Thoughts on PNoy's Third SONA

For those who weren’t able to watch PNoy’s speech, here’s a link to the OfficialGazette’s page.

A day after the President’s SONA, Business World released their fact check. It can be viewed here.

As mandated by our Constitution, every fourth Monday of July of every year, the Philippine President must deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Congress of the Philippines as well as to the public. The President’s speech usually reports the current status of the country, the problems experienced in the past year that were given solutions and government’s roadmap for the coming year. It can also contain legislative measures the Chief Executive wishes to push through.

In his third year as the leader of the Republic, President Benigno Aquino, or PNoy as he is commonly called, delivered his third address yesterday. In a joint Congressional Session, legislators, cabinet members, ambassadors, and other prominent political figures clad in their elegant FilipiƄanas and Barong Tagalogs gathered together at the Batasang Pambansa to listen to what PNoy has to say. Meanwhile, political activists and other militant groups camped outside the gates of Batasan to shout their protests on the President’s neglect over the plight of the poor and the marginalized. This has been a usual scene for the country— others are intent on staying inside the confines of their houses to listen to the President’s annual address and watch with glee the glimmer of the stars that attend this glamorous event. Some take this as an opportunity to frock the red carpet and showcase their trendy national costumes in front of flashing cameras.  Ah, showbiz and politics unite. Hahaha.

Anyway, let’s focus more on the President’s speech. As I have written on my Facebook status yesterday, I’ve already expected PNoy to fill half of his speech time with everything Corona and GMA. With the recent closure of the impeachment trial, the wounds are still fresh for perceived GMA allies and the Aquino government’s initial victory, so it’s natural to include that in his speech. Plus the fact that the Aquino presidency is built on the foundations of “Kung Walang Korap, Walang Mahirap” principle, hence this cannot be faulted. Personally, I find it okay but to a certain extent. True, GMA’s 9-year reign was considered one of the country’s darker days as corruption, bribery and evil bled from every structure of government and that’s something we cannot and should not easily forget. However, continuously blaming it and repeating it on every speech you make doesn’t just make sense. I get it that you want people not to forget the wrongdoings done before but please focus on something good and positive for once. I also think that the economic reforms done during the last years of the Arroyo term were catalysts as to how we reached the growing economy we have right now. So, yeah don’t blame everything on the little woman. Her term’s bad, we already know that. Focus on something we can bank on and place our faith towards progress again.

Moreover, in that same status, I have also written the policies and programs I wanna hear from the President. I expected him to discuss the Reproductive Health, Excise Tax Reform and Freedom of Information bills and his stance on the continuing RP-China standoff over the Panatag Island. Moreover, I would also like to hear how he intends to spread the positive effects of gaining an upgrade on our investment ratings to the lower tiers of the society. Finally, his plans and programs geared towards better local governance and sustainable development for local units.

Screenshot of my FB status

So, overall, how did I find the President’s speech?

The first parts of his speech were a narration of his personal experience during the Martial Law Years. During those dark years, Filipinos were already losing hope, ready to give up and succumb to the dictatorship of the tyrant. But then again, the ray of light slowly showed itself at the end of the tunnel. It was where the world saw how powerful people can be when united against a dictator and a crumbling system. The President, in his narration, anchored the nightmarish Martial Law years to the “Reign of Terror” before he assumed the presidency. He felt it necessary to begin his speech by painting to us how bad everything was before and how it is starting to clear up three years after his Messianic electoral victory.

Based on the expectations I made before his speech begun; only the Freedom of Information Bill was left behind. While I expect more nuanced discussions on furthering good local governance, I appreciate that the President told us exactly what we need right now from our local leaders: the political will to do what is right.

His discussions begun with outlining the little successes made by the once “Sick Man of Asia” by refreshing our memories with the recent upgrades given by credit rating agencies. He then proceeded to the praises written and said by numerous foreign magazines and business news agencies and even top notch investors. Such a start gives us a nice outlook of how sunny the business outlook in the country is becoming.

He then proceeded to the gains made by investing more on social protection policies. His flagship program, the Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps, received one of the biggest increases from the annual budget. This is to support more households belonging to the poorest income bracket. He also told us how the conditionalities set by the DSWD for the beneficiaries to comply were slowly gaining ground. He reports an increase in mothers going to rural health clinics for regular check- ups, and children attending school and getting disease prevention vaccines. I felt this one’s good. But then again, I also felt the need for the President to urge an evaluation for the initial gains made by the CCT Program. It is important to identify the best practices as well as the gaps because this will help in improving the said program. Further, the government will also be able to identify which conditionalities are directly contributing to achieving country development targets as well as the MDGs. Finally, the evaluation activity would help in finding which households are already eligible to leave the program and those areas which are in dire need of cash transfers. This way, we provide the public a more truthful perspective on the program.

The policy pronouncements on the health sector were also okay. While it is a very tall order from PNoy to have everyone included in the universal health care agenda of the government, I think it is a valid one. It is of course very hard considering we’re still cash-strapped plus the health facilities are very far from quality standards. In a seeming response, the President reiterated his call for the swift passage of the Excise Tax Reform Bill which would peg the excise taxes placed on top of “sin goods” (i.e. tobacco products and alcoholic drinks) to the current inflation index. The revenues that would be made from the increase in taxes collected from sin goods would be funneled to funding the universal health care program (i.e. PhilHealth coverage and improvement of health facilities). When I heard this, I was elated. It was one good move for the President. One point!

And then it was like Manny’s one-two punch when, after mentioning excise tax reform, the President emphasized the need to responsibly plan families in order to avoid a sudden boom in the population. Cool! My twitter feed exploded with comments from the Twitterverse congratulating the President for his categorical statement. While it wasn’t an explicit endorsement of the controversial RH Bill, it was better than hearing nothing at all. As I read the headlines today, Congress have already included RH in the lineup of bills that will be tackled in the plenary. The bill languished for more than a decade in the Congress’ dockets; it’s high time we discuss it and take action on it. Incidentally, I am an advocate of the Pia Cayetano RH version. I hope our legislators see the significance of having a concrete policy on maternal and reproductive health and vote for the passage of this bill. :D Leggo, RH!

Again, it was another tall order for our Education Secretary when the President told him to produce more than 60,000 classrooms for public schools. Currently we have 40,000 classrooms and we’re short of 20,000 more. He was also asked to fill in the more than 2M chair backlog for public schools as well as the provision of textbooks for each student. And then here comes the budget for state universities and colleges. According to the President, there was already a significant increase on the budget allotted for SUCs so there’s no need to protest and get all angsty. And then there’s the incentive for performing SUCs—additional budget should they meet the requirements provided for in the SUC Roadmap that would be implemented by CHEd. This might be another source of protests from militant student groups but I guess it was a good thing to push SUCs to perform above the par of excellence. I came from an SUC and I’ve always pushed for increased budget for schools like us. I guess it’s one way to pay forward the public that have been sending us to school—perform better and provide a greater quality of higher education. It would take a long time but I believe it is all worth it. After all, the future lies in our hands—a poor education is like getting no education at all.

The program of the government on non-formal and technical-vocational education is also gaining good ground. Right now, it is a viable alternative for Filipino students who choose to be employed immediately and those who really have the technical skills that are in need of sharpening.

In terms of his vision of building a vast transportation infrastructure, I believe it’s quite ambitious especially that the deadline he has set is three years from now. I would like to reserve my applause when the seeds are already bearing fruit. For now, I will be content in seeing that the big work is already commencing to meet the 2015 mark. The same is also true for the projections made on tourism. The campaign pioneered by DoT is really good. I felt that it really emphasized the good, beautiful and unique things our country can offer. What it needs right now are effective policies on enhancing local tourism. For one, we must develop our own heritage sites. Let’s not just bank our tourist appeal on beaches—it’s good, but we have more to offer—our rich cultural heritage and our wide food palate are just some we can add to the table. And yes, better airports please. Seriously.

On food security, I think we really have to work on our agricultural aspect. If before we brag about the fact that our fellow Asians go to our country to learn how to cultivate better rice quality, we might as well re-master that and prove once again that we’re pioneers in rice planting. We shouldn’t rely on rice importation because we can have plenty of that here. Also, in a recent DOST activity I have attended, there are a lot of high impact technology solutions on food security and nutrition that were presented. I think we must work on pushing for more research and development and utilizing the new technologies we’ve discovered here rather than depending on too many foreign techniques. Our scientists are very much talented and they need recognition.

The President also intends to distribute all lands under the CARP and CARPer Law before his term ends. High time I say.

I especially appreciate PNoy’s consistent stance on the RP-China standoff. What’s ours is ours and we won’t back off even if we’re small. Hahahaha! Take that, China! :D *peace* J

Ok, so what else. Hmm. I thought the President’s speech, or well the government as a whole, does not have a concrete roadmap for the arts, music and sports. I think these are aspects in governance which are usually taken on the backseat because many think they’re things we shouldn’t fuss much about. The passion for arts and music are usually associated with elitism while sports are for those with brute force. It may be true but only to some extent. I’m recently into theater plays and concerts and I find it really interesting and fascinating. The Philippines has a very rich culture—we’ve got great artists and very talented musicians, and I think it’s important for the government to also place attention on this aspects. The problem why a lot of people reacted over Mideo Cruz’s controversial exhibit wasn’t plainly because it’s outrageous and ~blasphemous (I personally think it is okay) but because many of us lack appreciation for art. Art, same with music, is not just something we should see or listen to; it is an experience, a way by which artists are communicating with us. I believe this is the reason why countries in Europe are “more literate” because they have increased appreciation for art than us. This merits a separate discussion so I’ll stop here. Hehehe.

The same goes with sports. Our athletes badly need government’s support. I’m starting to believe that we’re only into sports when our athletes get international recognition (read: Azkals, Volcanoes). This shouldn’t be the case. Support must come at all times. It shows a nation’s unity to some extent. Let’s take the case of the Philippine Dragon Boat Team—government support was compromised just because of organizational politics. Too bad.

I’m placing enough faith on the government’s National Convergence Initiative because it highlights teamwork among interrelated government agencies. This also allows fluidity along the government lines. I would also like to believe that the President is firm on his anti-mining stance. This is one of the more important environment issues that we have to resolve as this would be key to improving our DRR strategies.

I also hope that the Maguindanao Massacre probe would find closure this year. It’s just too painful for the relatives of the victims to endure their tragic losses for another year.

While I may not be a PNoy fan (I’ve always been a critic especially on his work ethics and ambiguity over numerous policies), I felt that his whole speech was indeed inspiring. I saw a vision as soon as he outlined his proposed blueprint towards tangible progress. I also felt the sincerity of his words when he made his threats on those who would dare oppose the government’s road towards economic and socio-political recovery. I hope that the President would really stay true to his words. There’s reason to hope for our country’s progress again, we just have to find a way to help in nation building.

"Kaya nga po sa lahat ng nurse, midwife, o doktor na piniling magsilbi sa mga baryo; sa bawat bagong graduate na piniling magtrabaho sa gobyerno; sa bawat atletang Pilipinong bitbit ang watawat saan mang panig ng mundo; sa bawat kawani ng pamahalaan na tapat na nagseserbisyo: Kayo po ang gumawa ng pagbabago.”

Let’s continue to pray that this goes a long way. J


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