Sona: Aquino hostage to trickle-down effect
Eighty-three days after the May 10 midterm elections that handed him a clear majority in Congress, President Aquino delivered at the legislature his fourth State of the Nation Address, reporting on the accomplishments of his administration during the past three years.
The President told the people who had given him a fresh mandate or vote of confidence that “the message of the past elections is clear”—that is, he has to do much more than what his speech outlined. The Sona, which was made up of a catalogue he claimed as his achievements, was his longest at 55 pages; it took him nearly two hours to deliver. The speech was a catch-up call to make up for the lost opportunities to accelerate economic growth in the first half of his term. It was long on words, heavy with details and feel-good rhetoric, and short on specific measures on how to implement the lofty goals he set in what he calls “true social transformation.”
A portion of the Sona stated that the “strategy” is to “maximize opportunities for all, especially those most in need (a euphemism for ‘poor’-AD). We are not content to wait for the trickle-down effect; we cannot leave their fate—their receiving the benefits of progress—to chance. What we call inclusive growth—this all-encompassing progress—is the principle that drives every initiative, every action, and every decision of government.”
Then came a long list of what the administration has done and intends to do to promote inclusive growth in the second half of its term, including: rice self-sufficiency on target; the agriculture sector’s growth by 3.3 percent, triple that in 2011; the P2.68-trillion national budget for 2014, with increased outlays for infrastructure and social services; the serving of all notices on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program by next year; ongoing work on an integrated transport system to decongest Metro Manila; the rise to almost 4 million household beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program, which will now include 18-year-old students; the completion of the last annexes of the peace agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front; the allocation of P6.2 billion to address flooding in Metro Manila, and so on.
Half of the Sona was devoted to an inventory of what has and is being done. But this inventory does not constitute an integrated and comprehensive deployment of resources covering all sectors of the economy and society. The resources are thinly spread across sectors.
This inventory of projects embodies the trickle-down, incremental approach, whose benefits take a long time to filter to the poor masses. Questions are now being asked, such as: Where is the program or agenda for inclusive growth for the next three years? Can the government even sustain economic growth that can create jobs for the growing ranks of the unemployed?
The President’s speech did not incorporate the demands or inputs of business and industry to transform the economy as an engine of sustained growth. Among the sectors, the business community was quick to point out the shortcomings of the Sona. It was also the sector most disappointed by the lack of fresh initiatives to revitalize the economy, which produced only a fraction of its goals in the first half of its Philippine Development Plan for 2011-2016.
For instance, officials of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Management Association of the Philippines, and Philippine Exporters Confederation told the Inquirer that they had expected a concrete set of action plans that would enable the country to achieve target growths. Philexport president Sergio Ortiz-Luis noted that the Sona was nothing more than “a report of what was happening.” He added that there was “nothing new” in the speech, and that he had hoped to hear more on “road maps for infrastructure” and on small and medium enterprises.
Another business official, MAP president Melito Salazar, was more scathing. He said the Sona was an “exhausting speech.” I am not sure what he meant. Maybe he made a slip of the tongue, and might have meant an exhaustive scope of the President’s inventory of his achievements. Salazar explained derisively that “the message was loud and clear—gains [were] made because of good governance, less of good performance” in economic management. Indeed, in the narration of the administration’s accomplishments, the heavy overtone was that the accomplishments were more due to the ethical norms for public service set by the “daang matuwid” principle than the impersonal and objective approach to socio-economic planning.
In fact, the Sona sounded like a homily at Sunday Mass. Rhicke Jennings, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, said: “We would have liked to see more discussion of the priorities listed in the business groups’ June 19 letter to President Aquino. The Philippines still has very far to travel in its journey to sustained and inclusive growth, and much still remains to be accomplished by this administration.”
The record round of applause for the Sona was more intoxicating to hear than the interventions of trade chambers.