I've been working on a more rigorous way to evaluate President Aquino's job performance. In the first article, I identified seven areas of responsibility:
- Global engagement
- Health and security
- Wealth building
- Social cohesion
- Timeline architecture
In the second article, I did a "quick and dirty" evaluation of the first two elements, and in this write-up, I'll examine "Infrastructure" and "Health and security" at a very broad level. None of this pretends to be a final and exhaustive evaluation at this stage. It is just moving stepwise toward that goal.
Infrastructure as defined here means the framework that supports communication, transportation and commerce. These are the physical platforms and networks supporting government, business and private activities.
The island structure of the Philippines poses unique issues in moving people and goods. The structural framework is elaborate and complex. Trains, roads, phone service, internet service, gasoline, essential food services, ports, electricity, water, sanitary services, air transportation, ferry services, even mass media which are the framework for ideas and news. That's infrastructure. It is more than roads.
Some infrastructure work is done locally under distributed money controlled by the President's finance department. Some is done through loans provided by the World Bank or other nations (Japan, Korea). Construction contracts are huge and have been plagued with corruption in the past (kickbacks).
- The President restrained spending early during his term to seek to stabilize his budget and get a handle on expenditures. This sacrificed infrastructure spending and jobs for improved financial stability, resulting in a higher investment rating for Philippine debt. So that is a case where "failure" to develop infrastructure had positive results.
- Now, the President seeks to accelerate GDP growth by embarking on major construction projects. Upgrading airports and roads leading to airports. Improving access to tourist destinations. Improving the highway system in Manila. More train services. The Administration also has working to make bidding for contracts more transparent and less vulnerable to payoffs, a huge plus in terms of getting money to go where it provides the best return. Not into someone's pocket.
- The nation appears to have no internet policy or plan. It does not seek to ride herd on phone companies which build the internet networks. Mass media is self-regulated which means there is little regulation, leading to things like the televised bus massacre or massive numbers of commercials in popular shows.
- Electricity remains a huge problem. It is already expensive and supplies in Southern Mindanao have effectively run dry. Brown-outs from service failure or conservation are common across the Philippines. No comprehensive plan exists to build better electrical stability. The country is too poor. Or incapable of putting electricity over farm to market roads as a priority?
- Gasoline prices are a huge problem. Government is stuck between two huge rocks: (1) "socialistic" price controls at the pump to protect small transportation companies and the critical services they provide to car-less Filipinos, and (2) the negative impact price controls have to discourage private energy companies from investing in the Philippines, to build refineries or gas stations. No comprehensive plan appears to exist that guides the nation between two critical, conflicting demands.
- Ports and ferry services remain dilapidated and are run at the very edge of safety. Airlines face the same problem and are banned from adding flights to the U.S. and Europe because maintenance programs do not measure up. The need to modernize is important. There is no money.
It is impossible to upgrade all infrastructure to modern standards in one president's term. However, it is possible to articulate long-range solutions. Budgets, priorities, rationale. If the plans existed, made sense, and progress along the stated path was steady, the score would be high. But as long as no plans exist and progress is patchwork, it is hard to score infrastructure work high. The Philippines still seems largely reactive. I'd love to be told otherwise.
The one place where a plan does exist orients around tourism and the need to upgrade airports and roads leading to airports and tourist destinations. But this was largely occasioned by the Philippines being ripped in international media for having the worst airports in the world. Not by a desire from within the Philippines to show people a better time.
Infrastructure Score 6.5. Assign 6.5 points to the President's overall score.
Health and security
How safe do you feel? Are you worried about health issues?
Threats to safety come from outside (China), inside (Muslim extremists and NPA rebels), illness and disease (from high blood pressure to bird flu), and high risk of injury (from dogs in the highway to flash floods).
- President Aquino's stance on China's claim to islands in the West Philippine Sea is firm and as sound as it can be considering the nation is dealing with an emotional powerhouse that is highly self serving. Approach: Adhere to UN boundary rules, keep the doors of dialogue with China open and continue to build commerce, firm up the alliance with the U.S., build sea patrol capabilities and possible quick air response. Strong approach, no matter what the outcome may be.
- The President (his staff) is talking, talking, talking with Muslims, trying to articulate rules for Muslim autonomy that do not violate the Constitution. Efforts are also being made to upgrade economic fundamentals in areas that are safe for investment. Radical elements are being chased on the ground, in part with U.S. assistance. Strong effort.
- The nation has a broad hospital network, but it is what one would expect when there is not sufficient money to obtain modern equipment and high-skill doctors throughout the nation. Too many Filipinos die too young. The rich avail themselves of first class treatment in Manila. The poor die young. The closing of the gap requires a long range plan that does not appear to exist. So improvement is slow and erratic.
- The Philippines is a risky country. Kids harvest coconuts without safety belts. Dogs are allowed to roam on the same highways where motorcyclists, without helmets, speed, without traffic enforcement. Equipment from overloaded trucks to ferries to jet planes are not properly maintained. Logs are clear-cut and flash floods wipe out cities. The Philippines HAS upgraded its systems for storm warnings and response to natural disasters.
What's the plan? What's the plan? What's the plan?
Health and Security Score: 7.0. Add 7.0 points to the President's total score.