#SONA2013: Key issues Aquino will tackle
MANILA, Philippines - He will cite his big achievements — "bragging rights," as one adviser puts it — but he will also acknowledge the urgency to make the country's economic growth trickle down to the majority who most need it.
As President Benigno Aquino III enters his 4th year as President, the nation awaits his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, July 22, which he warned his Cabinet not to leak to the media.
"Every SONA he has done has been interesting," Budget Secretary Florencio "Butch" Abad told Rappler. "He has really been at it in the past days," added Abad, a key adviser of the President.
Abad said this year's SONA – Aquino's first in the last half of his 6-year-term — may be extra special. "If I were the President, this is the best time to do the SONA because of what has happened. He has so much bragging rights [at this point]," he said.
Abad said he expects Aquino to speak about his plans for "inclusive development."
Rappler collates what Aquino will likely highlight as his administration's achievements from the past year, and what we expect him to emphasize for the year ahead.
Accomplishments: Aquino will likely cite the signing of the K-12 bill into law, as well as the reduction in classroom backlog. As of June 30 this year, the government claims to have built 43,424 classrooms. The President is also expected to mention the P37.1-B that government allocated for State Universities and Colleges, an increase from previous years.
Goals: The administration wants DepEd to have the largest portion of the 2014 budget at P336.9-B. The DepEd recently said it may not completely address the classroom backlog by year's end, as originally promised. Aquino may vow to put an end to the textbook, chairs and classroom backlog by 2014.
SOCIAL WELFARE AND DEVELOPMENT
Accomplishments: Expect praise for the 3,967,517 households enrolled in the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program as of the 1st quarter. This exceeded the government's goal of enrolling 3.8 million household-beneficiaries. The World Bank has given the government's flagship poverty alleviation program positive reviews.
Goals: The proposed budget for the program is even higher for 2014 at P48.3-B compared to last year's P44-B, in the government's bid to have 4.6 million families enrolled by 2015.
Accomplishments: The construction and upgrade of airports across the country are underway, on track for 2016 completion. The project connecting the North and South Luzon Expressway was already approved by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Board, while the fixing of national roads and construction of terminals continue.
Goals: The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) is proposed to get P213.5-B, the second largest chunk of the 2014 budget. This is meant for flood control projects, the construction and fixing of national roads, and the Tourism Development Program which focuses on roads in tourist spots. The Department of Transportation and Communications' allocation is pegged at P48.7-B for transport infrastructure.
The US$1.01-billion road project connecting parts of highly populated Cavite and Laguna provinces is also among the priority infrastructure projects the Aquino administration is expected to continue pushing for.
INTERIOR AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
Accomplishments: Aquino is expected to highlight the Philippine National Police's near achievement of a 1:1 ratio for police to firearm after the government distributed 22,603 units of the total 74,879 purchased by the government. The PNP also boasts of a number of arrested criminals and confiscated firearms, although two big-time criminals they re-captured last week were shot dead by policemen themselves. Expect the President to also mention the legacy of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.
Goals: Based on the 2014 proposed national budget, the DILG is to receive the 3rd largest portion to improve the "service delivery and capacity expansion efforts" of local government units, and to implement its Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan (PAMANA) program. The PNP also hopes to upgrade its equipment and assign more cops in the field.
Accomplishments: Spotlight will be on the Universal Health Care Act, signed into law in June, and the sin tax law signed in December 2012. The taxes earned from the latter are allocated to help achieve universal health care. The significant inclusion of Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV) in the free vaccinations given to infants by government may be mentioned as well.
Goals: For the Department of Health, P21.2 billion has been allocated for Philhealth premiums of poor families, while another P13.3 billion will be used in improving health facilities. All this is part of the P87.1-billion proposed budget of the agency, a 45.5% increase from last year.
Accomplishments: The successful signing of two annexes for the envisioned Bangsamoro political entity will likely receive much attention. The wealth-sharing annex was signed in July, while the power-sharing annex was signed in February — putting the government closer to completing a final peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
Goals: Government hopes to complete the last two annexes on power sharing and on normalization before the end of the year.
Accomplishments: Aquino's firm defense of the country's territorial claim on the West Philippine Sea is expected to be one of the highlights of the SONA, especially since the United Nations tribunal has started hearing the territorial case filed by the Philippines against China early this month. The Philippines' decision to settle the dispute in court has gained praise from the international community.
He may also defend his decision to allow allies, including Japan and the United States, access to military bases in the Philippines.
Goals: The government wants the tribunal to declare China's 9-Dash claim as invalid and unlawful, and the President may ask for united support from the people as he did in last year's SONA.
ARMED FORCES OF THE PHILIPPINES
Accomplishments: Praise will likely go to the signing of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Modernization Act which allocates P75-B to the armed forces for the first 5 of 15 years. The BRP Ramon Alcaraz has also been repaired and is en route to Manila, while the Air Force has also acquired 3 C-130 cargo planes and combat helicopters.
Goals: The Department of National Defense is proposed to receive P123.1 billion of the 2014 budget, P5 billion of which will go to the military's modernization program.
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
Accomplishments: Expect Aquino to celebrate the Philippine economy's stellar 7.8% growth in the first quarter of 2013 — the highest since Aquino took office — and the country's 6.6% growth in 2012, surpassing the government's own 5% to 6% target. 2013 also marks the year the Philippines received its first ever investment grade ratings from S&P and Fitch Ratings.
Goals: The government has repeatedly said it hopes that economic growth will trickle down and be felt by the poor. Aquino is also focused on job generation as a way to continue the momentum. Expect him to talk about plans to make both happen.
Accomplishments: The government considers the historic passage of the Reproductive Health bill as one of its biggest achievements — although it is still on hold by the Supreme Court. Expect Aquino to mention the law and ask for continued support.
Another important legislation Aquino may mention is the signing of an Act to Further Strengthen the Anti-Money Laundering Law, especially after the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Goals: Last year, Aquino appealed for a new mining law that will ensure the environment will be cared for and that both private and public sectors will benefit from the industry. It is one of Aquino's priority measures at the start of the 16th congress. The current Mining Act is under review by the Supreme Court, following petitions claiming it is unconstitutional.
Other issues Aquino may bring up are achievements in agrarian reform, environment protection, and government pension.
The land distribution of Hacienda Luisita to its beneficiaries has finally begun, in line with the administration's goal to distribute all land covered by the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program by 2016. As for what he wishes to see in the coming years, Aquino may mention improvements in irrigation network as part of the country's pursuit to become self-sufficient in rice.
In relation to the environment, 221,763 hectares of land were planted in 2012, exceeding the 200,000 target for that year. Proposed bills are also pending in Congress such as the Forest Resources Bill, and the Alternative Minerals Management Bill, while the National Land Use Management Act has been certified as urgent.
Aquino's promised minimum P5,000-pension for retired government employees was also approved by the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). This comes with a P200-hike in the pensions of 43,000 retired employees receiving over P5,000 but less than P8,000 a month.- Rappler.com