Arroyo’s nightmarish fiscal legacy

Whether they like it or not, presidential aspirants are potential heirs to a record-high budget deficit as the Arroyo government spent more than what it earned. The Filipino people, meanwhile, stand to feel the lasting effects of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s unsound fiscal policies.

The 2009 budget deficit could hit P290 billion-P298 billion as estimated by Department of Finance Secretary Margarito Teves, BusinessWorld reported. Teves attributed the gaping deficit to “combination of unfavorable external developments, some revenue-eroding measures, and result of the damage caused by typhoons.”

Apart from the reasons cited by Teves, poor tax collections significantly contributed to the drying up of national coffers. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said the higher-than-expected deficit “was caused by the failure of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) to meet its monthly tax collection goals,” Inquirer.net reported. In the 11-month period last year, the BIR fell short of P50 billion from its target, citing the devastation wrought by typhoons as the main reason.

Early last year, the government also blamed its P330-billion Economic Resiliency Plan for bloating the deficit. But independent think-tank IBON Foundation said in its special report that “the Arroyo administration’s deficit problems are not due to any stimulus efforts to deal with the crisis but because it is not addressing the roots of the deficit problem: graft and corruption, trade liberalization, foreign investment incentives, unproductive debt service and military spending.”

The near-P300-billion deficit blew past the government’s P250-billion ceiling for the year, which was surpassedin just 10 months. This amount is by far the largest under the Arroyo administration, larger even than that of previous regimes. Earlier government estimates even put the yearend budget deficit at P320 billion, or roughly four percent of the country’s 2009 gross domestic product (GDP).

In view of the staggering deficit figure, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) has urged the Arroyo government to go back to the “deficit reduction path” this year to give the country “better chances at cornering a bigger share of rising foreign direct and portfolio investments,” Inquirer.net reported.

Even credit rating agencies have raised their warning of a worse fiscal position for the Philippines in 2010 as government spending dramatically exceeded revenues last year. Fitch Ratings projected that the budget shortfall this year could swell to as high as P320 billion. Meanwhile, Moody’s Investors Service said the budget deficit may hit P291 billion or 3.5 percent of the GDP, citing the lingering effects of global economic recession, reported GMANews.tv.

Despite the bleak projections, local experts said the budget deficit problem is not in a worrisome situation yet if it is to be viewed of the current global economic crisis, ABS-CBNnews.com said.

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Straying from EDSA 1

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 25 February 2010

It may sound strange but reality tells us that this year’s commemoration of the1986 EDSA uprising has been laced with a star-studded political gimmick, a story-telling stunt and a confession of teleseryeproportions.

Today, Feb. 25, Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino IIIwill lead Liberal Party’s commemoration of EDSA People Power 1 at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, Inquirer.net reported. Singers Ogie Alcasid, Christian Bautista, Erik Santos, among others, are expected to perform in the event, starkly contrasting the commemoration in previous years.

In February 2006, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed Proclamation No. 1017 or the state of national emergency, which spurred arrests of government critics and illegal raids. Protest marches to commemorate EDSA 1 were violently dispersed.

Back to today. Perhaps for the first time, Aquino will stand out as the leading figure of the commemoration of EDSA 1. Since he is running for presidency, he is obliged to come out of the open and celebrate EDSA’s anniversary with the people, after staying away from the tense protest marches in previous years.

EDSA 1's commemoration: Liberal Party's way (photo grabbed from flickr.com)

By choosing to commemorate EDSA 1 with such fanfare and showbiz glitz, he is not actually commemorating – he is twisting the meaning of the historic uprising. Sadly, Aquino is further leading the people into oblivion of what EDSA 1 really is (which cannot in any way be a campaign sortie). After capitalizing on her mother’s death, Aquino is now capitalizing on the very historical event which propelled her mother into presidency.

Ahead of Liberal Party’s grand activity, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile earlier made use of the EDSA commemoration rites at the EDSA Shrine to reveal what has been hurting him.

“I have long nursed a certain discomfiture at being paraded as an EDSA hero, while those who bravely dared to fight the hard battle with us seemed to have been forgotten, their idealism ignored, and even their heroic contribution belittled,” Enrile said, adding that previous Feb. 25 festivities had seemingly “glossed over” the role of the soldiers at EDSA I.

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Guns, Goons and Glory

In the nine years of her administration, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo vowed to end the decades-old problem of private armies and warlordism in the country only at the last minute. Yet critics believe that scoring a buzzer-beater is impossibile with the government’s complicity in the proliferation on guns and goons and with the election fever heating up.

As of Jan. 8, the military and police have validated 68 “partisan armed groups,” 25 of them in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Around 558 towns and cities have also been identified as election hotspots.

Four months before the May 10 elections, Arroyo finalized on New Year’s eve the composition of the six-man commission mainly tasked to probe the existence of private armies “with a view of dismantling them permanently,” Inquirer.net reported. Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales said there are around 130 private armies all over the country, armed with close to a million loose firearms.

Members of the commission include Butuan Bishop Juan de Dios Pueblos of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), Mahmod Mala Adilao of the Bishops-Ulama Conference, retired Brig. Gen. Jaime Echeverria, retired Police Deputy Director General Virtus Gil, broadcaster Herman Basbano of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), and Dante Jimenez of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption.

Named as chair was Retired Court of Appeals Associate Justice Monina Arevalo-Zenarosa, whose appointment to the commission was announced a few days after the commission members were named because of her request.

The commission, which was created through Administrative Order No. 275 issued last Dec. 8, stemmed from the massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao by suspected armed men of the Ampatuan clan, GMANews.tv reported. The appointments came at a time when the spate of attacks against local leaders and candidates heat up, in which four candidates under the Nacionalista Party were assassinated.

The same report added that under the administrative order, the commission may “tap the Department of Justice, Philippine National Police, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the National Bureau of Investigations, and other government agencies including owned and controlled corporations if necessary to enable them to finish their work, which includes investigating, summoning witnesses, and taking testimonies and evidence that may be relevant to their probe.”

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Playing Climate Poker

Philippine Online Chronicles
Published 04 January 2010

At the United Nations (UN) climate change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark attended by 190 heads of state, debates went hot while demands for a strong and binding climate pact were left out in the cold.

Crafted out of the grueling 12-day summit on climate change dubbed as COP 15 (Fifteenth Conference of Parties) was the three-page Copenhagen Accord, a non-binding agreement which commits industrialized countries to implement quantified emissions targets by 2020.

The pact acknowledges the need to limit global temperature rise to a minimum of two degrees Celsius. It also commits industrialized countries to raise $10-billion (P470-billion) a year from 2010 to 2012 as assistance to least developed countries in coping with global warming.

The Copenhagen Accord, however, was not adopted in the conference. Environmental advocate Grist.org reported that the informal pact was only publicized during the late-night press conference of United States President Barack Obama, a few hours before delegates started to fly back home. GMANews.tv reported that the United States brokered the deal in a meeting that was attended by Ethiopia, Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

Understandably, the deal drew criticisms from leaders of poor countries for its non-transparent and undemocratic approval. Sudan, Tuvalu, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Cuba registered their opposition to the deal on the final day of the talks following the disclosure of the accord in Obama’s press conference.

Such was the political tension at Copenhagen, with schism between rich and poor countries seen to grow deeper as the approval of the deal is pressed upon participating countries. TIME wrote that the struggle in Copenhagen demonstrates the “onset of a kind of climate realpolitik,” and that the next round of talks in Mexico next year “is going to get harder.”

Outside the conference center, the world closely watched the climate talks as the future of global action on climate change stood on shaky ground.

Climate’s future, poor countries at stake

The Copenhagen conference, which was held last Dec. 7-18, 2009 was tasked with framing a new climate deal that will take effect after Kyoto Protocol’s expiration at the end of 2012. The largest gathering of world leaders in United Nations’ (UN) history was expected to forge a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, “including a long-term global goal for emissions reductions,” Agence France-Presse reported.

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