What Aquino failed to mention in his 2015 SONA

MANILA, Philippines – It was a culmination of sorts.

President Benigno Aquino III on Monday, July 27, paraded his administration’s accomplishments in his last State of the Nation Address (SONA).

He highlighted the government’s accomplishments in the following fields: economy, poverty, education, health infrastructure, and military modernization – things he had repeatedly mentioned in his past SONAs.

Although the President mentioned the problem with the Metro Rail Transit-3, he blamed the private maintenance provider for all the problems and absolved Transportation and Communications Secretary Jose Emilio “Jun” Abaya from responsibilities.

Aquino said: “Secretary Jun: Ikaw, ako, at ang buong Kamaynilaan, hindi natutuwa dito. Ang trabaho ng pribado, ipinasa sa atin. Ang solusyon naman natin, hinarang nila. Malinaw nang hindi magtatagpo ang agenda natin at ng MRTC. Ngayon: Humahakbang na tayo para i-buy-out ang korporasyon. 'Pag naayos ito, ang estado na lang ang tanging magdedesisyon.” 

(Secretary Jun: You and me and the entire Metro Manila aren't thrilled with this. The work of the private sector was passed on to us. Yet they blocked our solution. It is clear there is no meeting of agenda between the MRTC and us. Now: we are moving to buy out the corporation. When this is fixed, the state will be left to decide.)

He did the same thing with Budget Secretary Butch Abad in an apparent affirmation of his trust in the cabinet member.

“Kay Secretary Butch Abad, na kahit pa ba pinaulanan ng di-makatarungang paratang ay patuloy sa pagsigurong ang pera ng bayan ay mapupunta sa taumbayan lamang,” Aquino said.

(To Secretary Butch Abad, who – despite being at the receiving end of endless unjustified charges – continues to make sure public funds are safeguarded.)

Aquino earlier rejected Abad’s resignation, following controversies involving the Disbursement Acceleration Program or DAP, which was intended to speed up public spending and boost economic growth.

Where is FOI?

Many waited to see if Aquino would mention controversial measures such as the Freedom of Information and Anti-Dynasty bills.

While Aquino openly declared his support for the passage of the anti-political dynasty law, he remained mum on the FOI.

In his 2010 campaign, Aquino promised to push for the measure but the bill is still languishing in Congress 5 years into his presidency.

In 2014, Aquino said Congress should be blamed for it. After all, he said he could not certify the bill as urgent, as there is no emergency need for it

In the past, Aquino’s certification of a bill as urgent led to the passage of more controversial measures such as the Sin Tax Reform and Responsible Parenthood laws.

Senator Grace Poe earlier called on the President to pass the measure.

"Sa tingin ko, isang legasiya iyan na maiiwan niya na magkaroon ng lakas ang mga tao na busisiin ang lahat ng ginagawa at dokumento ng gobyerno,” Poe said before the opening of the Senate session on Monday, July 27. 

(I think this is a legacy he can leave which will embolden people to check everything that government does, including government documents.)

Mindanao

In his speech, Aquino asked Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which seeks to create an autonomous government in Muslim Mindanao that is parliamentary in form, with greater powers and resources.

He, however, failed to mention the Mamasapano incident, which derailed talks on the BBL. 

The bloody Mamasapano incident, which  killed 44 police commandos, erupted at a critical time – less than a year after the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front signed a landmark peace deal in 2014 and as lawmakers were deliberating on the proposed BBL. (READ: TIMELINE: The long road to the Bangsamoro region)

The President mentioned the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre that resulted in the death of 58 people after they were ambushed allegedly upon the orders of the late former Maguindanao Governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. Aquino however kept mum on the details or plans of action, as convictions in the case have yet to be made.

Aquino earlier vowed that the case, one of the world's worst cases of election violence and media killings, would be completed before his term expires in 2016. 

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, in an interview after Aquino's speech, said they are "hopeful" to finish the case by next year. She said partial conviction is possible now that the Supreme Court approved it.

Aquino tagged the Maguindano massacre trial as the litmus test of the Philippine justice system. Justice Secretary Leila De Lima said if no conviction is obtained by 2016, it would mean the “wheels of justice in this country really grind so slowly." 

Land reform

In his 2012 SONA, Aquino promised that agrarian reform would be achieved before his term ends.

"My mother initiated the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program. It is only just that this program sees its conclusion during my term. There are those, however, who wish to obstruct us. I say to them: We will obey the law. The law says, the nation says, and I say: Before I step down, all the land covered by CARP will have been distributed,” Aquino said in 2012.

In his 2013 SONA, he promised that all notices of coverage of land would be released by 2014. 

The President, however, did not mention anything about agrarian reform in his last SONA. He also excluded it from his list of accomplishments. – Rappler.com

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com

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