MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Under fire over recent controversial actions, an emotional President Benigno Aquino III appealed to supporters and reminded them of the basic things he set out to do as he delivered his 5th State of the Nation Address on Monday, July 28.
“The Filipino is worth dying for. The Filipino is worth living for. If I may add, the Filipino is worth fighting for,” the President said at the end of his SONA, channeling the famous words of his martyred father Benigno Aquino Jr.
The speech – entirely in Filipino like his past SONAs – was markedly different from his previous SONAs. This time around Aquino did not slam any agency for incompetence, steered away from controversial issues such as his quarrel with the Philippine Supreme Court, or the country’s dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea. He even mentioned the leader of the opposition, Vice President Jejomar Binay, as he recalled their tough time together during coup attempts against his mother, President Corazon Aquino.
FULL TEXT: Aquino’s 5th State of the Nation Address
The President told his so-called bosses, the people who voted for him in 2010: “You gave me the chance to lead in the transformation. If I turned my back on the call, it would’ve been like turning my back on my parents. You’ve been true to me, and I’ve been true to you.” It seemed his voice cracked at this point. Cameras, meanwhile, showed his sister, actress-TV host Kris Aquino shedding tears as Aquino mentioned their parents.
But before this Aquino did not mince words in belittling his critics. “I have a full conviction to face the critics because I know there are only a few of them while there are so many of us,” Aquino said in Filipino.
For Aquino, criticisms hurled against him are, in effect, criticisms against those who benefitted from his administration’s programs. “Sa totoo lang, hindi ako ang kinokontra ng mga ito kundi ang mga tao na nakikinabang sa tuwid na daan,” he said. (The truth is I’m not the one they’re contradicting but rather the people who benefitted from the straight path.)
In a rare departure from his usual prepared speeches, Aquino ad-libbed the last parts of his speech as he turned reflective on the last two years of his administration.
“Gabi-gabi po, bago ako matulog, ‘Thank you, nakalagpas pa ako ng isang araw.’ Kung sabi nga noong bata kami, ‘Finished or not finished, pass your paper,’ ay dumating na sa akin. Palagay ko naman, nararamdaman kung anong pagbabagong karapatan ng bawat Pilipinong mangyari,” Aquino said.
(Every night before I sleep, I say, ‘Thank you, another has passed. Like what they told us when we were young, ‘Finished or not finished pass your paper.’ This has come to me. I believe the changes every Filipino has the right to have can be felt no matter what happens.)
Aquino delivered his 2014 SONA barely a month after the Supreme Court struck down 3 specific provisions of his administration’s controversial spending program as unconstitutional.
The decision triggered 2 valid impeachment complaints against him, and another one over a military deal between the Philippines and the United States. His combative speech on July 14, where he criticized the Supreme Court for ruling against the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), sparked criticism from various sectors.
Recent public opinion surveys also showed that he suffered the sharpest decline in approval ratings.
Choices for 2016
After downplaying criticisms against his administration, Aquino made a segue toward the “qualifications” of who should replace him in 2016.
Echoing his previous statements, Aquino said his successor should be someone who, “without a doubt,” will continue the reforms and programs that his administration started.
It is common knowledge that the President hopes his successor to be his party mate, friend and close adviser, Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II. Way before the portion of his speech about a successor, Aquino cited Roxas along with a number of other Cabinet secretaries for their work in the rehabilitation of provinces devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan).
He also mentioned at length various gains made in the peace and order sector, such as the capture of high-profile suspects in the murder of Mayor Ernesto Balolong and businessman Richard King, while cameras focused on Roxas.
In his SONA, Aquino defended the benefits of DAP but did not mention the Supreme Court or the judiciary.
Aquino cited the program’s contribution to social projects, such as free vocational education under the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) – with a matching video presentation of TESDA scholars.
In the absence of DAP, Aquino urged Congress to pass a supplemental budget for projects that were started under the program.
Without mentioning specifics, he also asked the body to pass a joint resolution to clarify definitions that “still needed clarifications.”
Different interpretations of what government savings is has been cited as one of the reasons that led to differences in opinion between the executive branch and the Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of DAP. (READ: After DAP, Congress to clarify meaning of savings)
The executive branch is set to present to Congress its proposal for a P2.606 trillion budget for 2015 on Wednesday, July 30.
The Philippines was rocked by consecutive disasters in 2013, including the Zamboanga siege, the Bohol earthquake and Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
Aquino apologized for delays in the relocation program for people displaced during the siege of Zamboanga City in September 2013 by forces associated with the Nur Misuari faction of the Moro National Liberation Front.
He said authorities had a hard time finding appropriate relocation areas suitable to their livelihood and religion.
Meanwhile, Aquino lauded government response during the onslaught and aftermath of Yolanda, the deadliest typhoon to hit the country in recent history. In his speech, Aquino confirmed he had approved rehabilitation plans for 6 local government units affected by the disaster – close to 8 months after the onslaught of the super typhoon.
While Aquino had before blamed local government units (LGUs) for being ill-prepared, he acknowledged in his address how LGUs were paralyzed during the typhoon that even prepositioned relief goods were carried by the flood.
“Kinailangan po talaga ng pambihirang pagkakaisa para ipaabot ang tulong sa mga apektadong pamilya, kalingahin ang mga naulila’t sugatan, siguruhing walang mangyayaring outbreak ng sakit, at marami pang ibang tungkulin,” Aquino said.
(Great unity was really needed to extend help for affected families, care for those who were wounded and orphaned, ensure that there would be no outbreak of diseases, and others.)
In the aftermath of Yolanda, the government incurred criticism over delayed response and chaotic relief efforts. Aquino said in his speech, however, that “your government lost time in coming to the aid” of devastated provinces.
While the president outlined a number of projects enhancing water infrastructure in the country, he did not lay out concrete steps for the energy sector except to order Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla to coordinate with Joint Congressional Power Commission, the Energy Regulatory Commission, energy producers and consumers as a possible power crisis looms in 2015. (READ: Aquino keeps mum on emergency powers proposal in SONA)
In his 2014 SONA, Aquino placed more focus on infrastructure and social projects rather than his priority measures.
With two years left in his term, Aquino highlighted private-public partnership projects that are underway, including the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, the Tarlac-Pangasinan La Union Expressway and the Basilan Circumferential Road.
Projects approved by the National Economic Development Authority, including the Cebu Bus Rapid Transit Project and the Busuanga Airport, were also cited.
For his priority measures, Aquino asked Congress to pass two main bills: the extension of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program and the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a product of the final peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).
Despite clamor from civil society organizations, Aquino still did not endorse the passage of the Freedom of Information bill.
Rappler research shows Congress has yet to enact the priority measures Aquino mentioned in his 2013 SONA.
As he trumpeted the Philippines’ investment rating upgrades from various credit rating agencies, Aquino also noted the decrease in poverty incidence in the country.
He said poverty incidence dropped to 24.9% in 2013 from 27% the year before. The decline, he said, is equivalent to 2.5 million Filipinos who no longer live below the poverty line.
Filipinos, however, believe this is not enough. A Pulse Asia survey from June 24 to July 2 showed Filipinos gave Aquino the lowest mark in reducing the poverty of many Filipinos and controlling inflation. No mention was made of efforts to curb inflation.
Reducing poverty, political analysts say, is also one of the key areas Aquino must give focus to in the last two years of his term. (READ: What next for Aquino and Congress?)
While Aquino has anchored his administration on anti-corruption stance with the mantra “kung walang kurap, walang mahirap” (There will be no poverty if no one is corrupt), analysts say it is high time for Aquino to address the 2nd part of the equation. – Rappler.com