PRESIDENT Aquino’s speech at the opening of the APEC CEO summit left me troubled and stunned. No matter how many times I reviewed it, I kept winding up with the word “humbug” to describe it. (The collective noun is “humbuggery”, which should be kept separate from “skullduggery.” ) The word means pretense, deception, or sham.
In all my years of covering and monitoring what takes place in the annual APEC meetings, I have not heard or read an address by a host president or prime minister that spent as much time in self-congratulation. Neither have I seen a host fail to provide at least a stirring vision and send-off for the conference.
An event requiring solemnity and grace
This leads me to ask: Does anyone in Malacañang today know how to write a speech? Anyone who can recognize a good speech, if he/she stumbles on one?
I ask because our President is the chairman of the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting, as well as the chairman of the summit of Asia-Pacific CEOs, which all APEC heads of state will take turns in addressing.
These events, being rare and exceptional, deserve to be marked with solemnity, not extravagance; with grace and not self-congratulatory gestures.
APEC is a regional event stretching from one end of the Pacific to the other, from Oceania to Asia to America.
I believe a fine speech by our President was called for here, because he was speaking for all Filipinos, and he was expected to put our best foot forward.
Asia’s new darling
But instead of a thoughtful and inspiring speech, he delivered a graceless, blame-everyone, all-credit-to-me speech about an alleged Philippine turnaround under his watch.
In the course of the brief address, he touched upon his familiar rhetorical points:
1. He extolled his parents, and shared a family anecdote and a quote.
2. He extolled the miracle of EDSA which brought his mother to power.
3. He spoke of the decade preceding his presidency as a “lost decade.”
4. He then launched into a lengthy discussion of “the large-scale economic transformation” that has allegedly taken place under his watch. “You have seen the transformation of our country—from being known as the Sick Man of Asia to becoming Asia’s New Darling.”
5. He said he did not shy away from confronting the complex problem of our nation, corruption – how he has placed his predecessor under hospital arrest on charges of plunder; how the supreme court chief justice, at his accession, was impeached; and of how well-known senators have been arrested on charges of wrongdoing.
6. He discussed the creative budgeting that his government indulged in in order to generate resources for his ambitious program; but he stopped himself from talking about his creation of the disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
7. He cited the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program as the key strategy and program for lifting Filipinos out of poverty.
8. He related how he increased the infrastructure budget from1.83 percent of GDP in 2010, to 4.10 percent of GDP this year.
Aquino’s key rhetorical device throughout the address is to tell the CEOS “you have seen” all these reforms and this transformation taking place. He Assumes that the rest of Asia-Pacific knows the magnificent Philippine story.
Towards the end of his address, Aquino remembered that the theme of APEC this year is “Inclusivity.”
He raised the vision of a connected and synergized Asia-Pacific that would follow the example of the Philippines, “where no one is left behind.”
He did not pause to reflect that Asia’s economic miracle was precisely about lifting millions out of poverty. In China alone, 600 million have already been lifted out of the poverty hole.
He did not pause to think whether guests and the media would ask Filipinos whether Aquino’s claims are true.
Looking at the whole address, I think that no words could fail more completely to express the reality of the Philippine situation.
Blaming the courts
He did not stop there.
After his address, Aquino was interviewed by CNN. He spun a new line that Philippine courts are to blame for the slow progress of programs under his administration.
But a noted economist, former Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno bluntly contradicted him, saying that it is not the judiciary but wrong priorities that have stalled efforts to reduce poverty under the Aquino administration.
Aquino told CNN anchor Andrew Stevens that the govern-ment’s anti-corruption efforts could have been more effective if the courts acted more expeditiously in sending wrongdoers to jail. This also impacts on government infrastructure projects, as some projects are being delayed by the rather slow court litigation process.
Diokno said Aquino’s claim of inclusive growth was “overrated”.
“Inclusive growth has been around for a while. It just assumed many names. I call it an old wine in a new bottle. Because in the ’60s, what you call balanced growth, that industry and agriculture should go hand-in-hand, that’s like inclusive growth. Then came growth with equity in the ’70s, now it’s inclusive growth. That’s the same thing,” Diokno said.
Diokno added that Aquino’s successor whoever it will be will do better in solving pressing economic issues. He or she will be free from all the humbug.
What President Aquino sees from his keyhole at the Palace is diff erent from how most Filipinos see and feel their lives, across the length and breadth of the archipelago.