ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Recent election may signal a new day in Philippine democracy
By David Swartzentruber
As is often the case in Asean, there are varying degrees of democracy in each of the 10 member countries, but the recent election of Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino - the son of the former president, Corazon Aquino, has been received well internationally and on the home front and may signal a new day in Philippine politics.
Congratulations from the United States, China and Japan have streamed in as the first automated election in the country’s history was virtually trouble –free. The efficiency of the election was a welcome relief for voters as queues formed under the hot sun.
There were more than 85,000 candidates for 17,000 national and local positions. It is believed that youth had the swing vote in this election as 40 percent of voters are 18-35 and there were a potential 3 million first-time voters
Runner-up Joseph Estrada trails Aquino by about 5.5 million votes in the official tally by Congress, consistent with unofficial tallies released by the election commission after the election, with around 1.5 million votes still to be canvassed. The Philippine Congress proclaimed Aquino as the Southeast Asian nation’s 15th president Tuesday as Aquino plans his inauguration at the Quezon Memorial.
Aquino took office with a pledge to tackle corruption and improve public health, education and the judiciary. Another volatile issue is the issue of birth control in this heavily Catholic country with the Catholic church’s hierarchy firmly opposed to it.
A major problem Aquino faces is the huge public debt. Writing on xinhuanet.com, Prime Sarmiento reports that tackling the huge public debt will be a major hurdle in reducing poverty.
Outgoing Finance Secretary Margarito Teves earlier warned that the budget deficit in 2011 could rise from the current 3.3 percent to as high as 4.4 percent of the county's GDP, if Aquino won't consider imposing new taxes under his administration, according to Sarmiento
On the upside, the Philippines is one of the few countries that managed to post a modest growth rate despite a global economic crisis that crippled Western economies. Under the watch of outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Philippine Gross Domestic (GDP) posted a 31-year high of 7. 3 percent in 2007. In the first quarter of this year, GDP expanded by an impressive 7.3 percent.
The Asian Development Bank said that compared to neighboring countries, the Philippines is lagging in terms of meeting the Millennium Development Goals specifically on poverty reduction. The poverty reduction target under the goals is for countries to halve poverty by 2015. That means in the next four years, Philippine poverty should be reduced to about 15 percent of its population.
A third of the country’s 90 million population exists on less than $2 U.S. per day.
Aquino’s position is that he would rather plug tax loopholes rather than raise taxes, a move that always brings political risks. How poverty reduction in the Philippines plays out after Aquino assumes office will be a story to watch during Aquino’s first months in office. Asean Affairs has an upcoming issue featuring an exclusive interview and cover story with the newly elected Aquino.
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