President Benigno Aquino 3rd took almost two hours to tick off the achievements of his administration in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
But nowhere in his 12,000-word speech did the President mention the alleged anomalies surrounding the pork barrel or the attempted shakedown on a Czech company by officials of the Metro Rail Transit.
The President gave a stern warning to government agencies that performed below his expectations, such as the Bureaus of Immigration and Customs and the National Irrigation Authority whose head he recently sacked.
Aquino scolded Customs for its failure to stop smuggling. The Department of Finance, he said, estimates that more than P200 billion in revenue is lost through smuggling.
“It seems that the BOC has allowed the rampant smuggling of drugs, arms, and other contraband into our territories,” he said.
He also chastised the NIA for the agency’s irregularities. “Instead of laying out plans for new irrigation systems, the ‘make-do’ culture of the leadership at NIA is content with the continued rehabilitation of existing irrigation alone,” he said.
He bewailed the poor performance of Immigration in preventing escape of fugitives, and for its failure to improve their watch on ports and airports.
“Only honest, capable, and principled civil servants will be allowed to enter and remain in government service,” Aquino said.
But the President also paraded several government personnel who performed well, such as an unarmed policewoman who fought off robbers singlehandedly.
The President commended the Department of Education’s K-to-12 basic education program, which he said would give young Filipinos a chance to be one step closer in competing with other countries academically.
The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, or the K-to-12 Act, establishes
a “universal kindergarten” and introduces Grades 11 and 12 to high school education in public and private schools.
Aquino also drew attention to the large percentage of the youth who finished the programs offered by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda) and Department of Labor and Employment who he said were able to find jobs.
Of the 503,521 Tesda and DOLE scholars, six out of 10 are now employed in the information technology sector and electronics and semiconductors sector, he said.
“Our goal to raise the quality of learning that our children undertake, so that, once they finish their schooling, they can seize the opportunities now opening up in society was accomplished,” he said.
He said the Education department will finally end the classroom shortage this year.
Citing the importance of education in alleviating poverty, Aquino said the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program or Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) will be expanded to cover families with high school students next year.
“Our objective to expand the reach of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program,” he said, adding that the income of high school graduates is greater by 40 percent than the income of those who only finished elementary.
He said the number of beneficiaries in the CCT has dramatically increased from 700,000 to 4 million.
Aquino vowed to increase infrastructure support for farmers and fishermen.
While the Philippines has started exporting rice to neighboring countries, the government, he said, will implement initiatives that will help farmers, particularly those growing coconuts.
The fishing sector, he said, contributed P193.65 billion to the economy in 2012.
He noted that government is building new piers, roads, bridges and other infrastructure in strategic areas to raise productivity and income of those in the fisheries sector.
At the same time, he asked fishermen to “allow our fish to repopulate.”
He said that starting in September, the land titles for beneficiaries of the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac will be distributed.
The President pledged that the distribution of all notices of coverage for lands under the comprehensive agrarian reform will be completed in the next year.
“In the next year, all notices of coverage will have been served for lands covered by comprehensive agrarian reform,” Aquino said.
The President prodded Congress to give priority to three measures—one that will amend the Cabotage law, the Fiscal Incentives Rationalization bill and the Land Administration Reform bill.
He also appealed to the Senate and House of Representatives to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law before the end of 2014 because he wants his government to show to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the public that the government is committed to end the decades-old conflict in Mindanao.
“What is clear to me: every word we utter must result in an action that would benefit all. Every line that we craft in the agreement we are forging must be set in stone and not merely written on water, only to be forgotten by history,” Aquino said.
The government and the MILF signed the Framework Agreement that will put up a Bangsamoro entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which Aquino considered a “failed experiment.”
The President again promised inclusive growth that would generate jobs and address poverty.
“Widespread transformation of society is my objective, and I am aware that there are many things and many people I would have to confront in order to achieve this. But I was not raised by my parents to back down in the face of challenges,” Aquino said. ”Our strategy is to maximize opportunities for all, especially for those most in need. We are not content to wait for the trickle-down effect; we cannot leave their fate to chance. What we call inclusive growth is the principle that drives every initiative, every action and every decision of your government,” he added. He said inclusive growth “is the principle that drives every initiative, action, and decision of this administration.”
Aquino lauded Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson for saving P18.4 billion through “simple but effective reforms.”
“Some of the simple, but effective reforms that Secretary Singson implemented in DPWH: no more letters of intent, which bidders once used in conspiring with each other to inflate costs and gain more profit; simplified bidding processes, so even more contractors can compete for projects; and reasonable costs of doing projects. Government also now pays on time,” he said.
He said the government is spending P6.2 billion every year to deal with flooding.
This year, the government plans to relocate more than 19,400 families living along Metro Manila’s major waterways.
The government, he said, has installed 525 water level monitoring stations in 18 major river basins as well as Doppler radars to better predict the weather and avoid calamities.