COMMENT: SONA 2007: Quips and Cranks

The President opened her speech with “Thank you. Thank you very much …” I don’t know what the “Thank you’s” were for. It was like taking dessert before soup and the main course.

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The speech was interspersed with “Thank you’s” – like thanking the 13th Congress for passing the tax reforms, or thanking a governor or congressman for doing a project. You thank someone for favors. Passing the tax reforms was not a favor; it was a duty. So were the projects done by governors or congressmen.

Ah! That means ours is a government of patronage. That was the President’s message. Thank your mayor, governor, congressman or president for spending tax money for good projects – as if the money were their money and their duty were favor.

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The 55-minute speech drew 103 rounds of applause according to one report; 105, to another. Let’s not be fooled. As anyone could have seen on television, the President paused whenever she wanted applause – a cue for prompters planted around. Cued applauses are never signs of great speeches; they make the mediocre appear great; and they ruin greatness.

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The President said, “From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be.” Her critics heard differently: “… is always as wrong as she wants to be.” To be precise, the President said that longest-applauded line from “where [she stood]” not from “where [she sat]”. Even tall speakers don’t deliver speeches sitting down.

Will someone tell me what in that statement prompted the 59-second standing ovation? It would have been different had she said, “… a President is always as strong as what the Constitution wants him or her to be” – a statement of fact, not a boast of power. Even that only merits a nod.

Was Congress hailing Caesar or hearing in awe, “I am Ozymandias, King of kings”? William Shakespeare or John Keats must be wondering.

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SONA 2007 is a vision envisioned to firmly take root by 2010 and to be fulfilled in 2027. Yet, the honorable members of the 14th Congress hailed it as present state of the nation. It’s a pity, and the pity is on the Filipinos.

What’s the vision? The President said:

“Hangarin kong mapabilang ang Pilipinas sa mayayamang bansa sa loob ng dalawampung taon. [My ambition is to count the Philippines among the rich countries within 20 years.] By then poverty shall have been marginalized and the marginalized raised to a robust middle class.

“We will have achieved the hallmarks of a modern society, where institutions are strong.

“By 2010, the Philippines should be well on its way to achieving that vision.”

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Singapore did it – from 1865 to the 1980s, it became a world-class island state. It is small – now 699 sq. km., growing from the original 582 sq. km. through reclamation, with a 193-km. coastline – just a little bigger than Guimaras island-province (605 sq. km.). As of July 2005, it had a population of 4,425,720. Since 1965, a well-disciplined political party under the disciplinarian Lee Kuan Yew has disciplined a compact population in a compact island.

Can the Philippines, under the Arroyo vision, duplicate Singapore’s feat?

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Let’s give President Arroyo credit due to what she has done. After six years, the economy has taken off under her watch – just off, not yet soaring. It’s too early to count the chicks. What assurance is there that her remaining three years will be as she is dreaming?

Counting only the plus-points, she regaled Congress with selected accomplishments from the MTPIP (Medium-Term Public Investment Program) and MTPDP (Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan). What percent was not accomplished? The minus-points are vital in telescoping 2010 or 2027.

For instance, she will construct 3,000 kilometers of farm-to-market roads for the entire country. What percent are these of the demand? How many thousand kilometers are needed? One million jobs have been created annually. Permanent, casual, emergency? What’s the wage or salary? Not mere employment but meaningful employment is most significant socially.

Alright, she said more and more money is being appropriated for Mindanao; for agriculture, health, education, and other sectors. How much really is “more”? A very large percentage of the budget goes to debt payment. With defense eating a huge part of the remainder, how much really is apportioned among economic projects and social services?

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There was a roll call of achievers – from the youth to the farmers – to showcase the “unbeatable Filipino talent”. But more crucial to 2010 and 2027 is the ratio of the achievers to the under-achievers and the non-achievers? It may be 1 is to 9 or 1 is to 99. Any ratio above 5 is to 5 will scuttle 2010 and 2027.

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The 5-Super Region Plan is “a blue print for building the future”? Whose future? Principally, it’s for investors, the capitalists, the elite. How much really will trickle down to the poor in the forms of employment and social services? Under present labor policies, will the poor not remain poor and the rich become richer?

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She wants to “reform agrarian reform so it can transform beneficiaries into agribusinessmen and other agribusinesswomen”. Agri-business needs wide area of land and capital. Who will be the beneficiaries? It’s quite obvious — the investors.

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She urged Congress “to enact laws to transform state response to political violence” – four laws: (1) for more witness protection, (2) to guarantee swift justice, (3) to impose harsher penalty for political killings, (4) to impose the harshest penalty to rogue elements of the uniform services. These were recommended by the Supreme Court-initiated summit on extrajudicial killings.

She omitted one recommendation: “Enact a law to address the lack of understanding of the doctrine of command responsibility.” Under this doctrine, the President as commander-in-chief and top military and police officials are criminally liable for the crimes of the rank and file.

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Presenting a vision as the state of the nation, she concluded: “The state of the nation is strong” — resurrecting the “Strong Republic."

How I wished, the President had stated clearly the state of the nation now – arraying the plus-points against the minus-points. How I wished she had separated the vision from the present reality and assessed concretely the means to achieve the vision. Then, the nation can better appreciate the mission relative to 2010 and 2027.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently 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 [email protected])

 

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