I was sorely disappointed to have been proved right in expecting nothing new from President B. S. Aquino 3rd’s sixth and final State of the Nation Address. But I felt genuinely sorry that I had expected him to be a little more modest and truthful this time. He spoke for two hours and ten minutes and was interrupted 157 times by obligatory applause—his longest and most exhausting SONA in five years. It did not have the quality of Krishna Menon’s eight-hour speech defending India’s position on Kashmir before the United Nations–this was the longest speech in the UN–nor any of Fidel Castro’s speeches which normally lasted hours. But by our own standards, it was really looooong.
I had no access to TV on Monday, and had to listen to it on radio inside my car. I dozed off after an hour, and when I woke up, it was still going on. I waited for some heroic moment when he would claim (at least claim) that during his five years in office, he tried to rise above his limitations to raise the spirit and vision of our people to something much nobler than the need to fulfill their daily existence.
But on this particular issue, he was inordinately shy and lacked daring; he dared not make any false claims. He bombarded us with so many petty claims, some of them as bad as his claim in one earlier SONA that he had built thousands of kilometers of national roads, which would have covered the distance from Manila to Los Angeles and back, when all he had built and repaired was not more than a couple of thousand kilometers.
It was a “reality disconnect,” said one disappointed Aquino supporter. He blamed the government’s “private partner” for the scandalous state of MRT-3, which has become the defining symbol of his “student-council” administration. But he managed to blame everything on the previous Gloria Macapagal Arroyo administration, when there were at least 73 trains running, as against the 18 trains continuously breaking down as of now.
In the dark days of Italian fascism, Benito Mussolini could at least claim he made the trains run on time. Under PNoy’s regime, the MRT train system simply disintegrated before the commuters.
PNoy also managed to claim credit where he deserved censure. He congratulated himself for reportedly sending a C-130, purportedly full of relief goods to Tacloban, two hours after super typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan had flattened the city, when in fact his government took days to respond to the cry for help from the city government. The Americans, the British and the Israelis were the first ones to arrive at the scene, followed by the Japanese, the Germans, the Italians and the Swedes. PNoy’s own people came in between, after debating with the local government whether they should come in at all.
There has been no accounting of how much aid had poured in from abroad for the Yolanda victims, and where and how the money has been spent. But the people’s failure to make Aquino account for every centavo that has come in gives him the excuse to claim that he was the first to respond to the crisis, when he was not.
PNoy also managed to take credit for irrigating an additional 11,000 hectares of agricultural land, when the actual figure is only about half that number; and he criticized the GMA administration for “over-importing” rice from Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia before 2010, although he himself had authorized the importation of 2.13 million metric tons of rice from the same sources in 2014, and is preparing to import more before the 2016 elections.
He also took credit for stopping the anomalous deal involving defective helicopters, making it appear that it was concluded during the GMA administration by Arroyo’s own people, when in fact it was negotiated and concluded by his own people during his own administration. He could have explained why he has reportedly refused until now to sign some 28 defense contracts worth P60 billion, amidst the country’s crying need to speed up its military modernization.
And he tried to glamorize the Mamasapano tragedy by making it appear like an unadulterated achievement, by focusing his narrative on the neutralization of the terrorist targets Marwan and Usman by the Special Action Force commandos, instead of recalling the massacre of the 44 commandos by the combined forces of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, after he had ordered the military units to stand down, thereby denying the commandos badly needed reinforcement.
We do not have two hours and ten minutes to parse every base statement PNoy made at the Batasan. So we shall raise this discussion a little bit.
As a people, we are not simply fighting for economic survival. Even as PNoy and his business cronies trumpet our so-called economic growth, credit rating upgrades, buoyant stock markets, the increase in world-class gambling casinos, foreign speculators, drug traffickers and money launderers, the Filipino poor continue to grow in number and to get much poorer. The government itself has failed to reduce mass poverty under the UN Millennium Development Goals, where it has committed to reduce it by 30 percent this year. We have the worst poverty situation in the Asian region. PNoy could have spent a line or two on how he intends to approach (not necessarily solve) the poverty question in the next 11 months that he will be packing his suitcase. But he did not. That is a loss and a disappointment.
We are also fighting for our constitutional and political as well as moral and spiritual survival. First, the constitutional and political. The constitutional order is all shot: it has not recovered from the time Aquino bribed the members of both Houses of Congress to impeach and remove Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and to railroad the Reproductive Health Law, for which purpose he realigned billions of pesos without the authority of Congress under the so-called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), which the Supreme Court has struck down as unconstitutional. None of the 19 senator-judges who each got P50 million or more for convicting Corona have ever been prosecuted or investigated for their crime. Some of them even have the effrontery to investigate others for alleged corruption, in the guise of conducting an “inquiry in aid of legislation.”
The electoral system is similarly all shot, and has not recovered from the 2010 and 2013 national elections, when Smartmatic, the Venezuelan firm, ran the elections on behalf of the Commission on Elections, which otherwise has the exclusive constitutional mandate to conduct elections, using the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine after it has been divested of all its security and safety features and accuracy mechanisms required by law. These produced de facto rather than de jure officials, from Aquino down to his protégés in the Senate, from whose illegitimate presence we have yet to find a way out.
Now, the moral and spiritual. No nation can stand without any moral foundation, and no real human progress is possible without moral and spiritual roots. The great Roman empire, which once invented its own gods, completely collapsed when it lost its moral compass; today’s great powers on both sides of the Atlantic have begun to totter because they are trying to imitate Rome’s experience. No nation, however poor, should ever be without a vision, and that vision should transcend its material bodily needs. And the leader of that nation should be able to competently express it. But Aquino has shown disdain for it, not just a lack of interest in it.
I believe this has been his biggest failing. At the root of our political and economic crises is a deep moral crisis, which sadly PNoy and his government have failed to recognize. The night is far spent, but it is never too late to make amends. All PNoy needs is a little humility and a lot of courage to recognize that the universe does not revolve around him, or even his presidency, that he, like the merest of his countrymen, is nothing beside God’s immensity and in the shoreless sea of time and space. For all intents and purposes his presidency is over, but his duty to be human abides, and his ability to relate to everyone in a genuinely human way is what will ultimately give his life its true purpose and meaning.
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Personal: Neal Cruz, PDI columnist and friend, has been called home to his Maker. Please join me in praying for him. Thank you very much.