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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Legacies and lessons for the next government

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“The current administration benefitted from the sound policy and velocity of economic growth of the PNoy administration.”


It’s been 38 years since that fateful day on August 21, 1983, when Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. was assassinated by his military captors at the tarmac of what was then the Manila International Airport. This tragic moment in history awakened the nation in what was globally branded as the peaceful “People Power” revolution that toppled the Marcos dictatorship.

Almost four decades later, being old enough to have been an active participant as an activist and a citizen, I ask the question: Are we any better?

Looking back, to build forward was the apt theme of the Stratbase ADR Institute’s (ADRi) latest virtual town hall discussion that gathered highly respected cabinet members of the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III. They discussed the lessons, legacy reforms, and relevant strategies that were found to be strategically relevant to a new government in 2022.

Former Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio “Babes” Singson showed how Filipinos and this administration are benefiting from PNoy-led reforms that rejected the strong influence of political dynasties in the distribution of developmental programs by adopting the 5R management mantra of Right Projects, Right Cost, Right Quality, Right on Time, and Implemented by the Right People.

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Under his watch, the High Standard Highway Master Plan to connect Metro Manila all the way north to Tarlac and South to Batangas and Quezon was put in place, the upgraded standards for construction and school buildings were upgraded, and 18,000 kms of national roads were improved.

Moreover, they developed the Master Plan for flood control in Metro Manila under which 12,000 flood control projects were built from Navotas to Bulacan and the river wall along the Pasig-Marikina River. More than 35,000 classrooms were built to address the classroom gap. Many high standard highway projects that are still ongoing are the NAIA expressway, Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union expressway, NLEX Harbor Link, Skyway 3, and the Plaridel Bypass.

According to Former NEDA Director-General, Secretary Manny Esguerra, during PNoy’s watch, economic growth was sustained at 6.3 percent. By six-year moving averages since the 1970s, this is the highest across presidential terms because of “the higher quality of growth, which was propelled by sound fundamentals, accompanied by structural changes rather than being debt-ridden.”

“The favorable investment climate was generally due to the reforms to increase productivity. A testament to that is the improvement in the Philippines’ global rankings in the Global Competitiveness Index, the Economic Freedom Index, Ease of Doing Business, and the Corruption Perceptions Index,” Sec. Esguerra said.

Former Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, for his part, said, “I think the one critical factor was the leadership provided by a determined, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and decent president, as exemplified by President Noynoy Aquino.”

Other factors that Sec. Abad highlighted were the “experienced, dedicated, and very respectable people” in the cabinet, the openness to working with the civil society, the private sector, the academe, multilateral institutions and international NGOs, the willingness to be set performance against global governance standards, and openness to innovations in new technology to improve efficiency.

“The People’s Budget, open data, Seal of Good Housekeeping, participatory audits, budget partnership agreements, and of course, bottom-up budgeting, I think, put together, contributed immensely to what was achieved during those six years in terms of promoting greater transparency, accountability and reducing significantly the corruption in government,” Sec. Abad said.

Former Energy and Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Gregorio Almendras said that every program was about addressing the issue of poverty through job generation.

“Why was PPP an option? Because President Aquino decided we would be better off spending our money on social services rather than building all these other infrastructure projects which clearly the private sector could do.” Sec. Almendras said.

Former Foreign Affairs Secretary, Amb. Albert del Rosario, maintained that PNoy’s greatest legacy to the nation is the Award on the South China Sea Arbitration rendered on July 12, 2016 by the Tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

“Securing the Award had been the centerpiece of foreign policy during President Aquino’s administration, and the Award will continue to be a centerpiece of Philippine foreign and security policy for the next administrations,” Amb. del Rosario said.

ADRi President Prof. Dindo Manhit stated: “Contrasting the practices, policies, and results of the Duterte administration with those of the Aquino administration could be a source of lessons.”

“Through the preservation and the promotion of a democratic way of life, a democracy with integrity and decency in government, public participation, transparency, and dynamism for social and institutional reforms is what we need,” Prof. Manhit said.

It is clear that the current administration benefitted from the sound policy and velocity of economic growth of the PNoy administration. All these will continue to be relevant beyond this administration. The stark difference in leadership character, polarizing stance and irreverent demeanor of the President greatly diminishes confidence that we need to defeat this protracted crisis.

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