A business columnist on Monday praised President Aquino for getting the economy moving despite a lack of vision and failure to let more foreign investments come in during his administration.
Speaking to ANC, Wallace Business Forum founder and president Peter Wallace said Aquino has done well for a leader who had no interest in the presidency a year before the May 2010 elections.
“It is very interesting. He came into the presidency unexpectedly. He was not someone who had been driven with ambition to get there. He fell into it, right? Normally to get to the top, you have to fight to get there. He didn’t have to fight. It was handed to him. Cory [Aquino] died and there you are. It’s yours,” he said, referring to the death of former president Cory Aquino in August 2009.
Wallace said President Benigno Aquino III was very reluctant when he took over in 2010 after nine years of an Arroyo presidency.
He said that despite Aquino’s reluctance, he settled into the leadership role and did well in the past five years.
“He has done well. The thing that surprises me though is he has done well by doing nothing. I am exaggerating a bit there but he has not taken a leadership role in a visionary way that I would have liked. Nonetheless he has appealed. He’s got the economy moving. He has business confidence,” he said.
Wallace said one reason that the Aquino administration has done so well is a reaction to the previous Arroyo administration “where everyone was so disillusioned and wanted a change.”
“So he came out and he came out as a decent person, as a good man and we wanted to help him because he was a good man. It was not so much that he came in with a drive, with the things that had to be done and doing them but that we have a new environment today in which we can do business,” he said.
Government officials and analysts say the Philippine economy had some of its best years under President Aquino, who campaigned on an anti-corruption platform and won the 2010 elections with an overwhelming mandate.
From 2010 when he assumed power to 2014, the country’s economy-measured through the gross domestic product or the total value of all goods and services-grew by an average of 6.3 percent.
“That’s the highest five-year average we have had in 40 years. If we sustain that growth for this year, the six-year average growth for the country would be the highest we have had since the 1950’s,” said Secretary Arsenio Balisacan, director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority.
“We never had it this good in the Philippines, at least for the Philippine economy.”
Although growth slowed down in the first quarter of 2015, largely due to government under-spending, officials believe a recovery is in the horizon.
TRICKLE DOWN EFFECT
On the other hand, Wallace confirmed that economic growth has not trickled down to the poorest sector in the country despite government efforts to reach them through the conditional cash transfer.
Wallace said the number of unemployed and poor families is about the same as five years ago. “That is where the non-inclusive comes from.”
He said the 6.3 percent annual economic growth has not trickled down to the general public. “Too many people have not been brought out of poverty,” he said.
The $6 billion in foreign direct investments in the Philippines is also the lowest in Asia, he said.
The latest Social Weather Stations survey reveals self-rated poverty or the number of families who consider themselves poor is at 51 percent or an average of 11.2 million families in the second quarter of 2015.
Self-rated poverty was at 48% in September 2010 right after President Aquino took over his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Self-rated poverty also hit a high of 55% in March 2012, December 2013 and September 2014.
Wallace said the conditional cash transfer program has been an effective interim solution to reduce poverty but government needs to do more by creating jobs.
“The eventual goal is to create a job, not give a handout,” he said.
He said one problem with the current administration is that it has failed to open up public utilities to foreign investors, which could bring in billions of dollars.
He said that while President Aquino has made it clear that he does not want amendments to the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution, he failed to explain and invite debate on why this is the best solution for the country.
“This is one of the things that bothers me in this society, that we have this hierarchical concept in culture where the boss is always right and you don’t disagree with the boss. I have talked to Cabinet secretaries and they say ‘Peter, don’t touch it. The President doesn’t want it.’ The society where I came from – we would argue like hell with our boss if we didn’t agree with him because we want to come to a best solution. I think he has a responsibility to tell us why he won’t make the change, right? He can’t just say I don’t want it because I am the boss. He has to say I don’t want it – here are the reasons why,” he said.
Wallace said another challenge that the Aquino administration has failed to address is the lack of a department handling the ICT sector.
He said the IT sector has grown 40 percent since last year, with many young people getting good jobs in call centers and other business process outsourcing companies.
“We are now number 1 in the world [in call centers] and we have no department to look after it,” he said.
He said that to remove a bloated bureaucracy, the government should consider scrapping the Department of Transportation and Communications. He said the communications portfolio could be handled by a newly formed Department of Information and Communications Technology while the transportation portfolio could be given to the Department of Public Works and Highways.
A bill to pass a DICT has already passed on third reading in the Senate.