By Jason Gutierrez Agence France-Presse
Benigno Aquino III won the Philippine presidency on a battle cry to crush corruption and ease deep poverty, but a year into his term he is seen by many to be straining under the weight of his own promises.
At a creek-side slum in the outskirts of Manila’s financial district where Aquino was hugely popular during last year’s election, residents said his vow to lift them out of their misery appeared to have fallen by the wayside.
“We thought we had found a savior, but one year after we voted for him to win, what do we have? Nothing,” said Jennifer San Gaspar, a 36-year-old mother of nine children.
San Gaspar said she remained an Aquino supporter until a few months ago when she and her neighbors were turned away from a government welfare scheme that distributes billions of pesos to poor families on condition they get health checkups and the children go to school.
“They did not tell us why we were disqualified, the social worker who interviewed us never came back,” she said. “So here we are, nothing has changed. We are still poor.”
San Gaspar’s sentiment is apparently shared by many across the impoverished nation as the 51-year-old bachelor president marked 12 months in office last June 30 with his popularity still high but dropping steadily.
After recording the biggest landslide win in Philippine election history, Aquino’s popularity rating dropped from a peak of 74 percent in November to 64 percent in June, pollster Social Weather Stations said.
While his ratings are still relatively strong, analysts said the slide reflected disappointment that he had not done more to fulfill his chief campaign promises of eradicating corruption and ending poverty.
Nevertheless, they pointed out that it was impossible for anyone to quickly fix the enormous economic and corruption problems that festered under his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo, during her nine years in power.
“The bar was set very high for him, and from the very start the cards were stacked against him,” said Antonio Contreras, a political scientist at Manila’s De La Salle University. “He was painted as a symbol of clean government, a hope for a country after a disastrous administration.”
Contreras said that while he was disappointed overall with Aquino’s first-year performance, the president had at least brought back a sense of ethics and professionalism in public service.
Aquino remains almost unanimously regarded as personally incorruptible and voters feel comfortable he will not use his six years in power to build a personal fortune.
This holds particular importance in the Philippines where leaders from national to village level have for decades sought to pilfer state coffers for personal benefit.
Global corruption watchdog Transparency International, which ranks the Philippines as the 44th most country in the world, rated his administration’s first-year efforts an eight out 10.
He has also proved his leadership mettle for many by standing up to the powerful Roman Catholic Church and backing a controversial reproductive health bill that seeks to promote the use of contraceptives for the poor.
On the economic front, Aquino’s team has so far been given credit as solid managers, with global rating agencies Fitch and Moody’s recently upgrading their investment outlooks for the Philippines.
Economic growth has slowed but remained strong with an expansion of 4.9 percent in the first quarter, while two interest rate hikes have for now put the brakes on inflation.
Nevertheless, Contreras and other analysts said Aquino had not yet started to tackle the roots of the country’s corruption and poverty problems, and those were the issues he would ultimately be judged on.
“All he has done is to start off his year with symbolic stuff, crushing corruption, but nothing really concrete yet,” Contreras said.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said the public should have patience and realize that a president’s first 12 months in office were a learning curve, a time to consolidate power and lay the foundations for the next five years.
“However, people will want to see real progress from the second year,” said Casiple, executive director of Manila-based think-tank Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, giving Aquino a pass mark of six out of 10.
“What people are waiting for is a real programmed of governance. He needs to focus.”