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President's address not Oracle of Delphi

Publication Date : 25-07-2012


Philippine President Benigno Aquino went back to his “bosses”—i.e., the Filipino people—in the mid-point of his administration to make an accounting of its performance.

His State of the Nation Address (Sona) sank from the weight of its bulk and comprehensiveness, causing disbelief among some of the public that such herculean output could have come from the labour of a man whose ethic for sustained work has been suspect even among his most ardent admirers.

The massive report took no less than an hour and a half to deliver; it bears evidence of solid research (even skeptics can’t easily fault it for sloppy research), and it should command respect for effort. Apart from the fact that the English text is 15 pages, it has a technical report of 53 pages, titled “Good Governance: Building a Culture of Accountable, Transparent, and Participatory Governance”.

One chapter, titled “Good Governance is Good Economics”, particularly requires close examination because it mounts the fallacious argument that all that is needed to produce sustained economic growth is to drive it with sermons on honest government, as though the slogan “There will be no poor if there’s no corruption” were a self-fulfilling panacea.

Credit for the quality of the Sona should go to the professional research staff who trawled the sea for all the good news material about the government’s performance to pack the report.

Most of the Sona is a comprehensive catalogue of what has been accomplished in two years, but the list of what is still to be completed by the end of Aquino’s term still looks daunting. If you examine the list of the claimed accomplishments in two years—claims that fill nearly two-thirds of the report—you might be led to wonder whether Aquino has been transformed overnight (or in two years’ time) into a workaholic to be able to accomplish so much in economic terms.

From what the Sona claims, the output is so formidable that the report could pass for accomplishments by the end of Aquino’s term.

The Sona speaks of a “lost decade” from which the Ppesident, with his messianic complex, led us in our journey to his promised land on “daang matuwid”, starting with his first day in office. Then it issues a roll call of alleged corrupt transactions, in answer to questions about its guiding principle (“There will be no poor if there’s no corruption”).
Said the Sona: “Think about it. Doing business in the Philippines was once considered risky—the rules were too opaque and were constantly changing. … Now with a level playing field, and clear and consistent rules, confidence in our economy is growing. Investments are pouring in, jobs are being created, and a virtuous cycle has begun—where the empowered buy more products, and businesses hire more people so they can expand to keep up with growing demand.

“Prudent spending has allowed us to plug leaks in the system, and improved tax collection has increased revenues. Every peso collected is properly spent on roads, vaccines, classrooms and chairs—and spent on our future. We have fixed the system by which we build roads, bridges, and buildings—they now go where they are truly needed. Our roads are properly paved; products, services, and people reach their destination quickly and with great ease.

“Because of good governance in agriculture, food production has increased, prices don’t fluctuate, wages are stable. And our economy is stable.

“It is true: A resilient and dynamic economy resting on the foundations of good governance is the best defence against global uncertainty. We have been dismantling the obstacles to progress for two years, and now, our success can only be limited by how hard we are willing to work for it—maybe with fewer self-righteous lectures on good governance and less vindictiveness on corruption suspects.”

The above is the Sona’s picture of a transformed Philippines under the Aquino regime. It suggests that the regime is engaging the country in a cultural revolution involving values in transparent public service, at the same time that it is engineering economic transformation. But it has a problem achieving a balance between economy renovation and excessive use of executive powers to stamp out corruption and promote economic growth. This imbalance of emphasis on these options is clearly shown.

While the Sona contained lengthy references to the allegedly corrupt deals of the preceding administration, Aquino reminded the public that “our fight does not end with the ousting of one corrupt official, with the suspension of an anomalous contract, or the systemic overhauling of a government office”—a reference to the removal of Renato Corona as chief justice.

The Sona did not say anything about the costs of Corona’s dismissal to the system of checks and balances among the three branches of the Philippine democratic government. There is the question of who will be the next big fish to be prosecuted by this administration. But this is not what the Sona is about. The Sona is a government project on its own idealised image of its performance, certainly not that of the president’s “bosses.”

But with the Supreme Court battered by the impeachment trial of Corona, the president still faces the issue: Will he appoint a chief justice who will not be subservient to the executive department? The Sona can’t provide an answer. It is not the Oracle of Delphi.


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