MANILA, Philippines - The central message in President Aquino's one and a half-hour address to the Nation is pagbabago or transformation. He first introduced anomalies in the past - the North Rail, the GOCC bonuses, Pagcor, and the huge debts left behind, before presenting the achievements of his administration during the past two years. These are in the sectors of the economy, health, education, infrastructure (airports, irrigation, roads, energy, etc.). This should help dispel some criticisms by critics that his administration had failed to deliver what was promised during the last two SONAs.
The statistics looked impressive, especially since they were juxtaposed with the accomplishments of the past administration. He spoke also of what he plans to achieve until 2016. These included projected targets - a great idea, according to one who thought this was one way of making him accountable. But, as he had said, it is us, the people, who made these possible. And we - P-Noy and the people - will have to take responsibility for the kind of future that we want to create. This is not an impossible task, he said of the reforms implemented thus far. And we can do much more as long as we do what is right. His speech drew about 108 applauses.
P-Noy's address resonated as he primarily touched on people's most basic needs - health for all (5.2-million poor benefiting from PhilHealth, more community health teams deployed, decrease in dengue cases), education for all (increase in budget for basic and higher education, more TESDA scholarships, classrooms and textbooks), decrease in unemployment rate, and increase in Conditional Cash Transfer beneficiaries to 3.1 million), among others.
He also cited glowing reports on the economy - increase in varied ratings (credit, a GDP of 6.4%, and the Philippine Stock Exchange Index, and favorable assessments from international credit rating agencies; progress in the upgrade of infrastructure - domestic and international airports, national roads, electrification of barangays, increased productivity in rice and exports in coconut products, increased budgetary allocation for the AFP-PNP modernization program which had brought about these outcomes - higher moral among the law enforcement agencies, return of rebels, capture of bandits, and a lower crime rate; ARMM reforms, rationalization of the Mining Act, improved response to environmental threats (disaster risk reduction management program, project NOAH, and advances in the peace process as shown in progress in the negotiations with the MILF. Expectedly, the most applauded part was his endorsement of the Reproductive Health bill.
The President also conveyed what he felt about the need to assert our territorial rights in the West Philippine sea (they must respect us if they want respect from us) but that it should be done through a "win-win" and peaceful process.
While others had advised him not to dwell on the past, he noted that the task of transformation will require looking back; that while we may forgive what had happened during the past decade, we should never allow ourselves to forget horrendous events such as the Maguindanao massacre, or extrajudicial killings of political activists, and past human rights violations. Therefore, he said, righting the wrongs include bringing the former President to justice.
On a 10-point scale, I would give the President a grade of 8. This is for being able to communicate to the man in the street, and for being able to put across his stance on a sensitive topic such as the territorial conflict with China without offending the other party. This of course is much higher than what the Movement for Good Governance had given which was a score of 5.59.
But as I had said in my June column, the SONA is expected to provide a guide for Congress, and therefore, the President could have provided a more coherent framework for policies and programs that he plans to carry out. in the next four years. In fact, some of the elements for this framework had already been articulated in his address such as "convergence" or bayanihan, where various agencies converge to address a common problem. The economic growth that we now experience did not just happen. It was the consequence of his "matuwid na daan," his credibility, and the administration's efforts to establish a level playing field and ensure transparency and accountability. Finally, there is an even more important element needed for this framework - that of consolidating or crafting new legislation that address existing social and economic gaps. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org