Despite the fetish of secrecy surrounding the contents of President Aquino’s fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona), there are more than enough hints from the zealous keepers of state secrets in Malacañang that the Filipino people cannot expect a big surprise hearing a sweeping package of legislative initiatives to mark the second half of his term.
Monday’s Sona comes in a special set of circumstances, i.e., it follows the May midterm election, which handed Mr. Aquino and his ruling Liberal Party and its allies an electoral mandate of greater control of the new Congress than he had since he took office in 2010.
From one perspective, Sona IV is a new social contract of renewal with his “bosses,” the Filipino people (using his own words) who expect delivery of results on promises made three years ago.
As a result of the May election, expectations for more results—less sloganeering on “daang matuwid” (straight path) accented in previous the Sonas—have been heightened.
The voters, who have given the President all chances to deliver on promises outlined in his first five-year development plan, should be expected to be more demanding this time for detailed initiatives (specific projects, budgets, timetables for completion, infrastructure support, etc.)
The people themselves, after enduring three years of less than impressive results in poverty alleviation and economic growth, are raising the bar of performance of the administration to push the momentum of growth to enable the economy to create more jobs for the poor.
Foreign chambers of trade and industry have joined hands with local trade chambers in calling on government to institute key economic reforms that will enable the country to sustain robust economic growth.
Last week, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry issued a statement that “the Philippines has been one of the best, if not the best-performing economy in Asia” under the Aquino administration, “as reflected in recent growth rates, investments upgrades, improved national competitiveness and all-time trust rating in our institutions.”
The challenge, said the statement, “is to institute economic reforms to sustain this growth.” The statement was issued as the government economic managers began to identify priorities in the agenda for growth for the last half of the Aquino term, to allow the administration to leave an enduring economic legacy.
Growth through jobs
The statement of the combined foreign and domestic chambers outlined a list of recommendations, including increased infrastructure spending aimed at generating the “greatest impact in achieving our shared vision of inclusive growth through job generation,” to escape the growth-without-jobs trap.
The chambers also recommended enactment of an effective antitrust legislation and competition policy to create a high level of investment flow in the light of an impending Asean integration law in 2015.
Whether or not these inputs from big business have found their way as a key point in the President’s address we will know on Monday.
The Sona is about a plan of action for the future, not a retrospective of what has not been in the past three years. It is not an inventory of failed projects; it is a road map for what has to be done.
There is no point in recalling or repeating in the Sona the emphasis and themes of the previous Sonas. The focus of Sona IV should be a crash program of implementing the development plans inaugurated in 2010.
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, on the eve of the Sona, joined the fray in demanding that the government should show how the economic growth would benefit the poor and the jobless. “The benefits of a good economy should trickle down to the poor,” the bishops’ statement said. “As of now the poor and many people do not feel the good economy” touted by the administration.
The bishops said the President should identify the concrete steps the administration had taken for the country to have inclusive “growth, where no social group, especially the poor, is left behind.”
Despite the economic growth, the “poverty incidence is still huge,” the statement said, noting that a third of the population of 95 million live in poverty.
Pork barrel row
At the same, the bishops scored the government on another issue—corruption, in which the administration has taken a high ground and has claimed a near monopoly of the civic virtue of transparency in governance.
The bishops said the President should show what has been done to eradicate graft and corruption in light of the eruption of the scandal involving P10 billion in legislative shares in pork barrel.
The secrecy of the Palace in revealing what key issues would be highlighted in the Sona appears to be a step to avoid being drawn into the growing pork barrel controversy. Public demand for the abolition of the pork barrel, the lifeblood of political patronage, has been growing.
No position yet
The President has not made a position on this highly contentious issue. What the Palace has so far said about the matter is that, according to the presidential spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, Malacañang will submit to Congress this week “policy recommendations” to tighten rules on disbursements of funds from the pork barrel.
Whether the Sona will include corruption of the pork barrel as a key issue, along with poverty eradication, sustaining high economic growth and job creation, remains to be seen.
Clearly, the priorities spelled out in the Sona will define whether the President is determined or capable of rejuvenating his presidency. Or pulling it out of its rut and lethargy. This is what we have to find out in the Sona.