GENERAL SANTOS CITY, August 10, 2015 – The Filipinos have just been told by their two top elected officials of their nation’s contrasting states – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, most positive; Vice President Jejomar Binay, most negative. Never has this happened since independence from the United States in 1946 – a prelude to election.
President Aquino delivered his last SONA (State of the Nation Address) at the Batasang Pambansa last July 27. In his two hours and 15 minute speech in Pilipino or Tagalog (36 pages, 8.5 x 11, 12 pt. Times New Roman text), he narrated how the country has attained progress under his administration’s “Daang Matuwid” (Straight Path) policy.
To highlight his achievements, he recalled the state of corruption in the government he inherited from President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. By the reforms he instituted, he said, the Philippines regained the confidence of foreign and domestic investors and its credit ratings improved. With his government committed to follow the “Daang Matuwid”, in five years the Philippines achieved unprecedented progress.
He narrated these achievements in the different aspects of the economy, infrastructure, social services, human development, national security and defense, etc. He supported his narration with facts, statistics and testimonials of the beneficiaries and officials through video clips.
However, while the five-year achievements are real, critics question them. For instance, the infrastructure developments are concentrated in Luzon, particularly Metro Manila. By the statistics, poverty has been reduced but the real number of the poor is still significant. The income of the people in terms of pesos has increased but is still deficient considering deflation and rising cost of living. Corruption may have been reduced but the corrupt are still in the government despite the “Daang Matuwid”.
The President explained that “Daang Matuwid” is not a magic formula. The first five years are just the beginning. It has to be continued by succeeding administrations; it will take two decades or a generation to fully reap the blessings of “Daang Matuwid”.
Vice President Binay delivered his address describing it as the “true state of the nation” (hence, TSONA) at the Cavite State University last August 1. His less than one hour speech, also in Pilipino, (11 pages of the same paper size and type size as Aquino’s SONA) dismissed as fallacious the President’s narration of progress under “Daang Matuwid” which, in reality, he considered a failure
He called Aquino’s SONA as mere story-telling, full of self-serving statements and, like his past SONAs, blaming the past administration for the poor state of the nation. In fact, he said, much of the socioeconomic achievements credited to “Daang Matuwid” had been started by the past administration. He did not specify.
He described Aquino as insensitive – citing his handling of the tragic August 2010 hostage-taking of the Hongkong tourists, the Moro National Liberation Front attack of Zamboanga City, the Typhoon Yolanda disaster and the pyrrhic Mamasapano operation to get the Malaysian terrorist Marwan at the cost of the lives of 44 police commandoes, 17 Moro rebels and five civilians.
He would not deny the veracity of the statistics showing economic growth. But he saw this as having benefited only the few rich. Contrary to Aquino’s claims, he contended the number of the poor, of the unemployed, of Filipinos seeking work abroad, of Filipinos dying without seeing a doctor, of the hungry, et cetera, has increased. Corruption has not been eradicated.
In short, Binay said that the plight of the poor has not changed during the five years of the Aquino administration. His verdict: “Hindi makakamit ang tunay na ginhawa sa biyaheng Tuwid na Daan na manhid at palpak na man.” (Real prosperity in life cannot be attained through the “Straight Road” which in reality is insensitive and a failure.)
Binay is the fourth vice president – after Diosdado P. Macapagal, Joseph Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo — elected outside of the ticket of the winning president. Only Macapagal did not join the cabinet of the incumbent president; he used his four-year term preparing for the next election but did not come out openly to denounce President Carlos P. Garcia. Of the three who joined the incumbent Cabinet, only Binay resigned five years after then denounced the administration in preparation for the next election.
Binay’s TSONA is really a political campaign speech in the mold of the traditional Philippine politics. The opposition, on the side of the poor, pits the poor against the rich – promising to bring better life, to rid the government of corruption, et cetera.
He warned against Aquino’s bid for the succeeding administrations to continue his “Daang Matuwid” policy and program of government. Essentially, he said in Pilipino: the future of our children will be compromised and the Filipino masses will continue to suffer under leaders who have not experienced hunger and sleeping on hard floor.
He implored: “Mga kababayan, sa kabila ng maraming paghihirap, hindi pa rin tayo nawawalan ng pag-asa.” (Despite our suffering, let us not lose hope.)
He rallied them, his mga kababayan: “Hindi tayo sumusuko, tuloy-tuloy ang ating pagsisikap at ang ating paglaban. Nananalig na sa dulo ng pagsubok ay may naghihintay na biyaya, pagpapala at ginhawa. Magsama-sama tayo at tahakin natin ang tunay na landas tungo sa kasaganahan at ginhawa para sa lahat.” (Let’s not give up but continue striving and fighting. The rewards await our struggle. Together, let’s tread the path to the deliverance of all.)
He promised to soon come up and consult the people with his program of government. “Sama-sama nating balangkasin ang isang bagong kabanata sa ating pagsusulong ng kasaganahan at ginhawa para sa lahat.” (Together, we will plan the new chapter of our journey to the prosperity and good life of all.)
Toward the end of his SONA, Aquino recapitulated the five-year achievements of his administration. He stated in one question what he perceived as the prevailing sentiment concerning “Daang Matuwid”: “Lahat ba ng ating naipundar, lahat ba ng ating pinaghirapan, maglalaho dahil lang sa isang eleksiyon?” (Will all that we have founded, all that we have sacrificed for, vanish because of one election?)
From this viewpoint, he said that the next election will be a referendum for “Daang Matuwid” — for the Filipinos to decide whether to make the transformation we are enjoying permanent or just to let it pass as an illusion.
He posed the question: “Tama ba itong landas na tinatahak natin?” (Are we treading the correct path?)
The alternative responses:
“Kung sasabihin ninyong hindi, para na rin ninyong sinabing ‘Mas gusto ko sa dati; bumalik na lang tayo sa baluktot.’ Pag iyan po ang inyong itinugon, ako’y mananahimik na lang.” (If you say “NO”, it’s saying, “let’s go back to the old, crooked path”. I’ll keep my peace.)
“Pero kung ang tugon naman ninyo ay “Oo,” tulad ng lagi, ako naman po’y handang maging inyong dakilang alalay. Maski sa pagbaba sa puwesto, hanggang sa aking huling hininga, makakaasa kayo, gaya ng walang patid ninyong pananatili bilang aking lakas, hindi rin kayo mag-iisa; sasamahan ko kayo, tatabihan ko kayo, magkakapit-bisig nating isasabuhay ang Daang Matuwid.” (If you say “YES”, as always, I will serve you, walking shoulder to shoulder together on the Straight Path as a way of life.)
Aquino’s SONA is also a prelude to the May 2016 election. (Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)