AQUINO: Pushing the Envelope, Single-Mindedly
Baviera, Aileen S. P., Southeast Asian Affairs
The year 2011 started for the Philippines with a huge shock - the suicide of Angelo Reyes, a retired general and former Cabinet member of the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, as a result of a Senate investigation into corruption within the ranks of the Philippine military. The year ended on a rather sour and sad note, with the initial GDP figures showing the economy's lacklustre performance, tropical storm Washi (Sendong) wreaking death and devastation over major cities in Northern Mindanao, while in Manila an open political conflict had broken out between President Benigno Aquino III and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Renato Corona, threatening a constitutional crisis.
If at the end of 2010 the Filipino people held high expectations and high hopes for the six-month-old government of Benigno Simeon Aquino III, by the end of 2011 there was much more division in opinion about how his government was succeeding both in its priority agenda of good governance and in meeting the people's expectations of a stronger economy and a better life. And yet President Aquino remained favoured in public opinion polls, largely due to perceptions of his strong political will in going after his predecessor Arroyo, who stands accused of many wrongdoings committed during her incumbency.
Campaign against Corruption
The suicide of former armed forces Chief of Staff Angelo Reyes in February was an outcome of public revelations that he, along with two other former military chiefs, had been receiving illegal monthly kickbacks and a "send-off" kitty amounting to millions of pesos upon retirement from the armed forces. The exposé was incidental to a Senate investigation on military corruption initiated when two key witnesses - former military budget officer George Rabusa and former state auditor Heidi Mendoza - blew the whistle on military comptroller General Carlos Garcia who had amassed hundreds of millions of pesos and maintained properties abroad.
Allegations of large-scale corruption in the military are highly sensitive in the 120,000-strong armed forces, whose troops have for decades been battling communist and Muslim insurgencies aside from terrorist threats, with little resources for the basic needs of the soldiers and their families.
But the focus of the campaign against corruption soon turned to the civilian government. The Aquino government was determined to root out corruption by making an example of how Gloria Arroyo herself can be brought to justice. The first order of business was ensuring that the state's judiciary will contribute to the effort, or at least not stand in the way. This proved to be difficult in a country where people and institutions had become so inured to the slow wheels of justice and where the powerful have long managed to escape paying retribution. Just as Marcos and his cronies were not brought to account for either corruption or human rights abuses, and just as Joseph Estrada managed to obtain a pardon after conviction on plunder charges and only a brief detention, there was a chance of Gloria Arroyo (now a congresswoman representing her province of Pampanga) evading having to account for official misdeeds. Impeachment charges had in fact been brought against Arroyo as early as June 2005 and at other times during her incumbency, but a then sympathetic Congress had rejected all charges.
Aquino tried to make sure this will not happen again. Arroyo - suffering from a rare bone disease - is now under "hospital arrest" at the Veterans' Memorial Medical Center, following her arrest on 18 November on charges of electoral sabotage harking back to the 2004 and 2007 elections. This was only the first of a string of cases the government has pledged to file against her, including ones involving corruption and possibly plunder.
Supreme Court not Quite Supreme
The process of holding Arroyo to account has become a grand political theatre in the country, and the plot thickens with each week that passes. In March, impeachment proceedings were begun by the House of Representatives against Arroyo-appointed Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez for "betrayal of public trust", referring to her failure to act on irregularities under the Arroyo government. The Supreme Court, dominated by Arroyo appointees and perceived to be biased in her favour, gave an order that temporarily stopped the impeachment hearings, prompting the vice-chairman of the House Committee on Justice to warn the Supreme Court against interfering with its legislative work, saying: "You are not Supreme. It's the people who are supreme."1
Gutierrez resigned in April before the impeachment case could be decided in the Senate. This paved the way for Aquino to appoint a new Ombudsman in July, Conchita Carpió-Morales, with the expectation that the filing of cases against Arroyo would commence shortly after.
In August, a joint panel of the Department of Justice and the Commission on Elections was formed by government to examine election cheating charges against Arroyo, and the panel found that Arroyo had indeed ordered the rigging of the 2007 election to favour administration candidates. The President's husband Jose Miguel Arroyo, himself charged with corruption for the irregular sale of used helicopters to the Philippine National Police, asked the Supreme Court to declare the panel's findings null and void, contesting the legality of the joint panel itself. Before the Supreme Court could decide on his appeal, and only hours after the election commission filed an electoral sabotage case against her, Mrs Arroyo had been placed in police custody.
After the removal of the pro- Arroyo Ombudsman, the administration trained its sights on the Supreme Court, which it saw as an obstacle to its anti-corruption campaign. The Supreme Court is presided by Chief Justice Renato Corona, who was named to the post by Arroyo just a few hours before her term as president expired, despite prohibitions in Philippine law against "midnight appointments" by an outgoing president.
While the independence of the judiciary and respect for the Supreme Court as the final arbiter in the dispensation of justice have largely been upheld in Philippine politics (with the exception of the years of the Marcos dictatorship), the system of justice as a whole is criticized by many as slow, inefficient, as well as corrupt. It was not helpful that Newsbreak, a respected media organ founded by investigative journalist Marites Vitug, had just published a seminal book titled Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court which did not paint the court in a flattering light. Vitug, who has since been sued for libel by one of the justices, had this to say in her book: "When I was writing this book, there were times I was gripped by surprise and disbelief. I did not idealize the Supreme Court as a perfect place. But I did not expect it, either, to be a place so tolerant of men and women who seem to take integrity lightly."2
The Aquino administration has accused the court under Corona to have demonstrated a strong bias in favour of Arroyo in a number of its recent decisions. Apparently the last straw was when the court intervened to lift a "watch-list" order against Arroyo that had been imposed by the government to prevent her from leaving the country. Immediately following this Supreme Court lifting, Arroyo tried to leave the country, ostensibly to seek medical treatment abroad, but was prevented from doing so by immigration authorities on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. The defiance by the executive branch of government of a Supreme Court order risked a constitutional crisis, but de Lima and President Aquino stood their ground.
Aquino's allies in the House of Representatives have now mustered the votes needed to impeach the Chief Justice, and the Senate in December constituted itself into an impeachment court that will begin proceedings come January 2012. The situation has raised fundamental questions about the separation of powers among the three coequal branches of government (the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary), the true meaning of checks and balances, and the independence of the judiciary that have been so fundamental to Philippine democracy since the repressive martial law years.
The head of the 50,000-strong Integrated Bar of the Philippines, opined that the impeachment of the Chief Justice was conducted with undue haste by the House of Representatives, arguing that "While we support the reform agenda of the president, its implementation must respect and not subvert the constitutional allocation of power." He continues, "This is sending a chilling effect. This sends a signal to judges that if the president does not like your ruling, they can make life difficult for you, or worse (you may) be impeached and removed."3
Arroyo partisans also claimed that the impeachment of Corona was part of the government's strategy of persecution against Arroyo. House of Representatives minority leader Edcel Lagman warned that a constitutional crisis might arise from the President's attacks against the Supreme Court, with Aquino responding that the objective was merely to remove Corona who was seen as a stumbling block to governance reforms.4
In the meantime, more cases were filed against Arroyo, including her seventh plunder case (for using funds intended for charity projects to finance election campaigns), and a civil case for her alleged role in the Maguindanao massacre in which fifty-eight people, including thirty-three journalists and media workers, were killed in 2009. In the latter case, she was accused of "coddling and abetting those behind the killings and for violating the rights of the victims".5 Charges of bribery and corruption in connection with the failed National Broadband Network project, involving the Chinese company Zhong Xing Telecommunications Corp., have also been filed against Arroyo, her husband, and two close associates who were then in government.
Consolidating the Power Base
Early in his administration, two factions reportedly emerged among the inner circle of supporters of President Aquino - one that rallied around his defeated vice-presidential running mate and now Transportation and Communications Secretary Manuel Roxas (called the Balay faction), and another that supported Roxas' victorious election opponent Vice-President Jejomar Binay (called the Samar faction). The two groups had been known to take opposing positions on various issues and personnel appointments by the President, but by the latter half of 2011 seemed able to downplay their differences and to work together, at least in the public view.6
Ronald Llamas, former activist and president of the party-list group Akbayan (Citizen's Action Party), which identifies itself as "democratic Left", was appointed presidential adviser on political affairs in January.7 Akbayan played an active role in the last year as a coalition partner of the President's Liberal Party, especially in going after the Arroyos; the former president's husband, sons, and brother-in law have also been accused of using position and influence for private gain. Also named Lead Convenor - a Cabinet-level position - of the National AntiPoverty Commission, was Joel Rocamora, while former congresswoman Loretta Ann Rosales was appointed chair of the Commission on Human Rights. The appointment of party-list representatives to important positions is considered remarkable in a political system where such positions traditionally fall to the President's own party or to supporters from other mainstream political parties within the coalition. On the other hand, another leftist party-list group identified with the communist party - Bayan Muna (The People First) - maintained a more critical stance towards the Aquino government.
The Liberal Party itself, which Aquino chairs, made inroads in turning the government away from personality-based politics of the past into a more political programme-based one.8 The principles of the Liberal Party include "democratic government, individual freedoms, robust guarantees of civil liberties, wider system of checks and balances, rule of law, citizen involvement, and human rights".9
The first year and a half of the Aquino government saw some progress in upholding some of these principles, particularly when contrasted with the authoritarian bent of the previous government. For instance, on 10 December 2010, Aquino ordered the Justice Department to drop charges against forty-three men and women - among them doctors and health workers - who had been arrested under the Arroyo government's watch for illegal possession of firearms and explosives, because the charges were based on illegally obtained evidence. A year later, counter-insurgency expert Major General Jovito Palparan was ordered arrested for kidnapping and serious illegal detention in connection with the 2006 disappearance of two university students and suspected communists Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.
In the Legislature, the Liberal Party drew a large number of defections from the former ruling party. The 109 seats originally held by the pro- Arroyo LakasKampi-CMD after the May 2010 elections had dwindled to 25 by September 2011. Party-switching is a common phenomenon in the Philippines immediately following elections. In addition, former allies began to abandon Arroyo in response to the administration's enticements of committee leadership, as well as due to the administration's delays in releasing pork barrel (Priority Assistance Development Fund) to opposition legislators, a practice that Arroyo herself was guilty of during her terms in office.
"The People are the Boss"
Benigno Aquino III has repeatedly emphasized that in his government, the people are "the boss". A number of controversial policy issues gripped the Filipino public's imagination in the year 2011, and provided much reason for citizens' engagement, with mixed results as to whether "the people" indeed felt they were "the boss".
RH Bill. Among them was the passage of a law that would help curtail the country's population growth, known as the Reproductive Health bill. The Philippines has one of the world's highest population growth rates at 2.04 per cent, and many analysts agree that recent gains in economic growth tend to be eroded by the rapid increase in population. Yet there continues to be resistance to government efforts to legislate measures to curb such growth.
The RH bill - which emphasizes the provision of education so that parents can make informed choices - drew support from a broad spectrum of the population. Similar measures had been discussed by four previous Congresses but past administrations had shown little political will to pass a law, faced with a recalcitrant Catholic Church and pro-life organizations. Gloria Arroyo was believed to have killed the bill in exchange for political support of the bishops.
President Aquino declared support for the bill, saying he was even willing to be excommunicated over his support for the bill, for which he was labelled "anti-Christian" by Archbishop Oscar Cruz.10 In August, the President certified the bill as a priority measure, but by the end of the year, the legislative debates were still ongoing, disrupted once more by corruption investigations.
Freedom of Information. Another controversial bill was the proposed Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, which had first been approved by the Philippine Senate in December 2009 but which languished and was effectively killed by the House of Representatives two years later. The act is intended to allow access to key public documents, including those related to projects tainted with corruption. Exceptions include information related to internal or external defence or anti-crime activities where the safety of persons might be put at risk if made public. After initially demonstrating his strong support for this transparency measure, the President failed to certify it as a priority measure of his legislative agenda, despite a strong lobby mounted by media organizations and NGOs, and this led to its eventual demise.
But there were some small gains in the campaign for greater transparency as well. The Department of National Defense turned over to the Commission on Human Rights documents from the martial law period that they had just been declassified after thirty years. The files included dossiers that the Marcos dictatorship had kept on the current chair of the human rights body Loretta Ann Rosales, as well as on the President's father Benigno Aquino Jr., who was assassinated in 1983. Rosales, during the handing over, said: "in a society where the scars of martial rule have only superficially been healed, the Martial Law Files Project is a transformative tool for achieving transitional justice".11
The ARMM Election. In the months leading to the scheduled August 2011 elections for the leaders of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao, the Aquino government argued for its postponement until the 2013 midterm elections, on the grounds that this will allow important reforms in the ARMM to be instituted. Republic Act 10153 was passed to this effect, and it allowed the President to appoint officers-in-charge for ARMM positions where the incumbent's term of office expired on 30 September 2011.
House minority leader Edcel Lagman contested the legality of Republic Act 10153, saying it violated the constitution when it granted power to the President to appoint officials to elected positions, but the Supreme Court ultimately upheld its legality. Other groups scored the postponement of elections as a violation of the principles of democracy and autonomy, fearing also that the proposed reforms in ARMM were being linked with issues on the negotiating table in ongoing peace talks between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).12 In the meantime, President Aquino appointed Mujiv Hataman, party-list representative of Anak Mindanaw, as officer-in-charge of the ARMM. Incidentally, little progress was made during the year in the peace talks with the MILF, and the same was true for the peace process with the Communist Party-National Democratic Front-New People's Army.
Marcos Burial. Considerable debate also ensued over efforts by the Marcos family to have the remains of the former dictator, still in his home province of llocos Norte, buried with full state honours at the Libingan ng Bayani (Heroes' Cemetery), where past presidents and soldiers are interred. A compromise solution was offered by the Vice-President Jejomar Binay who had been tasked to negotiate with the Marcos family, to have the burial in llocos Norte but allowing military honours, but even this sparked enormous opposition especially among human rights advocates and victims of the dictatorship. Some members of the political class, however, tended to be more accommodating of the Márcoses. In fact, the strongman's son, mother, and sister continue to be active in the local political scene. In the end, President Aquino rejected the proposal that any state honours be given, saying that the victims of the Marcos regime had yet to be accorded any apology or compensation.
Good Macroeconomic Environment
In global comparative terms, the macroeconomic situation showed positive signs for the Philippines. According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Report 2011-2012, the country rose up the ranks of the survey fourteen places to become 54th, helped by lower public deficit and debt, improved country credit rating, and success in keeping inflation under control.
Philippine GDP had in fact grown by 7.6 per cent in 2010, a record thirtyfour-year high. As of July 2011, the International Monetary Fund still had a "favourable" outlook for the Philippines, despite a slowdown during the first six months. Manila itself had forecast a growth rate of five to six per cent for 2011. But events in Japan, the declining U.S. economy, and the eurozone crisis led to a retreat in exports, while high fuel costs, typhoon damage, and government underspending also took their toll. After the first nine months of the year, GDP growth had slowed to only 3.6 per cent. During the last quarter, the administration tried to catch up by releasing funds for building roads, bridges, irrigation systems, and schools. A 70 billion peso stimulus fund has also been earmarked for 2012.13 The projected growth for 2011 is now 3.7 per cent.14
On the other hand, remittances from overseas Filipino workers and the business process outsourcing sector continued to grow, providing much-needed relief. Remittances for 2011 are projected to reach US$23 billion, up from $18.7 billion in 2010. In January 2011, it was reported that the Philippines had surpassed India as the top destination globally for call centres, employing over 500,000 and generating $6.3 billion in revenue in 2011. The industry was further expected to grow 15-20 per cent annually.15
Tourism is also emerging as a priority of government, which set targets of six million tourists and three million related jobs by 2016.16 Also on the bright side, the economy had generated 2.057 million new jobs between October 2010 and October 2011, much higher than the targets set out in the Philippine Development Plan of one million new jobs a year.17
Public- Private Partnership
The most obvious disappointment on the economic front arose from underspending in infrastructure, as government conducted a thorough review of big-ticket projects, cancelling many on suspicion of corruption and in the process slowing down the entry or implementation of new projects. Government proposed to raise investments in infrastructure through public-private partnerships (PPP) - contractual arrangements whereby the private sector can provide financial support and expertise in implementing government projects more efficiently, while government focuses on its core responsibilities such as project prioritization. However, learning from the mistakes of the previous Arroyo administration, new ethical standards as well as more stringent criteria were imposed for demonstrating that each project is clearly beneficial, slowing down the process considerably.18 An amended build-operate-transfer law also turned out to be problematic for the PPP, as it required that all priority PPP projects be awarded only through solicited bids, rather than unsolicited offers. This means government itself will carry the burden of producing the bid documents and preparatory studies.19
In his July State of the Nation Address, Aquino pledged to increase investments from 14 per cent to as high as 28 per cent of the GDP by the time he leaves office in 2016. To do that, he must not only work to stamp out corruption - which businessmen often cite as the biggest problem in doing business in the country - but address as well the other major obstacles such as an inefficient government bureaucracy, poor infrastructure, policy instability, and tax regulations.20 Looking at the longer term prospects for development, institutional factors such as the dominance of corporate conglomerates in strategic sectors (e.g., agriculture, maritime and air transport, power, cement, and banking) are a possible obstacle, providing disincentives to investment in sectors that have strong backward and forward linkages to them, especially in manufacturing.21
Another development programme announced late in the year was the Regional Infrastructure for Growth Project, a lending programme for local public infrastructure and services, whereby local government units, public utilities, and public-private sector partnership enterprises will be given support for projects such as water supply, solid waste management, agricultural support systems, disaster risk mitigation, construction of school buildings and health centres, transport facilities, and tourism support.
The Department of Finance also waged a high-profile "name and shame" campaign against prominent tax evaders, zeroing in on doctors, lawyers, actors, and the like. The Bureau of Internal Revenue reported that only five million Filipinos - mostly salaried workers - pay their taxes, while over 20 million are able to evade payment of taxes. Improved collection and the introduction of new taxes are expected to help keep the fiscal targets within reach.22 On the other hand, continuing efforts to increase revenue by imposing a "sin" tax on alcohol and tobacco faced continuing obstacles.
Mining: Still no Light at the End of the Tunnel
The mining industry continued to be a major attraction to foreign investors during the year. The Philippines is known to have the third-biggest gold deposits in the world, and is believed to be fourth in copper, fifth in nickel, and sixth in chromite. Per one estimate, the country's untapped mineral wealth is worth US$840 billion. A single site - the $5.9-billion Tampakan copper-gold project, said to cover the largest undeveloped copper-gold deposit in Southeast Asia - reportedly has the potential to add 1 per cent to Philippine GDP yearly after 20 16.23 Natural gas reserves off the coast of Palawan have also been tapped to generate electricity.
The Philippines had been among the world's leading gold and copper producers up to the 1980s, but low metal prices, high production costs, and poor investment in infrastructure led to decline. A Mining Law was passed in 1995 to liberalize the industry for foreign investment, allowing 100 per cent foreignowned companies to invest in large-scale exploration, development, and utilization of minerals, oil, and gas. It also mandates all mining companies to allocate and spend 3-5 per cent of direct mining and milling costs for the implementation of social development and environmental projects.24
Despite the more liberal environment, there were security problems, strident opposition from environmentalists backed by the vocal Catholic Church, and a lack of clear policy guidelines that prevented fulfilment of much of the sector's promise. The original target had been to attract US$3 billion in mining investments for 2011, but the likely year-end figure is only $1 billion, about the same as 2010.
There is also a tug-of-war between local government and the national government on the revenue from mining activities. The 1991 Local Government Code provides that 40 per cent should go to local government units (to be divided among the provincial and city/municipal authorities and the host communities), but local governments have increasingly complained of receiving only miniscule amounts. Local and national authorities were also divided on the issue of smallscale and large-scale mining. South Cotabato province, for instance, issued a ban on open-pit mining - a precedent-setting case of local laws being passed that defy a national law.
The Aquino government is now considering declaring mines as mineral reservations, which would allow it to increase excise taxes. Big mining companies launched a major campaign against this, and are pushing instead for a progressive system of excise taxes linked to metal prices. Ultimately, the government must try to strike a balance between extracting economic benefit from mining activities (including contributions to employment and poverty reduction) and their potentially harmful impact on the environment and local communities.
The Need for Social Safety Nets
One of the bright spots in the social arena was the continuing implementation of the Conditional Cash Transfer (the "Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino") programme that Gloria Arroyo had begun in 2008. Under the programme, families who count among the "poorest of the poor" with children fourteen years and below are provided monthly subsidies for food, health, and education requirements, on the condition that their children have at least 85 per cent attendance in school, and that they present themselves to public health providers for maternal and childcare services. The programme is intended to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and to help the country attain its Millennium Development Goals for basic education and maternal health.
The Aquino government allocated 21 billion pesos in 201 1 and expanded the programme from benefiting 700,000 families in its first two years to involving 2.2 million poor households, with the medium-term target being 4 million families.25 An AusAID- World Bank study indicated that about 90 per cent of the beneficiaries of the programme come from the poorest 40 per cent of the population. The programme has, however, been criticized for offering only stop-gap relief rather than permanent solutions, and for not capturing the "floating population" of people who have no fixed residences or move around in search of jobs.
Meanwhile the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. in 2011 continued to push its campaign to provide 100 per cent coverage for all Filipinos within two or three years.26 Social services will take 31.3 per cent, the biggest share, of the 2012 national budget.27
Damage from tropical storm Washi (Sendong) which hit northern Mindanao and Palawan in mid-December was of catastrophic proportions. Nearly 1,500 people died, while another 1,000 remain unaccounted for. Entire villages were swept out to sea when the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, which are not on the usual path of weather disturbances of this sort, experienced massive flash foods.
Without question, the highlights of Philippine foreign relations in 2011 were the increase in tensions with China over the territorial disputes in the South China Sea and, on the other hand, reinvigorated security cooperation with the United States.
The Philippines and the United States, formal military allies since 1951, initiated their first Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in January of 2011. The meeting involved senior undersecretaries for defence and for foreign affairs on both sides, and is intended to cover bilateral, regional, and global issues.
Prior mechanisms for security dialogue and coordination between the two allies had in the past decades focused on operational concerns - appearing to take for granted the mutuality of strategic goals. In that context, the establishment of a strategic dialogue is symptomatic of the increasing maturity of the relations and of greater recognition of Philippine sovereign interests.
On 2 March, an incident was reported whereby two patrol vessels of the People's Republic of China tried to intimidate an oil vessel operating under Philippine license in Reed Bank (Recto Bank) just off the coast of Palawan province. Occurring in the wake of several other alleged intrusions by China, the Reed Bank incident drew sharp rhetoric from no less than President Aquino himself, who in his State of the Nation Address in July stated (in translation): "What is ours is ours.... We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone, but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours."
The year 2011 saw the delivery by the United States of one of their decommissioned Coast Guard cutters to become the decrepit Philippine Navy's most modern ship yet, for deployment in the vicinity of Reed Bank. Visits to Manila by Deputy Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific Kurt Campbell in October and Secretary Hilary Clinton in November also underscored the desire for coordination on maritime domain awareness and maritime security capability building.
Washington is extending assistance in setting up the National Coast Watch System (NCWS), whose main objective is to help the country face "maritime challenges and threats such as terrorism, transnational crimes, drug and firearms trafficking, smuggling, human trafficking, climate change, illegal fishing, marine environment degradation and other security concerns". NCWS also hopes to "harmonize the policies, programs and activities on intelligence work, border control, interdiction and law enforcement of several government agencies such as the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Philippine National Police-Maritime Group, among others, for better maritime governance".28
The emphasis on external security did not mean, however, that diplomacy and economic relations with China would take a back seat. Aquino conducted a four-day state visit to China from 30 August to 3 September, visiting Beijing, Shanghai, and Xiamen. The visit was concluded successfully, resulting in new economic cooperation agreements, but making no progress regarding the territorial disputes. Of note was a commitment by the two governments, again learning from gross errors by the Arroyo government, to henceforth practice good governance principles in their economic transactions.
Another issue with China that needed sensitive handling was the execution of Filipino drug couriers who had been charged and imprisoned in China for drug trafficking. The Aquino government was constrained to make representations with the Chinese Government to grant clemency to its nationals, and at the same time to explain to its public the need to respect Chinese legal processes while affirming its own policies against drug trafficking. Responding to Aquino's request, China commuted the sentences of two of the Filipinos on death row, and delayed the execution of three others by a month. In the end, three Filipino drug mules were executed in China in March, and another in December of 2011.
The Aquino administration also faced a crisis in its Taiwan relations when it decided to deport 14 Taiwanese, along with 10 mainland Chinese, who were facing credit card fraud charges in China but were arrested in the Philippines, to Beijing rather than to Taipei, upon Beijing's request. This naturally infuriated the government in Taipei, where over 72,000 Filipinos reside and work. Aquino defended the February 2011 deportation, saying that at the time of the arrest of the Taiwanese, "there was a red flag from the Interpol (to arrest them) and when their identification was being requested, they failed to present proper identification and in that regard, we did what was the proper thing to do".29 Some quarters in the Philippines linked this action to appeasement of China on account of the drug mules, but also on account of the Philippine authorities' poor management of a hostage-taking in Manila in 2010 that had left eight Hong Kong tourists dead.30
Under the leadership of newly appointed Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert del Rosario, the Aquino government tried to move the process of dispute settlement in the South China Sea forward with bold (if rather blunt) initiatives - seeking active support from ASEAN and other neighbouring states for new proposals to address the sovereignty questions which are at the root of the disputes, expressing readiness to bring the disputes before the international courts, and challenging China to accept multilateral negotiation processes. On most counts, it was faced with disappointment, but appears to have no plans to get out of the game.
Also in September, Aquino visited the United States to participate in the Obama government's new initiative of "Open Government Partnership", and then went to Japan to strengthen overall ties but also to take up political-security concerns including the South China Sea. Aquino also made official or state visits to Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, and Brunei in 2011 and participated in ASEAN meetings in Bah, after having already visited Vietnam, the United States, and Japan in 2010.
Overall, 2011 was a productive year for the government of Benigno Simeon Aquino UI, in terms of consolidation of support for its rule. It was also a period of testing limits. It pushed the envelope in terms of what the executive can demand from the legislature and the judiciary for its single-minded pursuit of a political promise to curb corruption in the political system. It pushed the envelope in its foreign policy by challenging allies and neighbours to take more concrete action to resolve the long-standing territorial problems and address concerns about a rising military power on the horizon. In the process, this government was seen to have made many mistakes, was criticized at times for both arrogance and lack of competence, leading the president to state at the end of 2011, that his "learning curve" was "over", and that he expected to do better in 2012.
1. Rio Rose Ribaya, "House OKs Gutierrez Impeach Move", Manila Bulletin, 1 March 2011
3. "Aquino's War on Corruption Stirs Debate", 15 December 2011
4. "News Analysis: Impeachment of Corona Casts Shadow on National Economy", 17 December 2011
5. Leila B. Salaverria and Philip C. Tubeza, "Arroyo Faces More Troubles. Suits Pressed for Plunder, Maguindanao Massacre", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 22 November 2011
6. Maria P Gutierrez, "The Palace Factions: A Year After", Newsbreak, 29 June 2011
7. "Pnoy Names Akbayan President Political Adviser", Newsbreak, 20 January 2011
8. Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty, "Christian-Democrats Bow to Liberal Party Politics", 10 February 2011
9. Florangel Rosario Braid, "More to the Point. Liberalism and National Sovereignty", 13 April 2010
10. "Aquino Willing to Risk Excommunication for RP Bill", 17 April 2011
11. T.J. Burgonio, "Martial Law Papers Out: Declassified Documents Turned Over to CHR", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 11 December 2011
12. Mary a Salamat, "Moro Groups Slam Postponement of ARMM Elections", 1 July 20 1 1
13. NEDA Bares Stimulus Plan for Higher Growth", Philippine Star, 19 December 2011
14. "Philippines, Other Asian Emerging Economies' 2011 Growth Expected to Slow", 20 December 2011
15. Michelle Yun and Kathy Chu, "Philippines Passes India in Call Center Jobs", USA Today, 9 January 2011
16. Virgil Lopez, "Philippines Maintains Tourist Target by 2016", SunStar Manila, 3 May 2011
17. Solita Collas-Monsod, "2011's Positive Spots", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 31 December 2011, p. A10.
18. Josef T. Yap, "The Philippines: Weak Institutions Drag on Economic Performance", East Asia Forum, 1 January 2011
19. Raul V. Fabella, "SLEx-NLEx Link Project", 13 June 201 1
20. World Economic Forum, Global Competitiveness Report 2011-12.
21. Yap, "The Philippines: Weak Institutions".
22. "Philippines Tax Campaign Reins in Budget Deficit", 7 March 2011
23. Felipe F. Salvosa U, "Business Groups Reject Mining Policy Changes", Business World Online, 16 June 2011
24. Daxim L. Lucas, "Mining Industry Rolls Out Pl .5B Social Program. Aimed at Winning Over Communities, stakeholders", Philippine Daily Inquirer, 19 December 2011
25. Waiden Bello, "The Conditional Cash Transfer Debate and the Coalition against the Poor", 2 November 2011
26. Fernand Marasigan, "Proposal to Tax Text Messages Opposed", 7 November 2011
27. Johanna D. Poblete, "Aquino OK's P1.816-trillion Budget for 2012, Vetoes Debt Limit", 15 December 2011
28. Delon Porcalla, "Aquino Forms National Coast Watch System", 12 September 2011
29. Amita O. Legaspi, "PNoy: We Did Right in Deporting 14 Taiwanese to China", 22 February 2011
30. Ana Marie Pamintuan, "Foreign Policy", Philippine Star, updated 18 February 2011 <^ttp://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=658474&pubhcationSubCategoryId=>.
Aileen S.P. Baviera is Professor at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: AQUINO: Pushing the Envelope, Single-Mindedly. Contributors: Baviera, Aileen S. P. - Author. Journal title: Southeast Asian Affairs. Publication date: January 1, 2012. Page number: 241+. © Institute of Southeast Asian Studies 2008. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.