By Alex Magno
The Philippine Star 

President Benigno S. Aquino III coughs during his speech. (Photo by: Linus Guardian Escandor II)

President Benigno S. Aquino III coughs during his speech. (Photo by: Linus Guardian Escandor II)

Where is Benigno Simeon Aquino III?

He was last seen hurriedly delivering his Independence Day speech in Naga. The speech was interrupted more often by Aquino’s coughing than by hecklers in the crowd. The coughing was never explained to us. The heckler, however, was arrested.

It has been more than a week now since the President of the Republic disappeared from public view. This is not the first time Aquino pulled a disappearing act. He has done that intermittently through the length of his now waning term.

This time, however, too many distressing things are happening almost simultaneously. The price of garlic quintupled. The price of rice is spiraling. In fact, all basic food items are rising across the board.

Fuel prices spiked earlier in the week. They will probably continue rising dramatically in the weeks to come as supply uncertainties build because of the situation in Iraq.

A spate of high profile assassinations happened, taking a toll among businessmen and local politicians. A string of robberies happened with increasing impunity. A volunteer crime-watch group called for the resignation of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas and PNP chief Alan Purisima for sheer incompetence.

The sense of a looming shortage in prime commodities is magnified by what appears to be general breakdown in peace and order. This is not a happy time for our most vulnerable citizens.

Part of the responsibilities of the Chief Executive is to reassure his people during times of distress. All of us want to hear from our leader an explanation about what is happening, when will the price spikes plateau, what is government doing to protect its citizens from the epidemic of crime and the curse of unaffordable food.

This is not the time for the President to be utterly invisible.

If he is completely preoccupied, his staff should show us a schedule of activities. If he is ill, the people have a right to know about his medical condition. If he is simply sick and tired of his job, he should resign, for his own sake and for our people’s.

We know President Aquino has never been inclined to work too hard. He keeps short hours. He does not relish public functions. He rushes off from them as soon as he is done with his speech.

He is never at his happiest during meetings. He never convened the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (Ledac), although regular meetings are legally stipulated. He convenes his Cabinet only irregularly and often only as a response to a problem cropping up.

We have never seen Aquino, feet in mud, helping plant rice — even if such a photo op is nearly standard for all previous presidents. He has not come out to inspect government warehouses even if fear of a looming rice shortage grips consumers.

He is just somewhere in the innards of the Palace presumably. The anxieties of our people are met with stony silence. As alarm build up over spiraling rice prices, all queries are met only with stony silence from the nation’s leader. Even the controversial agriculture secretary, mimicking his boss, appears to have disappeared.

There is an increasing sense the national community is adrift, rudderless and now virtually leaderless. An invisible chief executive does not help things.


Spokesmen for left-leaning groups choose to pin the blame for the escalating price of prime commodities on the usual suspects: cartels of price speculators who have never been named.

By blaming the unseen but usual suspects, they spare government the blame. In the present food price crisis we confront, however, the most likely cause is government policy, procedure and performance.

On the matter of the rice supply, the thesis that the interruption of smuggling activities caused the supply crunch appears most viable. Over the last few months, the Bureau of Customs (BoC) mounted its most credible effort in four years to check smuggling.

If we go by the numbers put out by international grains trading monitors, smugglers bring in more rice than what is officially imported. Smugglers in fact account for nearly two-thirds of imported rice consumed by the domestic market.

On the one hand, it is good news that the BoC appears to be making some headway in the fight against smuggling. The volume of goods smuggled under this administration rocketed the past few years.

On the other hand, the crackdown on rice smugglers was not matched by an equal effort for the NFA to cover the volume of imported rice the smugglers no longer bring in. The main rice exporters in the region, we have seen in the past, are quick to jack up prices when they see the Philippines running into supply trouble. The Philippines is the world’s biggest rice importer.

The tightening in rice supply is due to a breakdown in coordination among government agencies. A proactive chief executive might have averted such a situation. We do not have a proactive chief executive. In fact, he is now invisible.

The situation in the ports can only magnify the failure in coordination. New regulations for accreditation, while well-meaning, have paralyzed many players in the ports. New inspection procedures, part of the anti-smuggling effort, slowed down processing. To top it all, the truck ban in the City of Manila has caused containers to pile up at the piers. Several ships, it is reported have turned back to their home ports with cargo still in their holds because there is no space at the Manila piers for them to unload.

Meanwhile, imported foodstuff (and some of our fruit exports) are rotting in containers at the piers. Someone authoritative ought to step in to clear the chaos.


2 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Jose Samilin says:

    The test for management effectiveness is when away from work and receives no calls. That only means he/she does the work adequately.

    • Bobby Bagos says:

      Not necessarily, remember, when the cat’s away the mouse will play. The last thing on the mouse mind is to call his boss even if something’s screwed up.

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