There is simply no other show in the Philippines like the occasion of the State of the Nation Address (SONA), especially when it involves President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino, his family, and his minions. Some star-struck Filipinos even liken the spectacle to the internationally-renowned Academy of Motion Pictures awards night or the Oscars because public servants who attend it wear the best glittering gowns and barong tagalogs taxpayers could buy. And their observation could be right. A lot of the public servants could win the best acting category for “Pretending to care for the welfare of the country and its people”.
If they actually did care, these public servants wouldn’t dare display such callous extravagance on the day the head of state is scheduled to give a report on his “efforts” to uplift the lives of the poor. SONA is also that once-a-year event when Filipinos with huge egos and exaggerated sense of self-importance gather together in one venue to see and be seen and more importantly, to be a willing audience to a one-man performance act.
Just like any blockbuster film, President BS Aquino’s fourth SONA was big on special effects but thin on substance. He dazzled the audience with too much information, complete with testimonials that weren’t really important to the bottom line, which is job creation. He stuck to the tried and tested formula – human drama that appeals to the gullible crowd. It seemed to work because they missed the irony in his claim that the government has expanded its assistance program Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino from 700,000 to 4 million households in the three years of his administration. No one noticed the fact that the increase in the number of Filipinos relying on government assistance means the number of poor people has increased as well. The statistics show that it is up by roughly 800,000.
President BS Aquino’s goal shouldn’t even be to increase the number of enrolments in the PPP. Instead, he should see to it that the program would eventually result in the increase in the number of Filipinos who become self-reliant. The initiative should adopt a procedure that is similar to the first in, first out concept. Meaning, if one family has been receiving benefits for a certain period of time, there should be a point when they graduate from the program and not be forever included in it. That way, the funds allocated for the program don’t have to be too exorbitant. Any welfare assistance program should include measures to show that it is actually achieving its poverty alleviation objective. One way to ensure that it is working is to place effective checks-and-balances that would discourage people from cheating the system.
After the SONA, comes the fact checking. This should have been done before the SONA but hey, this is the Philippines where the majority doesn’t really care. For some reason, whoever is helping the President gather data always gets something wrong. The Philippine Medical Association reportedly doubts the accuracy of the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) claim that 81 percent of Filipinos had so far been enrolled in the government’s universal healthcare program. To quote:
PMA president Dr. Leo Olarte said state health insurance had long been having difficulties with its information and communication technology (ICT) system to come up with a scientific count.
“If we assume that the total population of the Philippines is 100 million, then 81 percent of Filipinos who are supposedly enrolled in PhilHealth numbers to around 81 million,” Olarte said. “If we follow this kind of logic, a total of eight out of 10 hospital admissions across the country should be PhilHealth cases.”
But reports from various hospitals nationwide did not support this claim, said the head of PMA, an umbrella organization of medical doctors in the country.
“We are just curious and very interested to see the scientific basis of this particular PhilHealth declaration mainly because of some conflicting claims in the past,” Olarte said, pointing to the 2008 National Demographic Health Survey showing that only 38 percent of respondents were aware of at least one household member enrolled in PhilHealth.
Unfortunately, once the audience have been bombarded by data, they lose interest in checking its accuracy. It doesn’t matter if BS Aquino gets the figures wrong; he probably knows that the people wouldn’t care anyway.
An Aquino speech wouldn’t be complete without his signature theatrics. As usual, he dared to lambast and shame a few government agencies whose members he referred to as “makakapal ang mukha” (thick-faced) in front of a large audience. These agencies were Bureau of Immigration, National Irrigation Administration and Bureau of Customs with the latter receiving the full brunt of his tirade in the last half his 102-minute speech.
While it’s true that these agencies needed to improve their performance, BS Aquino’s sincerity in fixing the problem is highly questionable. Why did he feel the need to show his dissatisfaction with these agencies during his SONA? He inadvertently proved that he is not on top of the situation. Why didn’t he just fire the incompetent government employees? Or, the more decent thing for him to have done was sat down with the head of the agencies involved and speak to them about the need to shape up or ship out. He could have done this in a more private setting months ago.
Oh, that’s right: The President was busy campaigning for his party mates in the first half of the year, which could explain why he is not on top of the situation.
A lot of people were amazed at how BS Aquino could scold these agencies one day and then reject the resignation of the personnel in charge the next day. He was very inconsistent. At least three Customs officials have been compelled to file their resignation after being shamed in the SONA. Customs chief Ruffy Biazon, Deputy Commissioner Danny Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada were all willing to give up their posts but they were all told to stay put. It’s simply one of those things that make you go “hmmm…”
Both Ruffy Biazon and former rebel soldier, Danny Lim could not contain their frustration at their current posts. Both reportedly admitted that it is very difficult to institute reforms with Lim claiming that there are too many “powerful forces” that meddle in the Bureau of Custom’s affairs. Unfortunately, the former brigadier general who was instrumental to a number of failed coup d’etat against Former President Gloria Arroyo was not brave enough to name names.
Back when he was still a rebel soldier, he probably thought it was too easy to institute reforms in government. Now that he is part of the system, Danny Lim realizes that it is not that easy after all. He should also realize that it was naïve of him to blame everything on GMA and attempt to force her removal from office twice, once in 2003 and then again 2007. If he thinks that President BS Aquino has nothing to do with the corrupt activities in various agencies such as the Bureau of Customs, then it follows that GMA could not have had anything to do with the corruption in various agencies during her term as well. But we all know that it is unlikely he will see it that way. Some people simply want to blame everything on GMA.
Speaking of rebels, the number of activists expressing their grievances against the Aquino government seems to be growing. It’s not even limited to the ones in the country. It was reported that Filipinos from across the United States staged protest actions during BS Aquino’s SONA. Filipino-Americans protested simultaneously in front of the Philippine consulate offices because of the rampant injustice still happening in the Philippines.
We’re just criticizing, exposing the deceit of President Aquino’s state of the union address. We can see injustices still happening in the Philippines, poverty, corruption and the false promises of hope,” said Joshua Jimenez of Bayan-USA.
They said that despite the president touting high remittances and improved economies, and recent economic visits by Philippine officials to the US, majority Filipinos remain in poverty.
“One of the things we’re opposing is the labor export program of President Aquino where he systematically exports Filipino people and uses them and their labor, remittances to hold up the economy,” added Terry Cervas of women’s rights group Gabriella, “while they export Filipino people they don’t do anything to protect their rights.”
Indeed, BS Aquino’s SONA did not even give a special mention to the country’s breadwinners – the overseas foreign workers (OFWs). They left their families behind to seek employment overseas earning minimum wages but when some of them get in trouble, they claim that the Philippine government hardly gives them assistance. The OFWs have made BS Aquino’s job so easy. Their remittances have kept the country’s economy stay afloat and have been the reason for its resilience despite the economic crisis in other parts of the world. It wasn’t really BS Aquino’s hard work after all.
Locally, what started out as a “peaceful” demonstration outside the Batasan complex where SONA was being held quickly turned violent. What emerged was a picture of hopelessness and frustration towards the current government. One riot police officer became the symbol of frustration on social networking sites. Policeman Joselito Sevilla had an emotional breakdown after being berated by a very passionate activist from the Netherlands. Sevilla claimed that he broke down because he was already very tired and hungry. They haven’t rested since being deployed to guard the complex for two days straight and then violence erupted. The poor thing. He may have to change careers eventually because such an incident could have devastating consequences to a man’s wellbeing.
That is the reality that BS Aquino refuses to accept. He even claims that “it is wonderful to be a Filipino in these times.” Such sweet words that is music to his supporters’ ears. But for a lot of Filipinos, it is wonderful to be in another place, far away from the dysfunction and mediocrity at this time.
[Image of minions and Crying Cop courtesy Essays.ph and Yahoo! News respectively.]
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