Laying down the baseline

26 July 2010

PRESIDENT Aquino’s State of the Nation Address is expected to focus on the problems inherited from the previous administration, especially the anomalies pulled off in the last months of Gloria Arroyo’s nine years of misrule. That kind of stock-taking is an absolute necessity so Aquino can lay down the baseline from which to build on in the next six years.

Aquino’s team, however, has been on the job less than two months. The time might be enough to uncover the more egregious last-minute fast breaks, but it would take much longer to determine the depth and breadth of corruption that attended the unlamented Arroyo administration. And we are not talking yet of the failed programs and policies which must be discarded if Aquino is to redeem his promise of a brighter future for the nation.

But first things first. The people should not entertain overly high expectations from the new administration. An administration does not assume office with a blank sheet. The challenges are daunting. About 70 percent of the P1.541 billion budget for 2010 has been spent. Revenue collections remain in the doldrums, triggering fears that the deficit could hit a record P325 billion this year.

The overall economic outlook, nonetheless, is improving. After the first quarter’s strong 7 percent growth, the economy is seen hitting a growth of 6 percent for the full year. Growth, however, is seen tapering in 2011 and it’s anybody’s guess what the prospects would be after that.

In the days of Arroyo, we used to regularly warn that promises made in the State of the Nation Address should be taken with a bucket of salt. It was easy to conjure dreams of prosperity. The reality test, we used to say, was the budget proposal which the administration must submit within 30 days of the opening of Congress. In all the nine years under Gloria, the bright picture painted was not supported by the funding programmed for the coming year. This was already on the assumption a good portion of the money would not be skimmed.

The Aquino team does not have the luxury of time to minutely scrutinize the budget proposal drafted by the previous administration. His instructions to adopt zero-based budgeting, for example, cannot be complied with by the line departments within the 30-day period prescribed by the Constitution.

We should not expect a detailed program in Aquino’s first SONA. It is not in his character to spout glowing statistical targets and we would be disappointed if he started talking technocratese. He promised good governance. It is by this covenant that we should bind him.

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