The second year of Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III and his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) are upon us. As usual, it will be the people—of all persuasions—who will compete with him in reporting the state of the nation and actually report on him (or his performance). Such is the life of a president!
How do we judge a president’s performance? Usually, the basis would be this: it is the year’s performance since the last SONA. However, some want to measure his performance against the promises since he became the president. Still, others want to look at his performance vis-a-vis the problems and challenges facing the nation, as perceived by the observer.
Of course, all of them are correct. All of the above are valid criteria depending on the perspective one wants to adopt.
An objective appraisal of the State of the Nation will, more often than not, produce a mix of positive and negative conclusions.
However, there are others who seem to want to use an absolutist frame of reference—either the president is God’s gift to the Filipinos or he is the devil’s own spawn out to bring destruction on the nation. There is also the common pitfall of telescoping the timeframe of both the nation’s problems and their solutions within the present president’s performance thus far until the SONA.
I think the more valid framework to use is a historical one. This proceeds from the situation of the past, seeing the present Aquino government as a continuity (or discontinuity) from the past, and projecting the future from the present regime’s policies and programs. This detached point of view lends itself easier to a more objective appraisal of the SONA and president’s performance.
Applying this framework to the present government, I think the first year of the Aquino presidency was spent largely in transitioning from the past Macapagal-Arroyo administration, removing the obstacles to his consolidation of power, forming his own governance team, and fashioning his own program of governance.
It is only on his second year that the Aquino administration completed his consolidation of power, initiated various programs of anti-corruption and anti-poverty (the two major promises of candidate Aquino), and grappling with the immediate problems of governance.
I therefore expect the third SONA—covering his first two years in office—to expound on the president’s record of success in handling these challenges. The more interesting thing to watch out for, however, is his agenda for the rest of his presidency.
Ramon Casiple is a well-respected political analyst. He is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).