As the newspaper goes to press, the draft of President Aquino’s fourth State of the Nation Address remains a tightly guarded secret. We are, however, almost certain of one thing: Having reached the halfway point of his unexpected presidency, he will pause to mark the time, and perhaps make a joke about how he has to endure only three more years in Malacañang Palace before resuming normal life.
But to those who voted for him because of his staunch anticorruption stance and his commitment to necessary governmental reforms, to those who have learned to support him because of his personal integrity and to those (such as credit rating agencies and foreign allies) who have seen important changes take place in the country since 2010, the fact that only three years remain in his term is no laughing matter.
Because much, much more needs to be done.
Halfway through his presidency, Mr. Aquino continues to enjoy enormous political capital—not only the highest performance rating of any post-Edsa president at the midpoint, for example, but the only one above (indeed, well above) 50 percent. Even his most fanatical critics must concede that these levels of continuing popularity are remarkable, because in the last three years President Aquino has used his political capital repeatedly. The campaign to oust Merceditas Gutierrez as ombudsman, the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, the concerted effort to win the majority of Senate seats at stake in the midterm elections, the complicated task of extricating the country out of the unwelcome Sabah mess, not least the continuing confrontation with an expansionist China on legal and diplomatic fronts: Any of these could have cost the President substantial political goodwill. Vocal criticism notwithstanding, that hasn’t happened.
But we hope Mr. Aquino or his advisers are not lulled into thinking that because he remains personally popular, the public is not growing frustrated. As the turmoil sweeping through economically vibrant economies like Brazil and Turkey has shown, public impatience is the other side of high public expectations. And one mishandled issue can turn impatience into fury.
The daily reality in many parts of Mindanao, to give one example, is an unending nightmare of power outages. The daily reality for hundreds of thousands who use the light rail systems in Metro Manila, to offer a second, is a slow-motion nightmare of crowded stations and an absurd lack of trains. Three years into his term, there is no excuse for the administration’s continuing failure to solve these and similar nightmares.
And yet much more remains on the agenda.
One of the landmark laws which will help define the President’s legacy cannot yet be considered to have taken root. The battle to stop the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law has shifted to the Supreme Court. We can all hope that the Court will recognize its limits and refrain from invalidating a much-debated policy. But a vigorous passage in defense of the new law in the Sona—a constitutionally mandated rite where the executive branch reports to the legislative, with members of the judicial branch in attendance—would serve as a timely reminder of the immense amount of political compromise and legislative discourse that went into the making of the law.
The continuing negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front have entered the final, but also most contentious, stages. But a comprehensive peace pact, difficult as it is to achieve, is only the beginning of another and potentially riskier stage: enacting a basic law or new organic act for the Bangsamoro region. A word in the Sona would signal the President’s continuing engagement with the peace process.
The President’s inability or unwillingness to make good on his campaign commitment to enact a Freedom of Information law in his first three years imperils the good governance platform he has himself tried to entrench. The time to push FOI is today, the first day of the first session of the 16th Congress; a paragraph in the Sona would spread the word to his reluctant allies.
In truth, the President does not have enough time to make good on all of the public’s expectations. All the brave and bold talk about new airports, for instance, will end up producing exactly one new international airport by 2016—in Bicol, not in or near Metro Manila.
We hope today’s Sona will be impressed with a sense of urgency, a sense that time is running out.