Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Days before Philippine President Benigno Aquino's third State of the Nation Address (Sona), the people's attention was diverted to an exuberant political exercise-a call for constitutional change as a catalyst of economic growth.
The call came from Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who made public statements two weeks ago that the time for amending the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution has come.
The leaders of both houses of Congress expressed confidence that they could line up majorities in their respective chambers to come on board the Charter change locomotive to get their initiative moving by next year.
The call was not something the public wanted to hear from the political leadership after a year of domestic turmoil over the Aquino administration's campaign to unseat the Chief Justice and the standoff between China and the Philippines in disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The confrontation pushed the two countries perilously close to naval encounters and put to the test the foreign policy mettle of the Aquino administration.
These two turbulent events defined the real state of the nation in the past year.
The constitutional change initiative was out of place as background for the Sona because it is a report of what the government accomplished and failed to accomplish last year.
The Charter initiative is an attempt by legislative leaders to set the agenda of debate on political reform in the second half of the term of office of the presidency. It has nothing to do with results in the delivery of goods and services by a government.
The Sona is a self-serving report of a sitting government long on claims of its accomplishments and short on concrete results.
It is an expression of the principle of the accountability of a democratically elected government to the sovereign people on whether an administration has squandered its electoral mandate to deliver goods and services it promised during the past year.
President on the spot
The Sona should tell the public not only how much the administration delivered, compared to how much it promised, and what sector of society benefited from its projects and the price the public had to pay to produce these results.
Most importantly, the report should outline whether the government was heavy-handed in the exercise of its punitive powers in order to prove its honesty or whether its anticorruption campaign inflicted damage to other independent institutions of government, in particular the judiciary, and was carried out overzealously at the expense of due process for its victims.
As the president reads his report from the podium of the people's representatives in Congress, he is put on the spot.
He stands in the crosshairs where his claims can be examined from the perspectives of various sectors of Filipino society-who are the losers and gainers of this government's policies and programmes.
Who are being left behind in the slogan to promote "inclusive" economic growth?
This is how the Sona is to be assessed-not as a propaganda of the administration's self-proclaimed civic virtues and rectitude in governance.
What the public expects from the Sona is not the start of another tedious debate on Charter change but a presentation of results of tangible and visible programmes that have enhanced national wealth and that have contributed to the reduction of poverty.
When Enrile and Belmonte started discussions on constitutional amendments, they took pains to explain that the changes would be limited to the economic provisions.
The saving grace is the president rejected the initiative, and told them that he did not think it was a "necessary move at this point" and that he did not agree it was "the solution to grow the economy."
But Enrile continued to press aggressively to engage the president in a dialogue to win his support even at the stage when the latter was busy preparing his Sona.
Don't fix what ain't broke
In a radio interview early this month, Enrile said he wanted the economic provisions amended, particularly the one that limits foreign ownership of property and control of strategic industries to only 40 per cent.
He blamed the limitation for the failure to attract foreign investment.
The president contradicted Enrile's argument, saying the 6.4-per cent economic growth posted by his administration in the first quarter was proof that the Philippines could grow without amending the Constitution.
Aquino also expressed concern over the possibility that "once you open the Constitution for amendments, you cannot limit (the change), this will open it all up."
Warning that, according to an American idiom, "don't fix what ain't broke," Aquino said, "Even with the present Constitution, I think we are capable of reaching economic heights for one, and changing the Constitution, changes the rules of the game, which might delay the process."
The president was also "taken aback" by the statements of Enrile and Belmonte that they were confident they would be able to convince their colleagues to agree to constitutional amendments.
Belmonte said he expected the House of Representatives to approve the amendments before the 2013 midterm elections-possible should he twist arms the way he fast-tracked the impeachment complaint against dismissed Chief Justice Renato Corona.
But there are no signs that the Senate and the House have agreed on the modality of how they would vote on the amendments.
The administration has to show that the 6.4-per cent GDP growth in the first quarter is not a fluke and is sustainable.
The Philippine Quarterly Update of the World Bank (July 2012) reports that despite global economic uncertainty, the Philippine economy grew by 6.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2012, "a solid recovery from the relatively low 3.9 per cent for 2011."
It projects the economy to expand by 4.6 per cent for 2012, with growth increasing to 5 per cent in 2013, but it warns the ongoing debt crisis and the slowdown in China pose "significant downside risks to growth."
"The challenge for policymakers is to cushion the economy from external shocks, while ensuring that the Philippines invests in inclusive growth," the report says.
Without disclosing the main themes of the Sona, Philippine Palace officials indicated that the president "is going to roll out what happened during the past year, and from there you can already see our programmes of government, our two pillars-the anticorruption programme and our (poverty) alleviation programme."
Which of the two pillars have brought more benefits to the poor?
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