MANILA, JULY 8, 2013 (PHILSTAR) Aquino has demonstrated his firm resolve to address the deep-rooted issue of corruption – first by himself steering clear of any taint of corruption, and then by pursuing cases against government officials past and present. Businessmen and private individuals have also been investigated for offenses like tax evasion and smuggling.

His administration is justifiably proud of the investment grade rating two international agencies gave the country, the first time in our history.

All these have raised our international profile, leading to the country’s hosting of two events that will put the Philippines in the spotlight: the 2014 World Economic Forum on East Asia and the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings and summit. Successfully hosting these events will validate the matuwid na daan philosophy of Aquino and allow him to end his term on June 30, 2016 on a very high note.

But the past three years have not all been highs, and some things have not worked out the way the President, and the people, hoped.

All the accolades and local and foreign rah-rahs have not created the jobs needed by a growing workforce, with thousands still forced to seek work abroad and many of them falling victim to abuse.

The wheels of justice still turn painfully slow, and last month’s elections showed that political dynasties and its attendant evils are still very much a part of our political life.

Even as prudent and judicious fiscal management has earned praise, vital projects like power plants, airports and transport systems have been excruciatingly slow taking off.

But hopefully these will be lessons learned as President Aquino embarks on his final three years in office.

He still has the confidence of the business community, the support of the international community, and the trust of his people, his bosses.

It is in our best interest that he succeeds, that what he set out to do three years ago be achieved, and that his vision for a better life for all Filipinos be that much closer to reality.

STARweek asked The STAR’s Malacañang reporters Aurea Calica and Delon Porcalla, from their vantage point of covering the Palace over the last three years, for their take on the successes and challenges of the Aquino presidency. – DGYu

“A climate of confidence” By Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) | Updated June 30, 2013 - 12:00am

President Aquino among other world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland (top). The President meets Aung San Suu Kyi (above) at the WEF-East Asia in Myanmar. Benhur Arcayan / Malacañang Photo

MANILA, Philippines - The answer will, of course, vary, depending on circumstances.

In Isabel, Leyte, for instance, some old folks shed tears of joy last year when their area was finally energized. A World Bank study showed children-beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program going to school, some of them even excelling as they found the much-needed boost to obtain education. Borrowers found themselves paying lower interest rates because of the stable economic environment.

For President Aquino, his favorite examples that things have changed are the fact that the government is close to attaining rice self-sufficiency, and even possibly export rice from excess harvest; resolving shortages in classrooms and educational materials and implementing the K+12 educational system to be at par with international standards; and having more people enrolled in health insurance and in the CCT program.

The Philippines has also freed itself from being dubbed as the “Sick Man of Asia” with its record economic growth in the first quarter of the year.

The historic enactment into law of several important measures like the reproductive health and sin tax as well as the signing of the Bangsamoro peace agreement are also some of the highlights of Aquino’s first three years.

The President remains free from any tinge of corruption.

His policy to disallow the use of sirens so everyone, in power or not, will obey traffic rules was symbolic and inspirational, as was the non-posting of politicians’ names and faces on billboards at government projects.

It was a good effort to bring back delicadeza, even if compliance was not 100 percent among public servants.

Prudent spending of resources was practiced even in his trips abroad, officials said, and he suspended the excessive perks of officials in government-owned and controlled corporations and government financial institutions.

Aquino likewise demanded better weather forecasting and preparedness among government agencies in responding to disasters.

Zero-based budgeting was also adopted to make sure that non-existent projects and agencies would not be getting any resources.

There have been cases filed against tax evaders and smugglers, although the Bureau of Internal Revenue seemed to be performing much better than the Bureau of Customs.

The administration further cut down the processes in business registration to encourage more investors and promised to level the playing field for businessmen.

Aquino’s most significant gains have come in the fight against corruption. He issued Executive Order No. 1 creating the Truth Commission to put closure to all the anomalies and scandals in the last decade and revoked all midnight appointments through EO 2.

EO 1 was nullified by the Supreme Court but former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been charged with plunder, among other cases, and has been under hospital arrest since 2011.

Former SC chief justice Renato Corona was removed from office after being found guilty by the Senate, sitting as an impeachment court, of failing to declare all of his assets. Corona was charged with tax evasion because of this.

Aquino said one of his accomplishments would be that people are participative again on issues of national concern. He called on the people to make the fight against corruption personal to them as the robbery of government coffers would affect all Filipinos.

The President also pushed for the postponement of the elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao so it could be synchronized with the 2013 polls, and officers-in-charge could be appointed to pursue the administration’s reform agenda. This way, not one region will feel isolated from the rest of the goings on in the nation.

Facing a barrage of criticism for floods and monstrous traffic jams in the metropolis practically each time it rains, the President has asked local government units to relocate once and for all people living in danger areas and allocated P10 billion for the purpose.

As the government aims for zero casualties during disasters, Aquino vowed to exercise political will to relocate informal settlers near esteros, rivers and other waterways considered as danger zones, declog the drainage, implement an efficient solid waste management system, stop illegal logging, promote reforestation and enforce other environmental laws.

Crime incidents have also gone down, according to officials, even as the Philippine National Police has made headway in its efforts to achieve good governance.

Some close friends also had to go, including former Interior and Local Government Undersecretary Rico Puno after he was involved in a supposed arms procurement anomaly.

Aquino was hailed by Time magazine as one of the world’s most influential people as he openly went against China’s claims over the West Philippine Sea, declaring time and again that “what is ours is ours.”

In Myanmar to attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia early this month, the President told businessmen this was the perfect time to invest in the Philippines as his administration had put a lot of reforms in place.

He also touted the new mandate his administration received from the Filipino people in the last midterm elections.

“Today, all the factors are in place: political stability, low inflation and low borrowing rates, opportunities for growth in almost all sectors, a government committed to integrity and empowerment, and a people known the world over for their industry, loyalty, and creativity,” Aquino said at the WEF.

“In our country, you have the recipe for sustained, inclusive growth that benefits investors and the public alike. All that is left is for us to engage each other, and work together – and this is precisely why we are here today,” he said.

The President called on businessmen to see challenges in the Philippines as opportunities as they could come and build the much-needed infrastructure as well as invest in agriculture and tourism.

“This is the perfect time to invest in the Philippines. More and more opportunities have been created... both as a result of and as an affirmation of our commitment to reform,” Aquino said.

According to Aquino, it was clear that good governance had “created a climate of confidence” in the Philippines.

“I have heard our country called a hotspot, Asia’s Rising Tiger, or the brightest spark in Southeast Asia, just to name a few. These accolades are not unwarranted. For the first time in history, the Philippines is rated investment grade by two major credit rating agencies. These agencies have cited our robust growth as well as the low and stable inflation rate in the country – all while many other economies are experiencing slowdowns,” he noted.

Three years ago, Aquino said he came into office faced with the task of uprooting a long-entrenched culture of corruption and impunity in government – the key to revive the economy and foster broad-based and inclusive growth for the people.

Many things still need to be done. But with his administration’s accomplishments so far, Aquino believes he is on the right track to fulfilling his promises to the people, with high trust and approval ratings as a bonus as he faces the challenges in the second half of his term.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved