[Opinion] An exhausted presidency

In one of the forum where I was invited as one of the resource persons on the topic about the Arroyo administration and the current political situation, one of the participants shoot a question during the interaction which was addressed to me. The young woman inquired about my honest assessment of Mrs. Arroyo’s nine-year term and requested if I could encapsulate my description in a phrase.

It took me a few seconds to formulate into words a description about Mrs. Arroyo’s presidency into a single phrase which made the crowd burst into laughter. I retorted that, indeed, it seemed indescribable given the fact that her administration is characterized by almost everything that is contrary to the idea and principles of what the government should be.

Among the post-EDSA People Power 1 government, the Arroyo administration stands out as one with an exhausted presidency. All in all, it is Mrs. Arroyo among post EDSA regimes which occupied Malacañang the longest – 2001 to 2004 – following the ouster of Joseph Estrada in 2001 through an elite-led popular uprising. Mrs. Arroyo clinched a fresh six-year term after bagging the 2004 presidential election through a “Hello Garci” operation which sealed her victory via a simple phone call to ensure and guard her votes to the infamous former Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of the Commission on Elections.

Mrs. Arroyo’s term is scheduled to end in June 2010 yet renewed attempts to amend the 1987 Philippine Constitution through the unpopular scheme of constituent assembly remains hanging in the House of Representatives. This puts the possibility for the Arroyo administration to maneuver for a term extension or to shift to a parliamentary government. Whichever is legally doable and less costly for the administration is a possibility especially when political developments on the road to the 2010 national elections would prove unfavorable to the administration party headed by no less than Mrs. Arroyo.

While key cabinet officials such as Commissioner Jaime Jacob of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo have expressed that they are out to support Sen. Noynoy Aquino’s bid for the presidency in 2010 and their resignation is forthcoming, the Arroyo administration remains in authority and its capacity to consolidate power remains undiminished and can never be underestimated. This is best illustrated in the many attempts to unseat her from power undertaken within and outside her regime by the rightists.

This configuration will only change the moment her main strategists and tacticians will bolt-out from the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD. As of the moment, they remain in the inner sanctum of the administration machinery monitoring all the political possibilities and tendencies 24-7.

Although everything seemed possible and well for the Arroyo administration in the political front, the economic figures has never been to her favor despite its pump priming program through an array of tax and revenue measures as suggested by her technocrats in the bureaucracy. This is captured when Budget Chief Rolando Andaya expressed alarm and disappointment on the collection shortfall of the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

Budget Chief Rolando Andaya hailed the efforts that the Arroyo administration has implemented to boost revenues, yet looking closely, Mrs. Arroyo’s performance is considered the worst among post-EDSA regimes as far as revenue-to-GDP is concerned. Data from the Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) reveal that it only scored 15.51% from 2001 to 2008, which is less than Corazon Aquino’s 15.53% (1986-1991), Fidel Ramos’ 18.8% (1992-1997), and Joseph Estrada’s 16.3% (1998-2000).

These, in spite of the fact, that the Arroyo administration is the major seller of government assets among the post EDSA-1 regimes. In the list of FDC, state-owned assets privatized or intended to be privatized includes the 120-hectare Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) in Taguig City (P15 billion), the Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corp. (P25.2 billion), the 20% stake in Philippine National Oil Company-Energy Development Corp. (P16.6 billion), the 4.6% stake in Philippine National Bank (P998 million), and the stakes in San Miguel Corp. (P50 billion) and Manila Electric Co. (P10 billion), and the 54-hectare old Iloilo Airport property (P1.2 billion).

Not to mention is the ballooning debt collected by the Arroyo administration during her term which was aimed to finance government projects, pre-pay existing debts, and augment annual budget deficits.

Indeed, these limited considerations would put one in a difficult situation when asked to describe the performance of the current administration in a single phrase. Likewise, it would be unimaginable to describe Mrs. Arroyo’s regime with all the details regarding the performance of her administration in all the aspects of government operations. However, the inequities and inadequacies of the Arroyo regime have definitely raised the consciousness of the Filipino people making them more aware of what government should not and what it should be. (Sun.Star Iloilo Online, 22 September 2009)

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