COMMENT: On P-Noy SONA. By Patricio P. Diaz

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/27 July) – After nine years of listening every last Monday of July to a taray of a State of a Nation Address, it was a relief listening to one of something else last Monday. I’m referring to taray in Ilonggo, meaning rambling or directionless. Strictly speaking from the viewpoint of composition or speech writing, the SONAs of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo were rambling, disorganized – nagataray.

Besides being organized, President Benigno S. Aquino III’s first SONA was not chummy unlike President Arroyo’s, devoid of dramatic gimmickry and references to relations. In not a single instance did Aquino mention his mother-president nor her presidency as his model; or his martyred father as his inspiration. Arroyo had impressed us that President Diosdado P. Macapagal, her father, was the greatest of Philippine presidents before her. She singled out her granddaughter as the example of her generation.

I hope President Aquino’s first SONA characterizes his presidency – simple, organized, to the point, self-effacing.

When the Palace reported that President Aquino would expose the shocking status of the state finances and some corruption in the Arroyo government in his SONA, the allies of Arroyo accused Aquino of being vindictive, cautioned him to be sure of his facts and figures, and warned him not to use Arroyo as his punching bag. They dismissed the expose as laying down an excuse for his inevitable failure to fulfill his election promises.

That only a little over six percent of the P1.54 trillion 2010 budget has been left free of encumbrance for the Aquino government to spend is indeed shocking. And so are how the calamity fund was expended; how the MWSS board of trustees appropriated millions for themselves while the retirees’ pensions were unpaid; how the NAPOCOR incurred P200-B debt for the government to assume; how the Landbank and the Development Bank of the Philippines were forced to buy the MRT; and how the NFA debt bloated to P171.6 billion by over-importing rice that rot while four million Filipinos starved.

Was there spending spree? Was there rampant corruption? Are these significant to the economy and social being of the country? Will the prodigal and scandalous past be adverse to the present and future of the country and the people?

Knowing the harsh realities is imperative for those at the helms of the ship of state and the people.

Three weeks in office were so short a time to know the full extent of corruption and misgovernment the new government has inherited and is burdened with to set the present right and insure the future for the coming generations. Brace for more and perhaps bigger shocks.

Aquino promised to correct the wrong and make those responsible accountable. Cases against big-time smugglers and tax-evaders have been filed in court; more will follow. The fulfillment of this promise and the establishment of a better Philippines are his most difficult commitment — the big difference between his presidency and that of Arroyo.

Can he make this happen? That is the challenge he has set for his presidency with the hope that the people will join hands with him. Yet, he cannot just hope. First, he must let the people see he is delivering on his promises – a vicious chicken-or-egg reality.

Aquino broadly outlined his program for national recovery centered on Public-Private Partnership. At the moment, this looks encouraging. The private offers are many and most enticing to a cash-strapped government. But the bargains for profit and ultimate economic and social returns in the long run are crucial to the partnership.

On the success of the partnership will depend the realization of infrastructure, social services, education, and other social plans and projects – of course, with the local governments and national agencies envisioned as cooperating. The vision is full of promise; but there are political and other factors to consider – some unforeseen.

These are more like dreaming good dreams and counting chicks still unhatched. Yet, making dreams happen and correctly counting unhatched chicks is the acid test of good leadership. Has Aquino the rare gift?

To underscore his government’s fight against extrajudicial killers, he reported that suspects in three of six incidents that happened in his watch have been arrested; those in the three other cases will soon be brought to justice. But he made no mention of the unresolved extrajudicial killings during the Arroyo and previous administrations.

Human rights militants will not let Aquino sleep until he addresses – and with visible success – the unresolved cases in the past suspected as having been done by assets of the military and the police. This is his toughest nut to crack.

Aquino broadly addressed the MILF and NPA problems. They are “two obstacles on our road to peace” – acknowledging that peace is “our foundation for growth” and warning that “we will continue to be shackled by poverty if the crossfire persists”.

Nothing can be better said but more concrete ways are desired to be done.

“We are hopeful that the negotiation [with the MILF] will begin after the Ramadan” is all there is to look forward to – just a hope. By the “view” Aquino expressed that he said “has not changed” there is a hint that there will be a new policy on the matter and conduct of the peace negotiation; the Ancestral Domain may be set aside.

As we are writing this Comment, CPP founder Ma. Jose Sison and the spokesman of the NPA command might have already delivered to media their hostile response to Aquino’s “invitation” cum challenge: “If it is peace you truly desire, then we are ready for an immediate cease-fire. Let us go back to the table and begin talking again.”

As President of the Republic, Aquino should be admired for talking straight. But tact and diplomacy are needed in negotiating peace with the rebels. Indonesia had to soften its line to solve the Aceh problem.

Aquino recommended legislative reforms and reviews: (1) The passage of the Fiscal Responsibility Bill “which will limit spending bills only for appropriations that have identified a source of funding; (2) the amendment of the Procurement Law to avoid another NBN-ZTE scandal, and the like; (3) the enactment of an Anti-Trust Law; (3) the passage of the National Land Use Bill; (4) the revision of the 1935 National Defense Act; (5) the passage of the Whistleblower’s Bill; (6) the strengthening of the Witness Protection Program; (7) the codification of our laws.

Some of these are long-overdue; others are must. In fact Aquino as House member for nine years and senator for three years could have initiated some of these. Why did he have to wait to become President to ask Congress to do them?

Urgent and necessary they may be, will the Members of Congress set aside partisan politics and their vested interests to pass them? His leadership will be on test.

Media professionals and other practitioners should heed the President’s exhortation:

“To our friends in media, especially those in radio and print, to the block-timers and those in our community newspapers, I trust that you will take up the cudgels to police your own ranks.

“May you give new meaning to the principles of your vocation: to provide clarity to pressing issues; to be fair and truthful in your reporting, and to raise the level of public discourse.”

The President has hit the media nail squarely on the head.

Will the Filipinos take seriously the President closing exhortation: “It is every Filipino’s duty to closely watch the leaders that we have elected. I encourage everyone to take a step from fault-finding to participation. The fault-finder has endless complaints. The participator takes part in finding a solution.”

By his exhortation to the nation, the President should be decisive and swift in fighting corruption. Every case exposed must be followed by court action. Exposes alone will amount to fault-finding or endless complaints. By that alone, the Filipinos will not take him seriously.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])

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