• Aquino’s SONA: ‘Where do they get the gall?’

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    Ricardo Saludo

    Ricardo Saludo

    Last of two parts

    In the cacophony of commentary on the SONA, many deplored its lack of a clear plan to address major national concerns, especially poverty and jobs. Others cited gross untruths, such as the hugely understated rice import data and false corporate dividend figures noted in Rigoberto Tiglao’s Wednesday column.

    Add to that President Aquino’s oft-repeated canard that nearly all the 2010 budget was gone when he took office at midyear. Only half was spent: check government cash balances. But as in 2012 and 2013, agencies were authorized to spend most allotments early in 2010, so they could boost spending for growth, jobs, public works and services.

    Aquino defenders and supporters will likely blame the wrong information on speechwriters and researchers. But harder to excuse — and far more pernicious than factual errors and even the absence of a employment and poverty program, are the President’s own actions and attitudes shown in the SONA, especially on governance.

    PNoy statements and moves on full display on Monday undermine his Tuwid na Daan campaign to improve government performance and fight corruption: his endless blaming of past woes to excuse present failings, his preference for image building over truth telling and problem solving, his failure to constantly monitor and follow up directives, and his refusal to probe and punish corruption in his camp.

    What would a boss do if an employee continued to blame inherited problems for poor performance after three years on the job? Whatever it is, that should be done by the avowed bosses of President Aquino.

    Maybe he forgot that addressing problems left over from preceding administrations is at the top of every official’s job description. People already know the difficulties carried over from yesterday. What they want are solutions. Especially after three years.

    What’s worse, when the President excuses failings by pointing to the past, he invites the rest of the government to join the blame game, instead of enhancing performance.

    The speech used the word minana [inherited]thrice, referring to problems in education, national defense, and Mindanao power. It is commendable that shortages in classrooms, teachers, desks and textbooks seem set to be largely eliminated, though the claim is disputed by some development experts and a major teachers’ group, and will be tested by the addition of two more years of basic education.

    However, as President Aquino started his fourth year in office, his SONA offered no solutions for external security and Mindanao electricity. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

    On defense, he argued that buying jet fighters was too costly. So what should be done then, especially with his reversal of decades of good relations with China in favor of direct confrontation? More nuclear-armed US forces coming in with access to bases, thus violating the Constitution and turning the Philippines into a strategic threat?

    That would mean even more of the excessive reliance on foreign military power since 1946, which precisely led the Philippines’ external defense to its dismal state. Among inherited problems, this is one of the biggest, and Aquino looks set to perpetuate it.

    The blame game, of course, is part of PNoy’s constant wish to burnish his regime’s public image, even at the expense of public service and accountability.

    Given his avowed crusade against corruption, he should have balled out the Philippine National Police for its appalling 68 percent rating in Transparency International’s latest survey of corruption in the country, the worst mark in the government.

    Instead, the Chief Executive acted as PNP pr man by focusing attention on a couple of heroic cops. No doubt police officers Edlyn Arbo and Dondon Sultan deserve accolades, but the PNP should also have been told off over its egregious graft grade.

    Unless image counts more than integrity, as it apparently does for the President.

    He devoted a paragraph of his speech to an intercropping program which might help barely two out of every 100 coconut farmers this year and had long been proven a failure. He mused about addressing mounting military pensions and the long-overdue resettlement of families in danger areas, which his allies delayed till after elections.

    Thinking aloud about possible solutions never solves anything, but it makes the slow-witted think that one is actually doing something. Rampant corruption and incompetence? Programs going nowhere? Trot out a few model civil servants, a minuscule but mediagenic project, and some musings on possible initiatives, and that’s an accomplishment report worthy of the SONA.

    Coupled with its image obsession is the Palace’s failure to constantly monitor and follow up initiatives. Aquino said 40 percent of irrigation projects were not done in December. Why did he and his 300-strong Presidential Management Staff allow those delays to go unnoticed for nearly a whole year?

    In any mammoth organization, especially the government, three things are indispensable: follow-up, follow-up, follow-up. Such diligence won’t make headlines, but it gets things done. Especially through regular Cabinet meetings where directives are constantly checked.

    The SONA also showed President Aquino’s dogged refusal to hold his own officials accountable. By denying excesses by his people while castigating past corruption, he makes the public think that he and his government are generally clean.

    So while the opening of this two-part article lauded Aquino’s admission of gross deficiencies in immigration, irrigation and customs, his actions on all three agencies again failed to exact full assessment and accountability.

    As with other cashiered officials like two former Bureau of Corrections chiefs, the recently resigned immigration and irrigation heads face no investigation. Ditto two departing deputy customs commissioners. But Customs Commissioner Ruffy Blazon will stay. And Aquino will still not investigate the biggest loss of contraband ever: the 2,000-5,000 containers that vanished under his watch.

    He claims that recent big anomalies are being quietly investigated. But the forgotten inquiries into the overpriced PNP rifles bidding and two Mindanao typhoons, don’t offer hope for truth and accountability in these supposed probes. Instead, pro-Aquino media will bury them in time, maybe with a scapegoat or two, but never anyone close to him.

    “Where do these people get the gall?” the SONA thundered at abusive customs people. Answer: from a leader who blames the past, puts image above integrity, fails to follow up, and won’t hold friends and relations accountable.

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    1 Comment

    1. Rolando j. Tenido on

      Saan pa kukuha ng kapal ng mukha kundi sa kanya. Bakit ayaw aminin ng pinoy na sa kanyan lahat un. Akala lng nila malilinis sila, eh sila naman lahat ay corrupt din. Aisin nila pork barrel kung may kakampi pa sa kanya. Eh un nga vp ngaun lng sa term niya nakakuha ng pork at my palasyo pa, kakapal na mukha.