AS Mr. Aquino is preparing for his last SONA, the most relevant question to ask is not about what his address would be but this one: Why did the nation fail to react to his many over-the-top, hollow SONA claims over the past five years? And the broader question: Why are his day-to-day claims that we are better off now than we were five years ago still uncontested? Mr. Aquino has been dishing out partisan, highly biased claims about his presidency since 2010, yet not one has stood up to offer a truer, less partisan version of the little his administration has done–little things that have been blown out of proportion.
Under a democracy, when a President says the world is flat, it is the function of that nation’s civil society or the function of that nation’s public intellectuals to correct the President and throw at him the evidence that it is otherwise. Forget the politicians.
Correcting the incredulous, unverifiable, egregious claims of a President is a vital function of informed, vigilant citizens under a democracy. There are no Dear Leaders in a real democracy, a democracy with fully functioning institutions. In the case of Mr. Aquino, however, he has been feeding the nation with five years of baloney and no one has been able to present compelling and powerful (and metrics-based) evidence that it is not so. The political parties, it is common knowledge, are too enfeebled to do that.
For example these: The general claim that life has been better for Filipinos. That this is no longer the sclerotic country he took over from five years ago. That this is no longer the brazenly corrupt country he took over from five years ago. Expressions of triumphalism, ad infinitum.
Viewing these claims from the prism of his own-challenged life, the common man knows that Mr. Aquino must be talking about another country. Or that his claims are fairy tales. But his assigned fact-checkers in a democracy, the public intellectuals or segments of the civil society that are supposed to know better and are mandated to correct the President, have been absent over the past five years of the Aquino rule. The common man has nowhere to turn to for sage advice so he can vet the truthfulness or falsehoods of Mr. Aquino’s grandiose claims.
No one has successfully argued the point that Mr. Aquino’s claim of delivering a better life to most of us, is at best, a doubtful proposition. It is true for the upper class and top 1 percent who have been sucking up most of the economic gains for the past five years. And in five years, he has helped create a thriving number of Filipino dollar billionaires that Forbes tracks down assiduously. But the fact that the 99 percent are just bystanders in the so-called economic miracles under Mr. Aquino remains a muted issue. Because the fact-checkers for democracy have largely ignored that issue.
What is sadder is that verifying and fact-checking Mr. Aquino’s grandiose claims is not really a draconian task at all for public intellectuals who can shift readily through facts and data and counter the over-the-top claims. They only need a few minutes to do that.
After Pope Francis called the “ trickle-down” doctrine bunk and after President Obama defined the crippling impact of inequality in stark terms, American public intellectuals readily supported those statements with data. With clear charts, data was readily presented. From 2009 to 2014, the five years after 2008– the year the Great Recession struck the developed world–the income of the Top 1 grew by 58 percent. The income of the bottom plus 90 percent grew by just 1.6 percent.
The downward spiral of the fortunes of the American middle class, the figures also showed, started in earnest in the early 1980s, the start of the trickle-down experiment. The best years for the middle class, to further debunk trickle-down, were during the high tax regimes.
How can we explain the epic failure of the Filipino public intellectuals to fact-check the claims of Mr. Aquino and five years of baloney? Throw into that mix the egomaniacal rants of those in the business of punditry and we have a complete paralysis of independent thinking and across-the-board vacuity. The Manila Times has voices that are both critical and independent but they have been drowned out by the general cluelessness of the pundit class.
With no one stepping in to separate truth from baloney, dross from gold and hype from real accomplishments, the last year of Mr. Aquino will run on an entirely predictable course–feeding us more of the same unproven, unverifiable claims of greatness. The last SONA will be a valedictory address of some sort for Mr. Aquino. Many feel that he will use the last SONA as a forum to cite his imagined legacies. Which predictably will be these:
An “ anti-corruption” campaign that prosecuted mostly his political enemies, or those who would oppose his anointed candidate in 2016.
An economic growth that vacuumed 90 percent of the gains upward, making his government a reverse Robin Hood–getting from the poor to reward to the rich.
A government of “ integrity” that cynically invented the DAP to replace the pork barrel and concentrate power over the pork to the executive branch.
Of course, we will just turn off our TV sets during his “legacy-cementing” last SONA. Then make a silent vow to vote against his banner carrier in 2016.