SONA: His and Hers

Gary Olivar
President Aquino’s SONAs to date are still fresh in people’s minds, so they can easily be compared to the SONAs of his predecessor during the equivalent period of her first 4 years in office

I expect that people will be taking a special interest in the President’s SONA this year, coming as it does in the wake of the DAP controversy. Will he remain true to form, or will he manage to resurrect the public’s hopes for his remaining two years in office?

After writing or editing several SONAs under two presidents, I’ve learned that this annual speech is many things rolled into one: a presentation of the incoming executive agenda, a call to legislative action, a collection of heart-tugging anecdotes to keep the PR guys happy. But most of all, as its name implies, the SONA is a report card on what a president has done during the outgoing year. 

President Aquino’s SONAs to date are still fresh in people’s minds, so I think they can easily be compared  to the SONA’s of his predecessor during the equivalent period of her first 4 years in office. Let’s go back in history to for excerpts from what I think were the highlights of former President Arroyo’s first 4 report cards: 

(July 2002) “In my State of the Nation Address last year, I did something never done before: I detailed a long list of measurable targets.

Halimbawa, target natin noong isang taon: Dalawang daang libong ektarya para sa land reform. Nakamit natin:  Dalawang daan at limampung libong ektarya. Target natin: Dalawampung bilyong piso para sa modernisasyon ng agrikultura.  Nakamit natin: Dalawampu’t apat na bilyon.

Target natin: Isang libong rolling stores na magbebenta ng bigas sa 14 pesos per kilo.  Nakamit natin:  1,500 rolling stores.  Target natin: Limang daang libong maralita para sa health insurance.  Nakamit natin: Apat na milyon.”

And on and on it goes: an almost pedantic listing of quantitatively measurable achievements. As for Aquino in 2011? I don’t know about you, but what I remember was simply an extended diatribe against his predecessor. And now we’ve learned that throughout that first year of his, government drastically reduced its spending, slowing the country’s economic growth and creating the excuse for DAP. 

(July 2003)  “Mayroon tayong pirmihang supply ng bigas sa halagang labing anim na piso bawat kilo para sa mahihirap. At ayon sa masugid na pagmonitor ni Mar Roxas, ang ating Secretary of Trade, mula noong ako’y naging Pangulo, nanatiling P8.50 ang halaga ng pangmasang sardinas, P11 ang mantikang lapad, P28 ang puting asukal, P115 ang baboy, P90 ang manok, P160 ang baka. Dahil dito, ngayon pinakamababa ang ating inflation rate sa loob ng dalawampung taon.

…To reduce transport costs from Mindanao to Luzon, we set up the Nautical Highway, a system where the cargo truck itself travels straight to its destination, making inter-island crossings on ferries, rather than loading and unloading at every port.”

These two achievements are related, because the RoRo ports making up the nautical highways (three of them in total) brought down food costs by making transportation quicker and cheaper. What has happened since then under Aquino? Today rice exceeds P40 a kilo and rice imports may hit 2 million tons. Rising commodity costs were even cited over the weekend by the IMF as an issue when they lowered their forecast for the country’s growth this year.

(July 2004) “Angelo de la Cruz is home!

Why was Angelo de la Cruz saved? Because I stuck to my oath. Since I first became President in 2001, my declared foreign policy focus has been to protect the vital interests of the nation, including our eight million overseas Filipinos.”

Domino effect

The decision to save De la Cruz by pulling out of the US-led coalition in the war on Iraq was one that cost Arroyo dearly. It started a domino effect that influenced other countries to pull out as well, enraging President Bush so much that the US withdrew its support for Arroyo and reportedly even provided the advanced wiretap technology that led to the “Hello Garci” fiasco.

But I think that’s what the presidency is all about: Sticking to your oath of office, even if it means subordinating your rage over an adverse DAP ruling to the Constitution you’re sworn to defend. Steering an independent course abroad, instead of parroting the US line against a giant neighbor like China. And most of all, looking out for all Filipinos, whether they are OFWs who should have been speedily evacuated from a Middle East crisis, or typhoon victims in Tacloban even if the mayor was with the political opposition.

(July 2005) “I specially refer to our recent titanic struggle to enact the three laws that comprised the biggest fiscal package in our history, the biggest revenue increase in a generation that will break the vicious cycle of financing development by borrowing and having to borrow again just to service those loans. This is the one reform that will snap the chain that has bound our future to a profligate past and the debt-burdened present. The Filipino’s strong sense of family has given Congress a stronger resolve not to pass on today’s debt and bankrupt our children and grandchildren tomorrow.”

Arroyo was talking here of course about the fiscal reform package, led by an expanded value-added tax (EVAT), that put an end to the deficits she had inherited and allowed her to complete her nine-year term with a record of economic growth in each and every one of the 37 full quarters on her watch (including two quarters at above 8%), even during the global recession of 2008-09. 

This reversed the decline in our credit ratings, which started to improve again two years later, in 2007. By the time the improving trend broke through into investment grade, it was already Aquino’s turn on watch, and of course he wasted no time in grabbing the credit all for himself. Scorning his predecessor’s tenure as “the lost decade,” he claimed to be – as the Palace press office titles their regular media updates online – nothing less than the “bringer of (yellow) daylight” to our benighted shores.

So what can we expect from the daylight bringer this week in his SONA? Good news about rice prices, about Filipino lives saved, about earth-shaking economic reforms? Or will it just be more of the same? Abangan! –

Gary Olivar served as the economic spokesperson of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
















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