02 March 2015

The Opportunity for the President is There

President Aquino III
Whatever President Benigno Aquino III does from now on will be scrutinized, dissected and criticized by those who have grand political ambition in the 2016 national election. These ambitious politicians will use all the available options at their disposal to gain power by discrediting the present administration.

Unfortunately for them, most Filipinos are now much more aware of their political environment compared to the time when President Ferdinand Marcos was able to dupe everyone into accepting the false pretentions of Martial Law. They know that President Aquino did not pocket a single public fund to build ‘white elephant’ projects, throw lavish parties for Hollywood stars or enrich political cronies like the former dictator.

Filipinos also cannot ignore the impact of better governance reforms which led to raise the country’s Transparency International’s rank from 134th, trailing Nigeria, when President Aquino took office, to 94th. The Philippines can also boast the international-grade credit ratings to prove it.

However, there is much more that needs to be done in the next two years. Efforts need to go on overdrive to unravel the deep-seated corruption that took hold during the terms of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada. The good-governance revolution needs to continue despite earlier judicial setbacks, scandals and public discontent.

When President Aquino delivered his State of the National Address (SONA), it is clear that he will not take everything thrown against him sitting down. But he needs to do it fast and convince the middle class, which still comprises the largest bulk of the population, that he really means business.

In the next two years, the President has enough time to institutionalize the reforms and prevent succeeding administrations from untangling the achievements that turned this economy from a punchline into an investment darling. This could mean that the government needs to expand further its efforts to curb the corruption than siphons off so many of the spoils of today's 5.7 percent growth rate.

The President must go further to strengthen the national balance sheet; increase competitiveness; improve transparency; invest in education; upgrade infrastructure for industries from energy to tourism; broaden population-control efforts; and ease limits on foreign ownership to woo more investment. These are not simple tasks. President Aquino needs to wield stronger commitment than he has shown so far despite the waning popularity and approval ratings.

We all know that fixing the economy is not a six-year job. However, the President has a good chance to lay down the foundation for economic restructuring. He will lose some friends in doing so. It will also entail huge political costs. However, the window of opportunity is there if he is willing to take it.