Columnists and commentators have been having a field day exposing fallacies and untruths in President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s last State of the Nation Address. We don’t have much to add, except one subtle note: If the administration boosted revenues without having to enact new tax laws, then past dispensations must have passed adequate legislation, as credit rating agencies have said in upgrading Philippine debt.
And with greater revenues from Arroyo-era fiscal reforms and an economy rebounding from the 2008-09 global recession, Aquino’s output would of course exceed past achievements. Comparing the two is like saying one’s living standards top those of one’s parents who scrimped to give their children a better life.
But rather than SONA errors, this article expounds on its omissions, particularly poor, suffering Filipinos hardly mentioned in the 130-minute, 12,297-word speech, despite the speaker’s campaign slogan to fight poverty by eradicating corruption.
First, we echo the pain and outrage in media and especially among grieving families and friends over Aquino’s deliberate refusal to acknowledge the heroic sacrifice of the Philippine National Police Special Action Force troopers killed or wounded in the January 25 Mamasapano Massacre.
Aquino got applause after listing Malaysian terrorist bomber Marwan among neutralized criminals. He also thanked many officials and helpers, from Congress leaders and Cabinet members to his house manager. Well and good. But not a word or a moment of silence for the Fallen 44 and other PNP-SAF casualties in taking out Marwan.
Why couldn’t Aquino have said something like: “Let us have a moment of silence for the Fallen 44 of the PNP Special Action Force, who died fighting to keep all of us safe from terrorism. Let their sacrifice and the agony of their families not be in vain, as we continue working together for lasting peace and unity in our country.”
How hard was it to accord our brave heroes that tribute? And it would have avoided all the headlines and criticism about the SONA’s silence on Mamasapano — the very media fallout Aquino wanted to avoid. Whose heartless, mindless idea was that?
Crushed by Yolanda, absent in the SONA
Like cheers for Marwan’s killing, applause for mammoth tax revenues may have only caused pain among longsuffering Filipinos who have yet to receive an adequate portion of those record funds — and did not even get a SONA mention to show that the President and the government cared.
Among the most desperate are countless victims of the 2013 supertyphoon Yolanda. Surely, in a presidential report on government activities and achievements, what has been done for Filipinos devastated by the worst typhoon in living memory rates at least a couple of sentences, especially from a leader keen to boast of achievements.
Unless the disaster aid has been embarrassingly little and late. And that seems to be the sad reality. A December report by Caritas Philippines, Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, and Freedom from Debt Coalition said that just 2,100 houses have been built of the 201,128 shelters needed.
And recently, Social Watch Philippines, a non-government organization monitoring budget spending, lamented that funding isn’t even assured for the estimated P170 billion needed under the comprehensive recovery plan.
While this is unflattering to his rule, surely a leader who cares for his avowed “bosses” would at least apologize for these failings and issue marching orders for urgent action.
And while we’re on the topic, what has been done for other victims of calamities like Basyang, Quiel, Sendong, Pablo, Bohol’s quake, Zamboanga’s siege, and others.
Plainly, if the President couldn’t even spare a word for them in his report to the nation, then it seems these disaster-stricken Filipinos don’t matter.
Excusing, not solving MRT woes
The daily woes of Metro Rail Transit commuters did come up in the SONA, after top Aquino ally Senate President Franklin Drilon pushed for prompt action on MRT last week. But to the chagrin of those hoping for truthful talk and urgent solutions, the President again resorted to his blame game.
Perhaps it was too much to expect that he would lambast transport officials who replaced the reliable maintenance contractor and MRT builder Sumitomo with a crony firm in 2012, leading to the dismal state of the railway. But Aquino’s criticism of the private concessionaire for breakdowns that his appointed officials caused — that showed little regard not only for the hardships of MRT riders, but their intelligence, too.
What a relief it would have been if Aquino simply cited remedial measures being taken, and urged the Ombudsman and the Sandiganbayan to speedily adjudicate the corruption charges filed last month over the anomalous MRT maintenance deal.
Sadly, there seems no immediate relief coming for our poor workers, students, homemakers, and other cityfolk plying the thoroughfares of the metropolis. Now, the Land Transportation Office, whose dubious P15-billion license plate deal is itself infuriating motorists, wants more buses on Metro Manila’s gridlocked streets to address MRT problems.
Pray tell: Exactly what banned substances are they putting in the drinking water at the Department of Transportation and Communication?
How fare the poor?
If reducing poverty were indeed his top priority, then Aquino’s final report should have made a very simple comparison between poverty incidence before he took over, which would have been high due to the 2008-09 global recession, and what it is today.
Well, here are the numbers, courtesy of the Philippine Statistics Authority:
Poverty incidence in 2009 among families: 20.5 percent. In 2014, after four years of economic growth and P40-billion-a-year monthly stipends for the poor: between 18.6 and 21.3 percent of families.
What about self-rated poverty, as surveyed quarterly by Social Weather Stations? Average SRP in 2009, when world recession squeezed growth to 0.9 percent: 49 percent. Average SRP in 2014, after three years of 6-7 percent growth: 54 percent. And in January-June this year: 51 percent.
No wonder the poor were hardly mentioned in the State of the Nation Address.