Published in Blogwatch.ph
Indeed, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) was a break from what Filipinos used to hear in the past nine years. Obviously, Aquino did not end up praising himself (like what former president Gloria Arroyo did) not because of his virtues but because there is simply no reason to do that. One, he is just days-old in the presidency, with no major accomplishments to report. Two, he is coming from a huge electoral victory and is currently enjoying a record-high trust rating. Hence, there is certainly no need to do some Arroyo-style crisis PR.
So the President’s first SONA was really a reporting of what is left by the previous adminstration. In this case, Aquino emphasized that what he reported was kept secret from the public’s eye for a long time to project himself as the bearer of truth.
Scoring more anti-Arroyo points
“Sulyap lamang po ito; hindi pa ito ang lahat ng problemang haharapin natin. Inilihim at sadyang iniligaw ang sambayanan sa totoong kalagayan ng ating bansa,” Aquino said before he enumerated the anomalies made by the Arroyo administration. Like what I anticipated in an earlier article, the President would be harping on “truth-telling” vis-à-vis Arroyo’s litany of lies to further ride on the people’s anti-Arroyo sentiment.
Complete with facts and specific cases, he recited to the people the anomalies and the near-empty state of government finances which former president Gloria Arroyo is leaving him, projecting himself like the lone survivor from the dark years of the Arroyo presidency. In his first SONA, Aquino chose to boost the legitimacy and holiness of his presidency by further trampling on his infamous predecessor.
It was reportage in the eyes of an insider rather than in the eyes of the ordinary folks, a long enumeration that ironically narrows Arroyo’s long list of crimes to a single item: corruption. With government budget and corruption on the spotlight, various issues including landlessness and deteriorating quality of work under Arroyo were simply left out – issues which poor Filipinos deal with everyday.
The danger with the manner Aquino zoomed in on corruption and misdeeds in government is that it tended to blame all the Filipino’s suffering on corruption. “Hindi po ba krimen ito, na hinahayaan nilang mabulok ang bigas, sa kabila ng apat na milyong Pilipinong hindi kumakain ng tatlong beses sa isang araw? [Isn’t it a crime for the government to allow rice grains to rot even as four million Filipinos cannot eat three times a day?]” On this part, Aquino is making a shortcut, overlooking the many aspects directly causing hunger, including depressed wages.
As I anticipated, Aquino committed the sin of omission. He never mentioned anything about land reform, much less Hacienda Luisita (Lacierda argued that the President refused to since the case is pending in the Supreme Court). He did not address wages, much less wage hikes. He briefly discussed extra-judicial killings, but he focused on the cases since the start of his presidency. He did not touch on Oplan Bantay Laya, Arroyo’s counterinsurgency program which various groups want scrapped.
Where’s the shock?
The SONA teaser on the state of the budget, “Prepared to be shocked,” did not really materialize. I guess Aquino underestimated Filipinos over his excitement on his SONA-cum-finance report. He failed to realize that if ever there’s something lacking or anomalous in government funds, it is the ordinary Filipino who would be the first one to feel. Poor families have in fact dealt with it the past nine years in the form of less accessible education, inadequate housing and healthcare, and poor public transport. Apparently, reporting on something that has long been felt would make no impact.
Aquino mentioned “zero-based approach” in his speech, an item which I correctly predicted. The approach pratically refers to a zero increase in the government’s budget and checking of government priorities, an instruction which President Aquino gave to Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad” days before the inaguration. Will the Aquino administration prioritize debt-servicing and military spending over social services? We will see in the coming days.
In my forecast, I mentioned that Aquino would use the sorry state of the budget to impose new tax measures. The President proved me wrong. Instead he laid down another familiar neoliberal approach to a budget crisis: public-private partnerships. It may sound more positive than new taxes, but the effect on people’s livelihood is the same. Farming out certain government utilities and services to the private sector places Filipinos at the mercy of higher rates and poor quality of service. In fact, the current water crisis in Metro Manila is a product of it, when the Ramos administration gave private concessionaires and global water corporations the upper hand in the delivery of water to metro households.
It is not true that Aquino’s neoliberal position is a break from Arroyo’s allegedly “socialist” leaning (Arroyo never hinted at being a socialist, she was neoliberal all throughout). Isn’t the aborted NBN-ZTE Broadband deal, one of the Arroyo regime’s biggest anomalies, a public-private partnership? Isn’t the anomalous IMPSA contract which Arroyo approved in her first days in office also a public-private partnership?
Perhaps Aquino should be commended for smoothly weaving his neoliberal proposition into his anti-Arroyo rhetoric. Critical minds would sarcastically ask Aquino: So with your long list of anomalies committed by Arroyo, the solution is public-private partnerships?