As President Benigno Aquino 3rd delivers his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) today, the big question is: Has he kept his promises?
In his past three SONAs, Aquino bashed his political enemies. At his inauguration in 2010, he presented a litany of problems that he said he inherited from the past administration. He told the nation billions of pesos have been lost or squandered to corruption.
Setting the early tone for his governance, he pledged to bring back transparency, good governance and accountability in public service.
True enough, charges were filed against his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo. The former president was placed under hospital arrest for electoral sabotage and plunder.
The President next turned on Chief Justice Renato Corona. The chief justice was found guilty on May 29, 2012 by the Senate impeachment court for not including in his Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth his multi-million peso and dollar banks deposits.
Still no FOI
The President scored points in his crusade against corruption. But he got low marks for not pushing the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which will provide greater public access to government records and transactions.
The President refused to certify the measure urgent, although the Palace denies killing the bill. The measure is pending at the House of Representatives. The Senate passed its version of the measure last December.
Some critics doubt if the SONA the President will deliver will be any different from his first three. They believe it will be couched in the same rhetoric that shrouded the previous addresses.
But his spokesman said that this time, Aquino will highlight the accomplishments of various departments of the government.
Last week, Aquino hinted that this year SONA will dwell on the true state of the country as well as his administration’s commitment to achieve inclusive growth.
This year’s SONA will lay down realities to spur collective action towards economic progress, the President said.
According to the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB), the government’s gross domestic product (GDP) in the first quarter grew by 7.8 percent, exceeding market and government expectations and beating Southeast Asian nations and even China.
The President can claim that the country is reaping the benefits of the “daang matuwid [straight path].” But many agree that the country’s economic gains have not trickled down to the poor, where they are needed the most.
Only big business appeared to have benefited from the growth in business process outsourcing and manufacturing for exports.
The stock market index is at an all-time high. The Philippines also got upgrades and high marks from international credit rating agencies like Standard & Poor’s (S&P), Moody’s and Fitch.
Hunger, unemployment high
Despite the plaudits, the country still reels from unemployment and poverty.
According to the National Statistics Office, the unemployment rose to 7.5 percent in April, higher the 6.9 percent posted in the same month last year. There were more people out of jobs despite the unexpected record-high gross domestic product growth.
The NSCB also reported that the poverty incidence practically remained unchanged in the first half of 2012.
It put the poverty incidence at 27.9 percent during the period, which means that nearly three out of 10 Filipinos live below the poverty line.
“Comparing this with the 2006 and 2009 first semester figures estimated at 28.8 percent and 28.6 percent, respectively, poverty remained unchanged as the computed differences are not statistically significant,” the NSCB said
The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines estimates that the administration has to create 14 million jobs in the remaining three years of Aquino’s term to make an impact or even a dent on poverty.
The President’s spokesman had said that Aquino wants government services to further improve in the second half of his term. One of the targets is expanding the coverage of the conditional cash transfer (CCT) program or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the government centerpiece initiative to address poverty.
But many believe that the government has yet to truly address widespread poverty. Having more CCT beneficiaries doesn’t exactly indicate a healthy economy. It just means that there are more poor people relying on dole-outs because government and the domestic economy can’t create new jobs.
The President promised to give more attention to job creation in tourism and agriculture. He approved a P2.268 trillion national budget for next year that is geared towards job creation and inclusive growth.
The 2014 budget is 13 percent higher than last year’s budget.
Strategic Communications Secretary Ramon Carandang said the Aquino administration is “enhancing social protections and creating opportunities for employment by focusing on job generating sectors like manufacturing, tourism, infrastructure, and agriculture.”
In his 3rd SONA, Aquino promised to fix the structural defects of the controversial Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3 by 2013.
The President believes that ironing out the legal and structural kinks of NAIA-3, and operating it at full capacity will draw more investors to the country.
But the delays in airport projects will likely hit Aquino’s own tourism strategy.
Infrastructure and tourism are two of the key pillars which support economic growth.
A review of his administration’s support for the tourism industry since his last SONA shows the President is on target.
In the first five months of the year, the Department of Tourism reported tourist arrivals breaking the two-million mark.
Now that the European Union has lifted the ban on Philippine carriers, the government hopes to reach its target of 6.8 million foreign tourist arrivals next year.
This year’s target is 5.5 million.
The government also adjusted the domestic tourism target for 2016 to 56.1 million after achieving 37.5 million in 2011.
In education, Aquino promised a 12-year basic education cycle, which he said would make Filipinos more competitive academically.
He signed a law adding three years to the country’s 10-year basic education curriculum. “This lays the foundations for a better future for every Filipino child,” the President said.
The Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013, or the K-to-12 Law, establishes a “universal kindergarten” and introduces Grades 11 and 12 to high school education in public and private schools.
The government has decided to give it greater priority in the new budget by allocating P44.6 billion for 2014. The amount is 77 percent higher than last year’s allocation for the Department of Education.
The DepEd’s proposed budget covers “the provision and maintenance of basic educational facilities, including the continuing construction and rehabilitation of classrooms, the construction of water and sanitation facilities, and the acquisition of school furniture, among others.”
It also includes a P8.6-billion allocation for 33,194 new teaching positions.
This allocation will help cover the basic education needs of at least 16,862,916 Filipino students in the kindergarten, elementary, and secondary school levels.
The President vowed to strengthen the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as it shifts from internal to external defense.
In December 2012, he signed the AFP Modernization Act that will help upgrade the armed forces in the next five years.
He also promised to modernize the Philippine National Police (PNP).
The PNP usually has a P2 billion annual budget for modernization but most of last year’s money was spent on the acquisition of pistols to fill the more than 50 percent shortage of firearms for the 148,000 police officers.
This year, the Aquino administration announced a hefty P9-billion modernization program for the PNP that will see the purchase of new patrol cars, assault rifles, communication equipment, and the hiring of more police officers.
The government claimed it is making progress in bringing peace to the Mindanao, citing the framework peace agreement it signed with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in October last year.
The agreement was envisioned to end the decades-long insurgency that has killed and displaced more than 150,000 people in the South.
”We commit to peace: a peace that will be sustained through democratic ideals; a peace that heals and empowers. We will give our people a chance to live towards advancement in a democratic, peaceful and safe environment,” the President said as the pact was signed.
The accord, which outlines steps towards a final resolution to the conflict by 2016, will establish the Bangsamoro entity that will replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Last week, the government and MILF panels concluded talks on wealth-sharing.
But some groups slammed the government for abandoning the peace talks with the communist groups.
Malacanang, however, reiterated its commitment to end all internal conflicts in the country, saying that “if the MILF and the government finally forged a peace pact, discussing peace with the communist insurgents will remain significant.”
Negotiations between the government and the Communist Party of the Philippine-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) were snagged by disagreements on the release of political prisoners.
Malacanang maintains that progress of the talks will depend on the communist side.
Since taking over the country’s helm, Aquino has made dozens of promises to the people, whom he referred to in his first SONA as his “boss.”
For instance, the Chief Executive promised inclusive growth as he vowed to provide thousands of stable jobs in the remaining three years of his term.
”This is what our government has chosen to do. We cannot have a society where a few flourish and the rest just make do with crumbs. We must have inclusive growth,” he said.
”We must make certain that this growth becomes even more inclusive —that the economic benefits do not merely trickle down to our people, but that every Filipino is able to ride the rising tide of progress,” Aquino said. “If what we have achieved in the past three years tells us anything, it is that nothing is impossible to a united Filipino people.”
In order to empower the Filipino people, government needs to maximize opportunities, he said. “And while no one can guarantee outcomes, I believe it is incumbent upon government to provide meaningful opportunities to individuals, and an environment conducive to empowering our fellow citizens to seek out and maximize opportunities that come their way.”
The President’s words may bring comfort and hope to some. But his legacy will be judged when he steps down in 2016. And he has three years left to make sure that legacy is made up of laudable achievements and not broken promises.