President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino will be delivering his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 22, 2013. It has been three years since majority of Filipino voters elected the son of so-called “heroes” into the highest office in the land. Little did those voters know that after he banished the use of “wang-wang” on the streets in his first month in office — a decision some thought was bold and a sign that he meant business — not much would change under his leadership.
In fact, the culture of impunity remains alive and well under the Second Aquino Presidency. Likewise, poverty levels in the country remain unchanged which, according to the President’s own motto, is a confirmation that corruption still exists in government. This is hardly surprising considering the PDAF or pork barrel funds given to congressmen remain exempted from auditors. Allegations of misuse of these funds keep haunting its recipients under the Aquino government with scams run by organized syndicates implicating the President’s men. Recently, even the Presidential sister Ballsy Aquino and husband Eldon Cruz were accused of extorting money from a Czech for a government contract for the Metro Rail Transit.
When people go through President BS Aquino’s previous SONAs, they will find that some of the stuff that he claimed he had already achieved were mere intentions or are still on the drawing board. They appear to be products of his wishful thinking or something that he wanted to achieve but could not because, for one, he kept focusing too much on the wrong set of priorities and, two, he has gone about achieving his goals the wrong way. After four years, it is safe to say that his plans need to go back to the drawing board because they have not delivered the results everyone is waiting for. As the saying goes, plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work. Here’s a statement that he claims were achieved in his third SONA:
Now, with a level playing field, and clear and consistent rules, confidence in our economy is growing. Investments are pouring in, jobs are being created, and a virtuous cycle has begun—where empowered consumers buy more products, and businesses hire more people so they can expand to keep up with the growing demand.
One wonders what his basis is in saying that there is now equal opportunity for all when he only gives opportunities and breaks to his own family members and friends. This is evident when he quickly dismisses allegations of corruption involving his allies. This was also evident when he granted the position of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to his long time friend and former classmate; Maria Lourdes Sereno even when there were candidates more qualified for the position.
Some people were actually saying that putting a close ally in the Supreme Court was the Aquino-Cojuanco clan’s ultimate goal in removing former Chief Justice Renato Corona in 2012. They say it has something to do with prolonging their hold in the family’s sugar plantation in Hacieda Luisita. This was an observation made by a lot of people when the President’s bid to impeach the former Chief Justice became increasingly irrational as it played out before the media. He had no qualms about conducting a trial by media and releasing his hounds in the press to demonize Corona. It is no secret that Corona put the distribution of Hacienda Luisita as one of his priorities during his stint in the Supreme Court. It was quite bizarre that crimes like the Maguindanao massacre where 56 people died did not get as much attention as Corona’s “offenses” — offenses that pale in comparison to what some public servants have committed in the past.
Sereno’s current stint as Chief Justice has not brought the “reform” BS Aquino has been boasting about. Reports even say that Sereno’s inexperience and the fact that she leapfrogged more senior justices for the coveted post has brought disunity and animosity among the justices in the Supreme Court. This is hardly good news for the victims of heinous crimes who thought real reform would come as President BS Aquino promised.
In his previous SONA, President BS Aquino claimed that investments are pouring in and jobs are being created. This is contrary to what the figures are saying. 2013 unemployment rose to 7.5 percent in April from last year’s 6.9 percent according to the latest Labor Force Survey. The National Statistics Office likewise confirmed that Philippine employment dipped to 37.82 million in April 2013 from the 37.84 million in April 2012.
In his fourth SONA, BS Aquino will predictably highlight the country’s 7.8% economic growth achieved in the first quarter and the Fitch Ratings credit upgrade from BB+ to BBB- last April without admitting that they did not make a difference to the employment and poverty rate. As some of us have predicted in the past, the economic growth rate will not mean much to the unemployed Filipinos because government and consumer spending – the primary driver of the Philippine economy – do not create permanent jobs for people outside of the retail and building industry.
The SONA will not be complete without the mention of the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (PPPP) and the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT). It is interesting to note that without Filipinos realizing it, the country has somehow turned into a welfare state. In a move that could be considered yet another band-aid solution, the government is increasing their budgets for the projects from 44 to 60 billion pesos. It is possible that this is a response to the critics who are saying that the poor did not feel the effect of Noynoy’s much-touted economic growth rate. Indeed, in a statement, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad admitted the “government would try to make people feel the effect of economic growth with the use of the CCT program.”
It is very convenient for the Aquino government to simply use taxpayers’ money to keep the poor from complaining. Some would say it’s all too easy. He and his cabinet won’t have to think of a permanent solution to the rise in poverty. Obviously, this program will continue until BS Aquino steps down in 2016. The problem will be somebody else’s after that. He might even boast the way he boasted in the past about how the number of recipients of the cash dole outs will increase. Not realizing that of course it would increase when the number of poor people continues to grow. And it will keep growing if the government does not find a more sustainable solution to the unemployment rate.
Despite the Philippines’ territorial disputes with our South East Asian neighbors, which has made headline news for the last couple of years, BS Aquino will likely gloss over these issues only briefly in his SONA. Unless he wants to risk the ire of China once again, he will not mention the fact that the US military is back using Subic in their military exercises. Glossing over it reduces the likelihood of people noticing that he could be violating the Constitution for allowing its use. Well, some might think that BS Aquino has sought the help of Uncle Sam in easing the tension with China but he won’t admit that in his SONA for sure.
The territorial dispute with Malaysia regarding Sabah will hardly get a mention in the SONA considering BS Aquino does not want to risk endangering the recently-concluded talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was held in Kuala Lumpur. The deaths of Filipinos who laid claim on Sabah soil in the hands of Malaysian military forces will not get a mention. The Philippine government treated them as terrorists anyway.
Speaking of terrorists, what President Aquino will highlight is his own impression that the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro will pave the way for “peace” in Mindanao. Never mind that some people perceive the deal as giving in to the rebel forces of the MILF and technically giving away the region. According to a report, “the government and MILF have agreed to a 50-50 sharing but with incremental increases in access to fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal) and uranium” in the region. Some of BS Aquino’s critics even claim that he has done this deal just to win a Nobel Peace Prize. If he ever wins the prize, it still won’t guarantee a long lasting peace in the region.
Previous SONA’s took over an hour to finish. This year could go over two hours. President BS Aquino has been reportedly been busy in the last few weeks writing it himself. He could be putting a little bit more unnecessary motherhood statements similar to his previous one that claims, “the government that once abused its power is finally using that power for their benefit.” Such statements hardly inspire Filipinos to be more vigilant of government activities. If anything, they just make people act indifferent and apathetic. As long as the majority thinks he is doing the right thing, BS Aquino will continue to act like he is. As another saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, perhaps paved with excessive use of taxpayers’ money too.
[Photo of squatter shanties courtesy Data Entry Philippines.]