ON DISTANT SHORE
By Val G. Abelgas
The appointment of two Liberal Party stalwarts to highly sensitive Cabinet posts signals the start of a three-year long campaign of President Aquino’s party to hold on to Malacanang for six more years after Aquino’s term expires in 2016.
Last week, Aquino named LP president Mar Roxas, his running mate in the 2010 elections, as head of the powerful Department of Interior and Local Governments, replacing the late Secretary Jesse Robredo. Aquino also named leading LP member Cavite Rep. Joseph E. A. Abaya as secretary of the equally sensitive Department of Transportation and Communications, replacing Roxas.
While very few question the capabilities of both Roxas and Abaya, many correctly pointed out that the appointments were tied to next year’s senatorial and local elections and the 2016 presidential elections.
“An LP member positioned in such a key government position as the DILG is crucial for their party’s ambitions for 2013 and 2016,” said San Juan Rep. JV Ejercito, who is expected to run as one of the senatorial candidates of the rival United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).
President Aquino’s party “is apparently maximizing their being in power by ensuring that powerful portfolios are given to their party mates,” he said.
In saying so, Ejercito was stating the obvious. President Benigno S. Aquino III is, after all, a politician. He grew up in a political environment, his late father Sen. Ninoy Aquino having aimed for the presidency all his political life; his late mother President Cory Aquino having campaigned for the presidency herself during the snap election against the late President Marcos; and his uncles – former Representatives Peping and Danding Cojuangco and Jose Yap – having been veterans of numerous political campaigns.
Aquino knows he has to retain control of both the Senate and Congress to push his reform agenda in the last three years of his tenure. He also knows that he has to have control and influence over the thousands of local officials to succeed as president.
He has to make sure he has loyal allies in those two important departments – the DILG and the DOTC – to boost the chances of his party mates and coalition members in both the 2013 and 2016 elections.
Like all politicians, Aquino will do everything in his power to make sure his party or coalition wins in the midterm elections next year. It is not difficult to understand, therefore, that Malacanang has submitted a P2-trillion national budget that, according to civil society groups, include P282.4 billion in “hidden and vague budget allocations for bonuses, dole and other activities that do not create employment.”
Social Watch Philippines and Alternative Budget Initiative demanded that the government disclose the “nitty gritty” of the P2-trillion national budget for 2013 for the sake of transparency.
Earlier, Agham Rep. Angelo Palmones and Kabataan Rep. Raymond Palatino characterized the 2013 spending plan as “an election budget” that included an allocation of P60.4 billion to hire 164,230 new state workers starting in 2013, an election year.
The groups also pointed to a sudden spike in the retirement benefits fund in the Special Purpose Fund, to P98.7 billion in 2013 from P34.4 billion in 2012. “Have a significant number of government employees, civil servants and military personnel retired all at the same time? What is the rationale for this?” they asked.
The two groups also questioned the P22.4 billion allocation for Priority Social Economic Project Funds, a new budget item, when the government had already earmarked P56 billion for the Department of Social Welfare and Development of which around P44 billion would go to the conditional cash transfer program, which has been criticized as a straight dole.
Aside from these special purpose funds, the two groups also questioned the inclusion of P117.54 billion un-programmed funds for 2013 and a huge budget for “Personal Services.”
All these special funds sound familiar, except that during the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, the allocations were in the form of agricultural incentives, including the controversial P728-million fertilizer fund, the P218.7-million budget for hybrid rice, certified seeds, farm inputs and fertilizers for farmers in four regions during the 2007 mid-term elections, the P2-billion swine fund, and the P3.1-billion irrigation fund. These election funds also took the form of hundreds of millions of pesos from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) and the Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) for supposed health and other programs for the poor.
Why is it that during election years, special funds such as the above pad the national budget? Why is it that the Aquino administration under-spent in the first two years resulting in budget surplus and slow economic growth, and then suddenly is willing to accumulate a big budget deficit during an election year?
Have Aquino and his allies found it convenient to take a little turn from the “daang matuwid” for political expendiency?
Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, another LP stalwart, has a lot of explaining to do in the coming budget deliberations. The Filipino people have to be vigilant and listen to his explanation.
If Aquino were really sincere about his “daang matuwid,” the path has to remain straight all the way to 2016, with no left or right turns during election years.