A president’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) revolves, as it should be, on the current national situation, as seen from the vantage point of the leader of the nation. In the same breath, it is a statement of the president’s intentions on what he will do about it.
However, often it is also a measure of a president’s performance in the past year since the last SONA or even before, to the beginning of his term or to the promises he made as a candidate. In this light, what he tells the nation is as much a gauge as the silence on issues the rest of the nation sees as important.
How does the Aquino government fare thus far?
In March 2010, I made the following observations of the possible Aquino government the then-candidate Aquino promises to establish:
“The reform agenda is clearly with the Noynoy Aquino presidency. Anti-corruption and clean government is his main campaign slogan, his political base expects it of his administration, and the Aquino legacy poses a challenge for emulation.”
“An Aquino administration is expected to erase the various excesses of the Arroyo administration, rebuild and strengthen democracy, and should provide a stable policy environment for business. However, it will mean sacrifices for sometime as the political body, the bureaucracy, and the business community adjust to new rules of governance.”
“Advisers to the president and his Cabinet are expected to play a major role in the Aquino administration because of the relative unpreparedness prevailing. However, coherence in both policy and implementation will come from a shared vision of good governance and democracy—ironically learned from the failed Arroyo administration.”
“A big advantage of the Aquino administration is its distance from the traditional politics of his contemporaries. It remains to be seen if this can be translated into an actual model for a strengthened Philippine democracy and governance.”
These observations, I think, have largely been proven correct and has resulted to progress made in both areas of governance and macro-economic development. However, there are two refinements I wish to make from the hindsight afforded by the past two years of the Aquino administration.
One, while the obstacles put up by the past Arroyo administration and its allies have been swept aside, new challenges to the reform agenda have appeared, this time in the form of various compromises some key administration people made in return for political support in the 2013 and 2016 elections and, possibly, to feather their own nests.
These accommodations are mostly with political dynasties or power holders and with big business, such as (1) the toleration of practices of illegal logging, illegal fishing, illegal mining, illegal gambling, and smuggling, (2) the silence over or even support for environmentally-dangerous technologies and business practices such as coal plants, genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), open-pit mining, endangered species smuggling, and coral/black sand mining, and (3) the reluctance in undertaking asset reforms such as in land reform, preserving municipal waters and coastal resources, community forest development, urban resettlement, and agro-industrialization.
Two, while Aquino himself has shown his sincerity and honesty in governance—and this is perceived by the majority of the people as such—much needs to be done in the area where he, crucially, staked out his own legacy. In his own words in his inauguration speech:
“My father offered his life so our democracy could live. My mother devoted her life to nurturing that democracy. I will dedicate my life to making our democracy reach its fullest potential: that of ensuring equality for all.”
The democracy legacy means ensuring the participation of the vast majority of the people in democratic governance and in the enjoyment of economic progress. The third SONA will have to reflect this legacy agenda for the next four Aquino years. Silence here means no.
Ramon Casiple is a well-respected political analyst. He is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).