MANILA, JANUARY 4, 2012 (BULLETIN) By GENALYN D. KABILING — In 2011, President Benigno S. Aquino III grumbled about some decisions of the Supreme Court that he felt were unfavorable to his administration, such as the nullification of the creation of the Truth Commission.

By December, Aquino could no longer hide his dismay towards Chief Justice Renato Corona. Questioning the magistrate’s credibility and neutrality, he endorsed his impeachment in Congress.

Corona lashed back at Aquino and accused him of creating a dictatorship by making the judiciary subservient to the executive department.

But the President denied he was out to curb the independence of the judiciary, saying his administration seeks to prevent the Supreme Court from turning into a den of corruption.

After having been impeached at the House, Corona, an appointee of Arroyo, will be tried by the Senate early this year.

Before setting his sights on Corona, the President moved to oust Ombudsman Gutierrez for supposedly sitting on corruption cases involving past administration officials.

Gutierrez, who like Corona was an Arroyo appointee, was impeached by the House early last year. She resigned before the Senate could put her on trial.

Slow economic growth

While President Aquino was making headway in fighting corruption, his administration faltered in boosting the economy this year.

The administration’s economic experts predicted the economy would grow by 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent with an aspirational target of 7 percent to 8 percent in 2011. But the economy grew only 3.6 percent in the first nine months of the year due to the administration’s weak spending and the global economic slowdown.

The government’s much-vaunted public-private partnership program to upgrade roads, railways and ports appeared to have lost steam, with only one completed bid last year. The original plan was to roll out five or six big-ticket infrastructure projects by 2011 to spur economic activity and create more jobs.

Still, President Aquino was able though to narrow down a record budget deficit and was rewarded with higher credit scores by rating agencies. President Aquino also launched a P72-billion fiscal stimulus program to perk up the economy.

Due to judicious spending of public funds, the government has also generated P42 billion in savings as of September.

Around 2.1 million jobs were created last year. Official labor survey results also showed that unemployment rate slipped from 7.1 percent in October 2010 to 6.4 percent in October 2011.

Peace and security issues

2011 was also a busy year for the Aquino government when it came to peace and security issues.

Following a string of incursions reportedly made by China in the West Philippine Sea, the President openly asserted the Philippines’ claim over the potentially gas-rich Spratly islands and declared the country is prepared to protect what belongs to it.

The government also had to deal with China in the case of convicted Filipino drug traffickers.

Four Filipinos were executed in China this year despite last-minute appeals of Aquino to spare them.

Government officials maintained however they respect China’s judicial system and the executions would not strain bilateral relations.

Cementing a peace settlement with rebel groups remained an elusive objective for the Aquino government.

In August, the President flew to Japan for an unannounced meeting with Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Chairman Al Haj Murad to revive the flagging peace talks.

Aquino and Murad agreed to fast-track negotiations to forge an agreement before the President’s term ends in 2016.

Two months later, 19 soldiers were killed in a battle with MILF fighters in Basilan. More soldiers were killed in separate MILF attacks in nearby provinces.

Despite the massacre, the President refused to declare an all-out war against the MILF and instead ordered an “all-out justice” campaign, a decision which drew criticisms for his supposed weak approach in dealing with the rebels.

Informal talks with the MILF resumed last December but was snagged by the rebel group’s demand for a sub-state.

The government also failed to revive negotiations with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the umbrella organization of the Philippine communist movement. The group cancelled the talks after the government refused to grant its demand to release from jail several of its supposed consultants.


Diokno: 2012 economy will be better but... By Cathy Rose A. Garcia,

'Spend P500 billion on public infrastructure'  PPP is a "dud"

[PHOTO FROM WIKIPEDIA - Diokno in 2008. Secretary of Budget and Management. In office June 30, 1998 – January 20, 2001. President - Joseph Estrada; Personal detail: Born March 31, 1948 (age 63) Taal, Batangas Nationality Filipino Alma mater University of the Philippines]

MANILA, Philippines - Economist Benjamin Diokno expects the country's economy to fare much better in 2012 but warned that the government should prepare for the worst, especially weather-related disasters.

"2012 looks like it would be better than last year, but that's not guaranteed because there's a lot of uncertainty. For example, OFW (remittances) we're not sure. And the biggest uncertainty is the weather because you can't control it. On the other hand, we should prepare for the worst, not just this year but in the years to come," Diokno said in an interview on ANC's "Headstart."

Last year, the Philippines suffered the brunt of typhoons Quiel and Pedring and tropical storm Sendong, which caused more than 1,000 deaths and billions of pesos in damages to crops, property and infrastructure.

Diokno, a professor from the University of the Philippines School of Economics and former Budget Secretary, said remittances from overseas Filipino workers, which was estimated to hit $20 billion in 2011, has helped prop up the Philippine economy. However, he said growth of remittances has been slowing in recent years.

To boost the economy in 2012, Diokno said the Aquino government should "spend as fast as possible" in the first 6 months, especially in public infrastructure.

"As you know our roads are crumbling. We need to set up more power plants because otherwise we will have another power crisis down the road. We've got to fix our tax system so we can have more money to spend for public infrastructure," he said.

"(Spending on public infrastructure) you create a lot of jobs, spur economic activity nationwide and that will perk up the economy... Given the backlog, we should spend up to half a trillion (P500 billion)."

Diokno also described as an illusion the Aquino administration's claim that it generated "savings" in 2011.

"You can't have savings and borrow at the same time. We just have a lot of unspent money, which has been authorized by Congress. That's what they call 'savings' but in truth we have huge deficits," he said.

Diokno said the Philippines should take its cue from China, which has been aggressively spending between 7-8% of its GDP on public infrastructure.

The Philippines' annual budget deficit for 2011 is likely to come in much lower than the target of P300 billion, or 3.0 percent of GDP. The deficit from January to November already amounted to P96.25 billion, 32% below target.

"A good project for Aquino would be to come up with a supplemental budget to address all these problems like relocating people from coastal towns, easily 100 billion and that is affordable."

PPP a "dud"

Diokno did not mince words when criticizing the Aquino administration's much-vaunted Public-Private Partnership (PPP) projects. Only 1 PPP project, the Daang Hari Road extension, was bidded out this year.

"The PPP program started with a whimper. It's a dud because 10 projects were announced in November 2010 to be bidded out in 2011... Now they're saying they will bid out 20 projects this year. Let's see," he said.

The former Budget Secretary is also not impressed by Aquino's economic team, noting there should be more technocrats.

"I think they're not working as a team. Among the economic managers, only one is an economist and that's (Socio-economic Planing Secretary Cayetano) Paderanga.... I have high regard, respect for (Transportation Secretary) Mar Roxas, but he has his eye on 2013 elections. You should keep the economic team as a team of technocrats, no politicians," Diokno said.

Meanwhile, Diokno said the government should also work harder at improving its image abroad and address concerns of foreign investors.

"We should address NAIA-3 (issue). It's been hanging for more than a decade. We should resolve that once and for all because we're being badmouthed in the international community," he said.

"We have a bad image abroad and unless we correct this, nobody will come to the Philippines."

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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