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THUMBS UP, THUMBS DOWN
Lifestyle without a bang, ‘wangwang’


Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:07:00 10/09/2010

Filed Under: Human Rights, Graft & Corruption, Government

(Editor?s Note: The Inquirer?s assessment of President Aquino?s performance in his first 100 days in office is based on what he did, how he did it, and what he did not do.)

(Last of two parts)

LIFESTYLE

MANILA, Philippines?On his first foreign trip last month, President Benigno Aquino took a lean delegation and flew via commercial airlines to the United States and back. He stayed at the Sofitel hotel in New York instead of the more expensive Waldorf Astoria.

Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa placed the cost of the weeklong visit to New York and San Francisco at P25 million, just a third of the P76 million that former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s party spent on a US trip from July 29 to Aug. 5 last year.

At one point on the trip, Mr. Aquino and his party took lunch at a hotdog stand in Manhattan, paying $54 (a total of about P2,400), a sharp contrast to the million-peso dinner that Arroyo and her entourage had at Le Cirque.

His low-key approach extends to shunning the use of sirens, blinkers and counter flow to get past ordinary motorists in Manila and to junking the idea of naming government projects after him or using his pictures in information materials.

Last month, Mr. Aquino was displeased seeing his photos printed on arrival and departure cards at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. He and his entourage were then leaving for the United States.

TRANSPARENCY

The President holds weekly press conferences in the Palace whenever he?s in town.

The administration also launched a website of the Official Gazette in time for his first State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 26. The online Official Gazette replaced the old government portal and the Office of the President?s website.

The Palace launched the Twitter account ?govph? as the social networking site for the Official Gazette, which publishes speeches, statements and issuances of the government.

In his Sona, Mr. Aquino did not mention supporting the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill to promote transparency in government.

Nevertheless, Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo announced that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) was giving online space to information about its budget and business dealings to ensure openness and transparency in all its transactions.

Available online are the statement of allotment, obligations and balances of the office of the interior secretary and all six attached agencies of the department, including the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection and Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

Posted on www.dilg.gov.ph are each attached agency?s financial statement, as well as expenditures and obligations as of June 30.

The Department of Public Works and Highways has also announced that it will regularly publish on its website (http://www.dpwh.gov.ph) the monthly status of infrastructure projects. The department is also accessible on social networking sites Facebook and Twitter.

After it released new regulations relaxing its bank secrecy laws in accordance with a global antimoney laundering campaign, the country last month was removed from the ?gray list? and included in the ?white list? of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue has finally issued the implementing revenue regulations of Republic Act No. 10021, which allows the agency to disclose relevant tax information requested by another country.

Criticized for his handling of the Aug. 23 hostage crisis in Manila that saw eight Hong Kong tourists killed, the President spoke on Sept. 9 in a nationally televised news conference with major network anchors to answer questions about the crisis.

Eleven days later, Mr. Aquino revealed to members of the media the results of the probe of the hostage-taking incident. But this was met with controversies.

The first controversy stemmed from the submission of the report to the Chinese government, through its ambassador in Manila, ahead of its publication by the Philippine press. In giving priority to China, members of Congress criticized the administration for buckling under Chinese pressure.

The second controversy arose from the non-release of the report?s recommendations pending a review by a Palace legal team.

TRUTH COMMISSION

The President signed his first executive order forming a ?truth commission? to investigate the alleged crimes of Arroyo and her allies. Retired Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. heads the body but his appointment is still under attack from supporters of ex-President Joseph Estrada.

Several lawmakers have questioned the commission?s legal basis. The Supreme Court has yet to decide on its legality.

ANTICORRUPTION

Mr. Aquino said he named former Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima as justice secretary because the justice portfolio is crucial in the fight against corruption.

The Office of the Ombudsman, led by Merceditas Gutierrez, has been criticized for its slothfulness in investigating controversies, particularly those involving the Arroyo administration.

The administration?s ?matuwid na daan? (right path) came into question when Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz named administration officials believed to be receiving bribes from operators of jueteng, an illegal numbers game. Among the officials was one of Mr. Aquino?s closest allies, Interior Undersecretary Rico E. Puno, who denied the charge.

Amid controversies concerning the scandalous perks of some officials of government-owned and -controlled corporations, and government financial institutions, the President suspended in September until Dec. 31 the well-entrenched practice of granting excessive bonuses, allowances and incentives to the board, officers and rank-and-file of GOCCs and GFIs.

He created a Task Force on Corporate Compensation that will review all remuneration granted to GOCC and GFI officials.

In July, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson ordered the cancellation of 19 ?midnight deals? entered into by the DPWH. The contracts, worth over P934 million, for the rehabilitation of provinces affected by Storms ?Ondoy? and ?Pepeng? were supposed to be funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The Department of National Defense, on orders of the President, suspended the awarding of a P3.6-billion contract to a firm as it was overspecified to favor that firm.

The President also stopped negotiated public works contracts and put them up for rebidding.

HUMAN RIGHTS

The President has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), criticized in international forums for being a principal human rights violator, to respect human rights even as soldiers pursue their fight against insurgents.

The new AFP chief of staff, Gen. Ricardo David, has ordered the military to ?put more teeth? into the military?s human rights initiatives. He said soldiers would undergo refresher training on human rights as part of the campaign against the communist insurgency.

The AFP has issued a ?Soldier?s Handbook on Human Rights? to officers directly involved in anti-insurgency operations. The handbook is intended to be carried by soldiers at all times.

The military is relocating the AFP Human Rights Office to a ?more accessible and visible? section of Camp Aguinaldo with a brigadier general at its helm.

David said human rights offices would also be set up in field commands to reach soldiers in war.

During the election campaign, Mr. Aquino vowed to put a closure to extrajudicial killings but they continue to be committed. Monitoring by human rights group Karapatan said 16 militants and activists, mostly farmers, had been killed in the first 100 days of Mr. Aquino?two victims less than the 18 killed in the last six months of his predecessor.

Mr. Aquino directed the Department of Justice on Sept. 28 to review the criminal cases filed against 43 health workers who were arrested in Morong, Rizal, and are being kept in detention on suspicion that they are members of the communist New People?s Army.

While the President has highlighted serious human rights issues, he has yet to take concrete action against the violators, said Amnesty International-Philippines.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch likewise said that government actions on human rights ?fall short? and that ?structural reforms? were needed to end human rights abuses.

LAND REFORM

The President did not mention land reform in his first Sona.

In August, the President announced that he had adopted a ?hands-off policy? regarding the controversy surrounding Hacienda Luisita, which is owned by members of his family.

Mr. Aquino, head of the Presidential Agrarian Reform Committee (PARC), said the people directly involved in the sugar estate?the farmer-beneficiaries, members of his family and other stockholders in Hacienda Luisita Inc.?should decide the fate of the estate and not outsiders.

He reiterated that he had divested himself of interests in the plantation that originally totaled 6,500 hectares in Tarlac.

The PARC revoked in 2005 Hacienda Luisita?s stock distribution option scheme in which farmers were given shares of stock instead of land.

HLI appealed this decision and managed to get a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court stopping the Department of Agrarian Reform from distributing land in the estate in 2006.

After failing to reach an agreement with the owners of the hacienda, a farmers? group laying claim to the estate said it would just wait for the Supreme Court to decide on the case. The mediation initiated by the Supreme Court reached a deadlock last month. Eliza Victoria, Almi Ilagan, Mel Lawrence de Guzman and Minerva Generalao, Inquirer Research



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