Like his Apolinario Mabini memorial day speech in Tanauan, Batangas, President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s State of the Nation Address on Monday will almost surely be another aggressive discourse defending his Disbursement Acceleration Program and countering the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision declaring DAP unconstitutional.
As PR experts would counsel, perhaps even Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., repeatedly browbeating the justices with incessant arguments only serves to keep the DAP issue in the headlines with the President in unrelenting and sometimes nasty defensive mode. That won’t win sympathy and understanding from Filipinos, who appreciate humility and harmony, not arrogance and animosity.
Rather than another half-hour lecture on DAP 101, Aquino may fare better letting the issue rest with the Supreme Court, now deliberating the administration’s motion for reconsideration, and highlight governance issues and initiatives instead. This messaging would put across two points that Filipinos would likely appreciate: The President respects the law and its institutions, and he is focused on addressing the needs and welfare of the people.
If Aquino must speak at length on DAP, what concerned citizens really want to hear is not its claimed legality, which is for the Supreme Court alone to decide. Rather, the people demand and deserve a full accounting of the P150 billion or so in DAP spending, plus P62 billion in Priority Development Assistance Fund outlays in the current administration.
Surely expounding on that would not be a problem for a leader who espouses integrity and transparency. There will be much applause across the archipelago if President Aquino orders Budget Secretary Florencio Abad to post online by a certain date all DAP spending as well as PDAF items since mid-2010, with such information as: amount and implementing agency or non-government organization; project details, location and status; and which legislator proposed the project, if any.
If Aquino gives that instruction, and Abad delivers the data, that would go a long way to diminishing public dismay over PDAF and DAP, and rebuilding the citizenry’s trust and approval for the President, his budget czar, and his administration. And if he wants to recover even more, then certifying the Freedom of Information Bill would more clearly demonstrate his commitment to good governance and transparency.
As for addressing the nation’s needs and welfare, the SONA should address three major problems threatening countless lives right now: rising food prices, escalating crime, and inadequate disaster response and risk reduction (DRR). On these issues, the column’s July 2 article, “Note for the CBCP: Protect truth, justice and life,” would be good to quote at length:
“Turning to life-saving issues of food, peace and order, and disaster risk reduction (DRR), one big problem in all three concerns is the wide disparity between what the government says it has done, and the reality on the ground.
“Take President Aquino’s repeated claims of rice sufficiency, which is key to addressing food security and prices. Last week [in June]his Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala admitted failure in that goal.
“While officially sanctioned imports declined, smuggling of the staple had in fact skyrocketed. Based on decades of rice production and consumption data, plus satellite images of cultivation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture . . . forecast a shortfall of 2 million tons this year—way over the government’s planned imports of 600,000 tons. That’s why rice and other food prices soared when shipments piled up in Manila ports due to stringent restrictions on trucks hauling cargo.
“Another claimed achievement based on official data, but also looking dubious lately is the purportedly declining crime rate . . . The NSO 2014 factbook [reported]total incidents down from 324,083 in 2010 to 217,812 in 2012. Last Friday [June 29], however, the Philippine National Police ’fessed up, so to speak, and came out with the alarming unadulterated numbers.
“From January to May this year, PNP Director General Alan Purisima told media, there were a total of 289,198 crimes reported, up nearly 44,000 or 18 percent over the same period in 2013. That’s just for the first five months of 2014.
“And judging from the 245,347 crime volume for January-May last year, it now appears that the correct data for all of 2013 is probably half a million. That’s more than double the figure given by PNP to NSO for 2012. And if this year’s trend isn’t arrested, there could be 600,000 incidents by December—nearly double the 2010 total.
“No wonder the Mandaluyong, Pasay, and Taguig city police chiefs were relieved last year for reportedly falsifying papers to make it appear that crime was down in their areas. PNP’s National Capital Region Police Office also investigated seven other chiefs of police and station managers for fudging figures. And that’s just for Metro Manila.
“Probably the most glaring example of official pronouncements being totally debunked and instantly was the nationally televised November 7 speech by President Aquino two days before Supertyphoon Yolanda hit the Visayas.
“Aquino assured the nation that the country’s C-130 transports were ready and capable, along with 32 Air Force planes and helicopters, plus 20 Navy ships in Cebu, Bicol, Cavite and Zamboanga. And relief goods were pre-positioned in areas likely to be hit.
“Yet days passed before any of those aircraft and vessels got to storm-surged Tacloban, and it took the U.S. Navy to clear the airport runway of debris. Then, instead of balling out the Philippine military for either dismally slow response or faulty information on disaster readiness, Aquino castigated the opposition mayor of Tacloban.
“Perhaps it is asking too much, but the CBCP and the citizenry may wish to urge that the State of the Nation Address on July 28 should come clean on the true state of food security, crime, and disaster readiness, and spell out clear and effective remedial measures. It may just save more than a few lives.”
To these three life-threatening problems, the President would need to address a fourth concern already hurting the economy and investor confidence, and curtailing job creation: the growing electricity shortage.
Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla wants emergency powers to contract generating capacity. Frankly, the government should come with a much better plan than that band-aid proposal. The economic planning, energy, finance, trade and industry, and budget departments should be told to craft a real and long-term solution, including legislation allowing state investment in power generation, if necessary.
If the SONA would desist from haranguing the Supreme Court, order a full DAP and PDAF report, and convincingly address food, crime, disaster and energy problems, President Aquino would begin winning back lost public support.
But that’s a gigantic if.