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At Large
The ‘bitchiest SONA’

By Rina Jimenez-David
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:46:00 07/29/2009

Filed Under: State of the Nation Address (SONA), Governance

?The bitchiest SONA ever,? is a general, if somewhat cheeky assessment of Monday?s State of the Nation Address, which is expected to be the last of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo?s 9-year term.

Others have characterized it as her ?payback SONA,? which gave her the chance not just to refute charges against her but to get back at her critics and opponents. Expectedly, the pro-Arroyo crowd greeted each barbed remark and pointed reference with laughter and applause, even if the targets remained unnamed. But the most telling indicator of the President?s intent was her own smug smile, displaying just how satisfied she was, having just poked and jabbed at people who had publicly castigated her.

That she should have used the occasion to deliver a valedictory, a summing up of her nine years of governance and an articulation of her philosophy of government, instead of a petty vendetta, seemed lost on her and her speech writers.

So when she side-stepped the issue of her leaving office by saying that the remaining year left to her term was a ?long time,? she simply lent credence to speculations that she has plans of staying in power beyond 2010.

Never mind that the lasting legacy she leaves after ?the bitchiest SONA? is of a leader intent on putting down those who dare cross her, more concerned with put-downs and insults than elevating rhetoric that should have prepared the nation for a new beginning at the end of her legal term.

No matter how tempting it was to use the SONA platform to respond to charges of corruption, incompetence and overweening ambition, the President should have resisted it, which is what true leadership is all about. Setting aside juvenile urges for the greater good and the sake of one?s legacy is a sign of maturity, after all. And that?s not what we saw that rainy Monday afternoon.

* * *

IN SOME ways, we?ll miss the Arroyo regime, especially the extraordinary drama that always takes place around the time of the SONA.

Being the purported last SONA of Arroyo, the rallies that transpired during and before the day of the SONA were especially noteworthy. The rallies and protests have acquired a sense of ritual and pageantry through the years, symbolized best of all in the numerous, giant effigies of the President paraded down Commonwealth last Monday that have grown in complexity and artistry. Protest symbols were even present in the Batasan Hall, exemplified by the gown of Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza, which was made of katsa, the lowly rough cotton fabric, on which was hand-painted a narrative mural of the ?sufferings? that the Arroyo regime had put the people through.

Depending on what plans are still brewing in the President?s brain and among her band of advisers, we either may never see the likes and scale of the anti-Arroyo SONA protests again, or even bigger and grander actions, should the ?bitchiest SONA? prove but a harbinger of a more vicious, vindictive and extended Arroyo regime.

* * *

IN ALL the assessments conducted of the Arroyo term, there was one measuring instrument that was sadly neglected. This ?instrument? was the Millennium Development Goals or MDGs which the Philippine government?initially represented by President Joseph Estrada but also by President Arroyo?committed to fulfill by 2015.

World governments were convened by the United Nations at the start of the millennium to commit to a set of goals meant to reduce absolute poverty in their countries and the rest of the world. The idea was that poverty?measured in terms of access to food, education, health, water, electricity and other basic services?was not an absolutely unsolvable problem. But rather, with enough political will and funding and budget support, governments could address the most fundamental inequalities of their societies.

President Arroyo made much of the overall economic achievements in her nine years in office, but left out was the fact that the overall growth in the economy had failed to ?trickle down? to the poor and most in need. The alleviation of poverty is the basic MDG, but even in that, statistics showed, not only was Arroyo unable to reduce the number of people living in poverty, in her nine years the proportion of poor has even increased.

A general consensus, too, is that the MDGs on maternal health, child health and women?s equality will most likely not be met by 2015. Given the Arroyo administration?s general lack of support for a rational family planning program, it?s only expected that the maternal health situation will not get any better but even worsen. More women have been and will continue to get sick and die from causes related to pregnancy and child birth in the last nine years. And this is directly related to their inability to control or determine whether, when and how often they get pregnant.

* * *

OTHER experts have examined simple goals like Arroyo?s commitment to improve education, deliver services like water and electricity and end hunger. On these, too, the experts have given her a failing grade.

The real measurement of development, after all, is at the smallest, most intimate level?in the family and individual. And despite the overall numbers chalked up in terms of GDP and balance of payments, the stark fact is that at the personal level, the Filipino is worse off than before Arroyo took her oath of office at the stage in front of the Edsa Shrine.

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