DESPITE a three-year economic slowdown since 2013, there is no truth to the canard that the Aquino administration can do nothing right.
If the last six years have taught us anything, it is that President Aquino and his minions are extremely good at obfuscation, finger pointing and misdirection.
Faced with the undeniable fact that the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) has dropped off—from a peak of 7.1 percent in 2013, to 6.1 percent in 2014, and to only 5.8 percent in 2015—the government turned to obfuscation.
Instead of admitting there is a problem, administration officials spoke instead of a “six-year moving average” that hid the truth from the public. They also called the slower growth an “encouraging result” that is “in line with the government’s commitment to growth that is both inclusive and sustainable.”
But there was more bad news last week in the form of a searing indictment from the international watchdog Human Rights Watch that President Aquino has failed in his six years in office to deliver on his promise “of a rights-respecting Philippines.” In its 2016 World Report, the group minced no words in detailing the ongoing killings of prominent activists, indigenous leaders and journalists that have gone unpunished under Aquino’s watch.
The group also highlighted the administration’s campaign to round up hundreds of poor and homeless street people—among them many children—and detain them during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to hide them away from the visiting international delegates.
“While Aquino’s presidency has had a mixed record on rights issues, ultimately he has failed to make the institutional reforms to ensure a lasting positive human rights legacy,” the group said.
The administration’s approach to damage control was simple: blame someone else.
In this case, it was the courts that were responsible for the snail-paced dispensation of justice in human rights abuse cases, a presidential spokesman said.
“The delays in litigation of pending human rights violations are mainly due to systemic weaknesses in the criminal justice system that the Supreme Court is addressing,” the Palace official said.
The spokesman also did, as President Aquino is wont to do in such cases, bring up his own experience of losing his father during the Martial Law regime, as if this created some form of kinship with murdered activists, indigenous community leaders and journalists.
It was a clear attempt to misdirect public attention to the real cause of the problem—an executive department that is not serious about ending such abuses, and has in fact even flouted and violated international conventions on human rights.
After all, this is the same administration that was condemned by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention for its illegal detention of Aquino’s political opponent, former President Gloria Arroyo.
But perhaps the most personally embarrassing moment for the President last week was the decline in the country’s standing in Transparency International 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, to 95th among 168 countries, a 10-place drop from its previous ranking, from putting the Philippines behind Indonesia.
This meant more people perceived the Philippines to be corrupt in 2015, even though President Aquino has made his Daang Matuwid anti-corruption campaign the centerpiece of his administration.
Critics of the administration quickly jumped on this, saying it proved that Daang Matuwid was both shallow and artificial—and selective in its application because the President has consistently shielded his friends and allies from liability.
But never underestimate this administration’s ability to spin.
A spokesman for its presidential bet this year said the Transparency International report merely highlighted the vulnerability of the “gains” that the administration has made in fighting corruption, and the need to continue Daang Matuwid—code for voting for the ruling party’s candidate.
So never let it be said that this administration is good for nothing. Like its leader, President Aquino, it is highly skilled in dodging responsibility and accountability. What remains to be seen, however, is whether these skills are sufficient to keep President Aquino and his cohorts out of jail when his benighted term finally comes to an end.