UniversityPromises in progress: The Aquino platforms
Promises in progress: The Aquino platforms

Time is running out for President Benigno Aquino III. With less than a year left before the May 2016 presidential elections, and in light of Monday’s State of the Nation Address (SONA), let us take a look back at some of the promises the President made during and after his campaign. Just how much has been done since 2010, and how much is there left to do?

SONA promises

Promise #1: The Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill

Status: Unlikely to be fulfilled

Central to the administration’s Good Governance and Anti-Corruption plan of 2012-2016, the FOI Bill seeks to institutionalize accountability and transparency, and to pursue greater citizen participation in governance. In March 2014, the Senate passed the FOI Bill on the third and final reading, but the bill has languished in the 16th Congress, as it had for the last two decades, during Aquino’s administration. Malacañang revealed in 2013 that despite his vocal commitment to the bill, the President had no plans of certifying the FOI Bill as urgent. As it is not on the priority of the House of Representatives for its last session on Monday, July 27, it is unlikely that the bill will be enacted in time before Aquino vacates the presidency.

 

Promise #2: Strengthening the agricultural sector

Status: In progress

In 2011, President Aquino promised rice self-sufficiency for the Philippines by the year 2013. In 2013, the Philippines imported a total of 705,500 metric tons of rice, which is more than 2012’s 500,000 metric tons but is significantly less than 2010’s 2.4 million metric tons. However, to this day, rice self-sufficiency remains a dream. This comes along with the relentlessly rising prices of basic commodities and farm production costs, as well as the sluggish pace of Aquino’s irrigation programs for farmers. The Department of Agriculture has also gotten some of the highest budget increases during Aquino’s term, and has so far made progress in expanding increasing irrigation, particularly in Mindanao.

 

Promise #3: Support for policemen and the armed forces

Status: In progress

The Revised Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Modernization Act, which aims “to develop and transform the AFP into a multi-mission oriented force capable of addressing internal and external security threats,” was passed in 2012. During that year, a total of P54.48 billion was spent on pensions for soldiers and policemen, a figure that rose to P61.29 billion in 2013 and is promised to continue rising to P80.64 billion by next year. Moreover, a total of 53,000 housing units were built in 2012 and 2013 for policemen and soldiers. On the other hand, many critics believe that President Aquino was “ultimately responsible” for the Mamasapano clash early this year, citing his continued reliance on former Philippine National Police Director General Purisima even during his suspension.

 

Promise #4: Fight against corruption

Status: In progress

The fight against corruption has a long and harried history in the Philippines, as the culture of corruption is considered by most as deeply ingrained in society. One of the biggest events to mark Aquino’s presidency is the unraveling of the P10 billion pork barrel scam in 2013, which brought about the arrests of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ramon Revilla Jr., as well as alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. In 2011 and 2012, Aquino’s predecessor and rival Former President Gloria Arroyo was arrested over charges of electoral fraud and plunder. Aquino himself is under fire over his Disbursement Acceleration Program, which was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year.

The administration’s efforts towards greater transparency includes the establishing of Open Data Philippines, the Philippine Transparency Seal, Budget ng Bayan, and the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH), among others. Beginning 2013, the Senate, Congress, and other government agencies have been required by the Commission on Audit to submit receipts and other documents in the liquidation of funds. As a result of these and other government initiatives, the Philippines has been steadily, albeit slowly, improving in Transparency International’s rankings, from 129 out of 178 countries, to 105 in 2012, 94 in 2013, and finally, 85 in 2014.

 

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Promises in progress — President Benigno Aquino III in his 2013 SONA. That year, the administration claimed to have erased backlogs in chairs and textbooks, and was gearing up to end classroom shortage.

Promise #5: Improvements in education

Status: Fulfilled, but contested

The Department of Education (DepEd)’s K+12 program, which was passed in 2011, aims to “provide sufficient time for mastery of concepts and skills, develop lifelong learners, and prepare graduates for tertiary education,” and is in the process of being implemented in schools nationwide. The department was also given greater priority in terms of budgeting, with over P309 billion and P321.1 billion granted in 2014 and 2015, respectively, in contrast to 2010’s budget of P185.5 billion. In 2014, DepEd claimed that it had solved the problem of classroom shortage in the pursuit of a 1:45 classroom-student ratio. However, the department’s definition of “classroom shortage” does not include schools with no more space to expand, which means that despite the declaration from DepEd, schools and students may still suffer from classroom shortage.

 

Promise #6: Expansion of public health care

Status: Fulfilled

The Philippine Health Insurance Corporation established the implementing rules and regulations of the amended Republic Act 7875, which institutionalized a national health insurance program and declared the mandatory enrollment of all Filipino citizens in the PhilHealth system in September 2013. In 2010, around 62 percent of Filipinos were covered by public health care, a number that rose to 79 percent in 2013, and nearly 92 percent in 2015.

 

Promise #7: Sustainable economic growth felt by all

Status: Contested

The Philippines has been posting high growth rates in the last five years, with 2013’s 7.2 percent being the highest in Asia for the first two quarters of that year. Save for 2011, which had a meager 3.7 gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate, Philippine GDP performance has been consistently high, averaging at 6.3 percent from 2010 to 2014. However, while GDP growth rates look good on paper, it does not translate to better lives for the 27.9 percent of the population that fell below the poverty line in 2012. To illustrate, unemployment rates swelled to 7.1 percent — or  2.89 million individuals — in 2013 despite that year’s soaring GDP growth. Moreover, an astounding 76.5 percent of the nation’s growth from 2010 to 2011 were from the wealth of the 40 richest Filipino families, while poverty rates continue to increase.

President Aquino promised to cut unemployment in the Philippines down to 6 percent, at most, before his term ends in 2016, coming from an unemployment rate of 7.3 in 2010. In April this year, the Philippines posted an unemployment rate of 6.4 percent, down from 7 percent in April of 2014, and translating to 2.7 million unemployed Filipinos. Similarly, unemployment was at 6.6 percent in January 2015, down from 7.5 percent in January 2014. Proposals under the President’s plan to reduce unemployment is to boost tourism and infrastructure, as well as to strengthen the agricultural sector. The Philippines remains as the country with the highest unemployment rates in the ASEAN as of 2014.

In 2013, the President promised to increase the number of beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilya Program, a Conditional Cash Transfer program that aims to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty in the long run, to 3 million Filipino households. As of March 26 of this year, a total of 4,425,845 households have been enlisted. However, the program has come under fire for irregularities in the form of double entries and overpayments.