By saying that his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday will be about “truth-telling,” President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is once again capitalizing on the anti-Arroyo sentiment still pervading at the moment. He is assuring the public his speech won’t be a litany of lies reminiscent of former president Gloria Arroyo’s SONA speeches.
As far as I can remember, Arroyo never appropriated the claim of truth. She was more focused on dismissing criticisms of her SONA speeches as simply lack of appreciation of her administration’s achievements. Now we hear Aquino appropriating the holiness of the truth, just as how he appropriated “Daang Matuwid” and whatever holy and righteous slogan at hand.
The President’s claim of truth-telling however must not be conveniently used to turn down criticisms. While he may issue truths, Aquino may also conveniently leave out pressing issues and demands of various groups. Predictably, he will commit the sin of omission on sensitive issues which can ruin his honeymoon period.
Sin of omission
Will he tackle the problems in Hacienda Luisita? Aquino would not obviously touch on this highly sensitive topic. Filipinos cannot expect him to shock the nation by ordering his family to pack up and leave the controversial sugar estate in Tarlac.
Will he address the workers’ demand for significant wage hikes? Key members of the country’s biggest conglomerates and business groups, who are naturally opposed to any wage increase, are inside the President’s Cabinet. Aquino has also repeatedly said that he will make the country more conducive to businesses. For workers, this is more or less tantamount to keeping wages depressed.
“In the harshest possible terms I condemn political killings,” former president Arroyo said in his 2006 SONA while praising the “Butcher” Jovito Palparan for combating the “enemy.”
Will Aquino outdo his predecessor by categorically holding the military responsible in his first SONA? Will he issue a stronger condemnation of extra-judicial killings, especially the killing of three activists in his first 12 days in office? Aquino will not do so despite the mounting pressure for him to hold military officers accountable. In fact, he even vowed full support for the military’s operations, as encapsulated in his “Tell us what you need” statement during the formal turnover of the AFP’s leadership to Lt. Gen. Ricardo David.
Another reason why Aquino won’t embarrass the military in his SONA speech is that AFP chief David is the former head of the Northen Luzon Command (NolCom), which mantains troops inside the Hacienda Luisita in Tarlac. In a cinematic show of loyalty and support to Aquino, David reportedly motored to the sugar estate along with his heavily-armed men shortly after the end of the election (days before the general formally assumed the AFP leadership) and told the President that he will protect him at all cost.
Focus is on the budget
So what do we expect from President Aquino’s speech?
Like dishing out a showbiz intrigue teaser, President Aquino on Friday said Filipinos should prepare to be shocked by the state of government coffers, hinting at how the government budget will be a major item in his SONA. Palace officials have in fact described the budget as a “key point” in the 30-minute speech.
Aquino said he will disclose a minimum of five anomalies made by the Arroyo administration, once again harping on the anti-Arroyo sentiment to further beef up his political stock. He added that his speech will hew closely to his campaign slogan “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.”
Another related item is the swelling budget, which has already reached P196.7 billion in the first six months of the year, 28.2 percent more than the P153.4-billion deficit recorded in the same period last year. It is expected that Aquino will use the huge budget deficit to reload legitimacy and impact to his much-used anti-corruption slogan.
With this yawning budget gap and empty government coffers, curbing corruption is not enough because it will not generate added income. It will only reduce the government resources lost. So Aquino is expected to utter what will really shock Filipinos: new tax measures, and maybe salary cuts, to share the burden of easing the budget woes to the people.
In 2005, former president Arroyo used the sustained P100-billion-and-above budget deficit from 2002 to 2005 to push for the 12 percent Extended Valua Added Tax (EVAT). The tax measure indeed eased the fiscal situation, but at the cost of the people’s livelihood.
The suspicion of new taxes is not a shot in the dark. Cesar Purisima, who actively pushed for the approval and implementation of the EVAT law under the Arroyo administration, now heads the Finance department.
President Aquino is also expected to mention “austerity” tomorrow as a means of coping with the current fiscal crisis. By austerity, he means zero increase in the budget, as what he instructed Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad. He may also order a reduction of the salaries of government employees, considering that the bulk of the P949.2 billion already spent went to the payment of salaries and personnel services.
Indeed, President Aquino’s truth-telling tomorrow in his first SONA is expected to hurt not just Arroyo but the people as well.