In a matter of days, incumbent President Benigno Aquino III will step down from his post at the Malacañang Palace to make way for his successor President-elect Rodrigo Duterte as the 17th President of the Philippines. In his last State of the Nation Address (SONA), Aquino highlighted the country’s economic progress for the last five years, primarily focusing on human capital and infrastructure development as one of the key components of the administration’s inclusive growth agenda.
One of the key economic achievements of the country under the Aquino administration is manifested in the recorded gross domestic product (GDP) growth average of 6.2 percent in 2015, the fastest in 40 years. Subsequently, the country was named by Bloomberg last year as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Direct foreign investments in the country reached as high as $6.2 billion in 2014 from $1.07 billion in 2010. Unemployment rate was also at its lowest in ten years, hitting as low as 6.8 percent in 2014.
While these numbers only comprise a portion of what the Aquino administration has accomplished for six years, the said administration also had to confront critical issues and controversies that surfaced during the term. The position of Aquino on some of these issues and events became a source of controversy in itself, sparking debate among Filipinos.
- In what was probably the first major struggle for Aquino during his presidency, the administration was challenged in terms of emergency response during the Manila Hostage crisis in August 2010.
The hostage taker, a former police officer, hijacked a Manila tour bus that contained Hong Kong nationals. The hostage taking resulted to the death of eight Hong Kong nationals and seven wounded passengers, despite the joint rescuing forces of Philippine security and police forces.
- Following the incident, Hong Kong issued a travel warning to its citizens in terms of unnecessary travel to the Philippines. Although the two nations have had disputed relations, agreements were settled in terms of the Philippines agreeing to terms set by the Hong Kong government, which were in favor of the families affected by the hostage taking. The dispute was resolved in April 23 last year, although no official apology came from the Philippine government.
- One of the first controversies the Aquino administration faced was the impeachment of the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012.
He was appointed to the position by former President Gloria Arroyo during the 2010 election period, wherein there was a supposed ban for “midnight appointments.” This issue was cleared out by the Supreme Court (SC), however, which argued that appointments under their branch of government is exempted from the said ban.
The House of Representatives voted to impeach Corona over charges of hidden assets. After the impeachment trial, the Senate voted 20-3 to condemn him for betrayal of public trust for failing to disclose all his properties in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). He was also faced with criminal charges such as cases of graft and corruption and multiple counts of tax evasion before the Sandiganbayan and the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA). The Office of the Ombudsman also filed cases for forfeiture of unexplained wealth and perjury, among others.
- The administration was also the subject of public scrutiny in 2012, when Aquino signed into law the Reproductive Health Bill, which had been pending in Congress for 13 years. It had been a controversial issue across various sectors in the country.
- In 2013, accusations of corruption followed after the release of numerous pieces of evidence on the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF). The issue became more prominent after businesswoman Janet Napoles was named as the mastermind of the PDAF scam by whistleblower Benhur Luy. Napoles eventually surrendered to Aquino in August 2013.
Despite calls by various sectors to abolish PDAF, Aquino expressed his contention to keep the PDAF on the grounds that the funds “can also be used for good.” However, he imposes that there must be “stricter punishment for those who misuse it” and “more restriction, wide safeguards and better monitoring of the implementation” of the said projects.
- In the succeeding year, the Aquino administration introduced the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a reform to speed-up public spending and utilize savings and unprogrammed funds for projects, in response to the “inefficiencies in public spending.” The Supreme Court, however, ruled the DAP to be unconstitutional.
- Throughout the whole term of Aquino, his administration has also been put to the test in terms of responding to destruction brought about by natural calamities in different parts of the country.
One of these calamities was a magnitude-7.2 earthquake that struck several regions in Visayas, most especially the areas of Bohol and Cebu, on October 15, 2013. The quake claimed close to 200 lives, affected nearly a thousand people, caused billions of pesos worth of damaged properties and infrastructure, and destroyed centuries-old churches.
- Not even a month after the earthquake, the country was again hit by a natural calamity—Typhoon Haiyan, or more commonly known by its local name Typhoon Yolanda, which affected 171 towns and cities in 14 provinces and six regions on November 8, 2013. The destruction of Typhoon Yolanda brought about the death of thousands and displacement of millions. Billions of pesos’ worth of both private and public properties were also damaged.
Despite relief operations spearheaded by the government at that time, foreign countries and the media criticized the administration for the slow relief response and unsystematic disaster rescue operations.
Then Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas was in charge of such operations, and was bombarded by people from both outside and of the Philippines with issues regarding the incapability of the Aquino administration to provide aid for the recovery and rehabilitation of the affected areas in the country.
- On May 15, 2013, Aquino signed the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, more commonly known as the K-12 program. Not unmet with criticism, the K-12 program added two years to the basic education system of the country.
- In 2015, the execution of Mary Jane Veloso, a Filipina sentenced to death by firing squad in Indonesia due to alleged drug trafficking, was held off at the last minute as a result of Aquino’s “breach of protocol”, says Cabinet Secretary Jose Rene Almendras. He further recounts that Aquino immediately talked to the Indonesian foreign minister and appealed for Veloso to be a state witness to track the drug trafficking syndicate. Veloso was granted a reprieve by the Indonesian government. At present, investigations on the allegations are still ongoing.
With the new president set to be inaugurated on June 30, Aquino is fast approaching the final leg of his six-year tenure on the top post of the government. The past six years have seen the country go through multiple achievements, but also saw it plagued by different issues.