POSTSCRIPT / June 15, 2014 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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Corruption to remain top poll issue in 2016

CAMPAIGN LINE: The four-year trajectory of the political rhetoric of the Aquino administration indicates that the line for its presidential campaign in 2016 is likely to hew to the anti-corruption theme “kung walang korap walang mahirap” (no corruption, no poverty).

It is not difficult to show to the masses the connection between their misery and official corruption and then blame it on the opposition. The pitch in 2016 is likely to be: Elect the Anointed One of President Noynoy Aquino to continue his reform program.

Reinforcing the line with the Blame Game formula, the Yellow brigade had caught the attention of the masses wallowing in undeserved poverty, by blaming the scarcity of jobs and opportunities on what it said was the corruption in the previous administration.

That line might just work again for the ruling Liberal Party’s presidential nominee who at this stage looks like DILG Secretary Mar Roxas.

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SEARCH FOR LEGACY: One other reason why the anti-corruption line has to be put to work again in 2016 is that after four years of wandering in the desert without a road map, the administration still cannot find a solid accomplishment to point to with pride.

The Palace has been searching high and low, far and wide, for some kind of legacy that President Aquino can leave when he exits two years from now. No solid achievement has been found.

Glowing statistics cannot hide the reality of millions being jobless and hungry, skilled workers forced to seek a more promising future abroad, small businesses diving below the radar screen of tax collectors, human life costing less than the price of a motorbike….

With no ready remedies to apply, the administration takes the line of least resistance of blaming corruption, pinning it on others and creating a false façade of pretending to grapple with the monster.

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STATS & TROPHIES: On July 28, expect President Aquino to decorate his State of the Nation Address with glittering economic statistics supposedly resulting from his anti-corruption campaign.

He is likely to display such trophies as former President Gloria Arroyo, senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, and former Chief Justice Renato Corona.

Never mind that these key targets (except for Corona) have been convicted only in the public mind and not with finality by the courts. Never mind, too, that there are still many big fat Yellowfins swimming around without charges being filed against them.

Note that last June 12, President Aquino worked into his Araw ng Kalayaan speech in distant Naga (why did the Commander-in-Chief stay away from the capital on that red-hot day?) the theme of corruption sapping the nation’s viscera.

It is also interesting that his appointee, Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, wove the same corruption thread into her speech that day at the Aguinaldo shrine in Kawit, Cavite.

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BACKLASH: One risk is that the “kung walang korap walang mahirap” line concedes that the main gut issue remains to be the economy. On this score, the Aquino administration and its presidential nominee in 2016 could end up being defensive.

A possible backlash of an anti-corruption line is the observation that “marami pang mahihirap dahil talamak pa rin ang korapsiyon” (poverty is still widespread because of runaway corruption).

The reality is that at least a third of Filipinos are languishing below the poverty line (although it has been lowered so that more people can float statistically above it). In the poorer sections of the national capital itself, a large number of households scrimp or skip meals, with a few of them thriving on scrap or “pagpag” (leftover snatched from garbage).

Juxtapose this picture on the fact that billions in taxpayers’ money are routinely stolen from an unconstitutional pork barrel or disbursed with amazing acceleration to private pockets – and the corruption looms even bigger.

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CHINA CONDEMNED: Reacting to the Chinese reclamation and construction of outposts in disputed areas of the South China Sea, a US State Department official said Tuesday these actions are an affront to the multilateral Declaration of Conduct that China had agreed to follow.

Daniel Russel, chief of State’s bureau of East Asia and Pacific affairs, said in Burma that China’s “occupying uninhabited land features” was going “far beyond what a reasonable person would consider with the maintenance of the status quo.”

He said: “The status quo as applied in 2002 when the ten ASEAN countries and China reached an agreement on a Declaration of Conduct that clearly and explicitly committed themselves to exercise restraint, to avoid occupying uninhabited land features, and—to paraphrase—to keep things as they were.”

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THINKING ALOUD: Russel resonates with our Postscript last June 12 wherein we thought aloud if only there could be some kind of what we call a court’s TRO (Temporary Restraining Order) binding China and the Philippines while talking of having more harmonious relations.

We went one step further and suggested – despite our knowing its being not feasible –a return to the status quo ante, meaning for the two countries to move back their pieces on the watery chessboard to where they were at an agreed date in the past.

Those suggestions were made out of desperation, seeing how China kept ignoring  our attempts to move to the bargaining table while it was gobbling bit by bit the fringes of Philippine territory.

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WE SAID: We long to see the day when Filipinos are able to fish again at Panatag shoal off Zambales, when the island town of Kalayaan in the Spratlys ceases worrying of an alien takeover, and when Filipino and Chinese technicians drill together for gas and oil.

To work out such an agreement resembling a TRO of sorts, however, Manila may have to enter into direct bilateral talks with Beijing – contrary to the US formula of multilateral bargaining possibly through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

There is also the question of what to do with the United Nations arbitration initiated by the Philippines at The Hague. China can be expected to demand the dropping of arbitration if the Philippines wants direct negotiations.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 15, 2014)

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