgot to govern. He has not curbed rising prices, address the concerns of the business sector promote job generation curb hunger and poverty, establish a road map we can all work on, and failed to fulfill his promises especially ‘daang matuwid’ as he continues to coddle with the wrongdoings of his allies and subordinates. The CCT program failed to curb poverty and was not seen as a solution to address the concern of their sector.”

Rep. Mikey Arroyo said Aquino’s KKK (kaklase, kaibigan, kabarilan) was obviously one of the major reasons the President’s rating has dropped.

But it was not just Arroyo and his allies who had words against Aquino following the ratings drop. The party-list militants, led by Rep. Teddy Casino and Rep. Noli Colmenares of Bayan Muna, said Aquino is beginning to sound like Arroyo, touting his alleged economic achievements that have not really benefited the people.

Both Casiño and Colmenares blamed Aquino’s alleged failure to go after officials of the Arroyo administration, as well as his alleged failure to alleviate poverty for his declining numbers.

“Actually PNoy’s ratings have nowhere to go but down considering that his economic policies are just the same with that of Gloria’s. He just changed privatization to PPPs and Gloria’s dole-outs to conditional transfers and that’s it. Human rights violations still persist and corruption continues. Although I commend his stance to impeach the Ombudsman, the 7/10 positive rating of PNoy based on the Pulse Asia survey will surely go down if he does not reverse his economic policy which only favors big and foreign businesses and not the ordinary people, come out strong against human rights violations and decisively deal with his friends in government involved in irregularities,” Colmenares said.

Two bishops chimed in their own criticism of Aquino, saying that he has continuously whined about corruption in the Arroyo government but has not done anything to pursue the allegations and punish the guilty.

“Knowledge about the evil should not end in knowing evil,” said Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes over Church-run Radio Veritas on Monday. “Instead, the [present government] must find solutions to the problem or come up with concrete actions to punish the evil,” he added.

Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iñiguez, head of the public affairs committee of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, added: “We’ve already heard so many accusations like this, this is no longer new [so] it would be better, with this information or allegations, for the present government to look into it seriously and take the necessary actions,” said Iñiguez.

But the biggest criticism came from Aquino’s ally, House Deputy Speaker and Liberal Party spokesman Rep. Lorenzo Tanada, who attributed the President’s declining popularity to a “lack of clear direction, coherent economic road map and failure to stop the increase in the prices of basic commodities such as petroleum products.”

Aquino can no longer ignore these criticisms nor the continuous decline in his approval and popularity ratings. After one year of “lack of direction,” as Tanada puts it, and a murky “daang matuwid,” as Casino and the others describe it, Aquino has to show a strong sense of leadership and a clear sense of direction in his promised goals of curbing corruption and alleviating poverty.

Aquino’s drop in popularity could have come at a faster pace if not for his firm stand against the Catholic Church to push the Reproductive Health Bill, but even this has become suspect because after all the hoopla, the measure is back to oblivion, perhaps to gather dust in Congress again for another 12 years.

The same has been true for Aquino’s other causes. He accused Arroyo of various anomalies from Day One, but after one year, Arroyo has yet to stand trial. His internal revenue commissioner charged Arroyo’s son, Mikey, and his wife of tax evasion, but nothing has been heard about it since. The Senate and the House were making progress in the investigation of Gen. Carlos Garcia, the former military comptroller, but Garcia still has to be convicted and jailed.

Aquino cancelled all projects that were suspected to be disadvantageous to the government, but stopped short of filing charges against those believed to be responsible for the allegedly onerous deals. In the meantime, all those projects remain in suspended animation, and foreign investors wouldn’t touch us with a 10-foot pole because contracts entered into by the Philippine government have become unreliable. The Laguna Lake dreding, for example, cannot be started because Aquino had cancelled an P18-billion contract with a Belgian firm, raising protests from Belgium and the European Union.

Aquino forced the resignation of an obviously biased Ombudsman, but has not appointed a no-nonsense replacement until now.

It has all been what the late kundiman king Ruben Tagalog called “bulalakaw” or meteor – “biglang kislap, bigla ring nawala” – there one minute, gone the next. Or what Filipinos call ningas kugon, a blaze that burns out just as soon as it is ignited.

That’s the problem with high expectations. If you fail to deliver fast, the drop is just as fast. In only one year, Aquino has not shown signs of delivering on the expectations he had given to the people during the campaign. And in only one year, his flash is beginning to fade.

“Parang bulalakaw,” as Ruben Tagalog would say.

By Val G. Abelgas




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