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No way out

/ 03:02 PM November 07, 2013

There has been a lot of speculation about changes in the Cabinet after President Benigno S. Aquino III dropped 15 points in approval ratings during the 3rd quarter. The Social Weather Station survey conducted from September 20-23, 2013 showed P-Noy’s popularity slumping from +64 in June 2013 to +49 in just three months.

September saw President Noynoy Aquino dealing with the siege of Zamboanga City by elements of the Moro National Liberation Front, the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) and the Malampaya funds. On top of anomalies involving the pork barrel and Malampaya funds, Malacañang had to handle nationwide resentment against the Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP), supposedly a “stimulus package” that enables government to fast track projects and perk up the economy.

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The DAP is actually a mechanism that authorizes the President through the Department of Budget and Management to realign public funds, mostly savings generated by government agencies under the Executive Department. The specifics got murky when it was learned that in 2011 and 2012, some P12.8 billion had been added to the PDAF, prompting party list lawmakers, critics and cause oriented groups to file cases before the Supreme Court to declare the program unconstitutional.

In the midst of P-Noy’s plummeting popularity, rumors of a Cabinet revamp had become rife. Adding fuel to the fire is the absence of Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda and his deputy Abigail Valte in regular Malacañang press briefings. Right now, it is Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma who is fielding questions from the Malacañang press corps.

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Last Monday, Secretary Coloma doused speculations that Lacierda is on the way out. He also clarified that the presidential spokesman is in London for an official function. High on Secretary Coloma’s press conference agenda was clarifying Pres. Aquino’s televised address with respect to the DAP.

To recall, P-Noy hotly defended the Disbursement Acceleration Fund, a stance that he intends to discuss with stakeholders in a nationwide sortie that is set to begin any time now.

Despite the plunge in his approval rating, I think the President still has significant public support and goodwill because he is not corrupt.

P-Noy can stand on his personal integrity to handle DAP but what happens when he steps down from office in 2016? In that sense, I’m not sure if the people who are against all forms of pork will reset their stance on the DAP. The program’s debut so to speak was not about any specific public works project, but to fatten legislative pork barrel allocations by another P12.8 billion.

On the other hand, there are considerations to make the dialogue successful; the President would need a district or region where his popularity remains high. A supportive arrangement will boost his confidence and he may be looking at Cebu because in 2010, P-Noy won here decisively with 1 million votes. But after the pork barrel scam was exposed, Cebu City has since become the center of anti-pork demonstrations. In fact, plans for the People’s Initiative mode to abolish the PDAF are being held here. The latest SWS survey seems to validate sentiments in the Visayas, where P-Noy’s rating dropped 26 points, from +74 in June compared to +48 in September.

I think P-Noy will steer clear of Metro Manila in holding such dialogues because the capital city is traditionally opposition country. P-Noy dropped 8 points, for a net of +38 in the national capital region, down from +46 in June. In Mindanao, P-Noy dropped 6 points from +58 in June to +52 in September.

Because the drop in approval ratings include all regions and members, the President will have to lean on Liberal Party members to make the DAP palatable. This is indicated by Samar Rep. Ben Evardone who announced that he will help the President campaign for the DAP.

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This may be the case of the cure being worse than the disease, because unless the President has forgotten, the social unrest is directed against many members of Congress who misused their pork barrel funds. The participation of legislators in the dialogue will only make people adopt a hard line stance against the DAP.

The President has come to the end of the line on the pork barrel and its permutations. There is no way out but to abolish it, once and for all.

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