How I’d write it (1)
What are my takeaways from the President’s State of the Nation Address (Sona)? Well, firstly, speaking as a writer, I think it was very poorly crafted. There was no logical flow, as it jumped from one issue to another then back again.
It didn’t seem to have any significant inputs from the economic team, yet they’re the ones who will get us out of this crisis and set a solid foundation for longer-term recovery. And the concept of having a long-term plan, even if only up to 2022, just wasn’t there.
The President missed his biggest opportunity to communicate to the public two important messages: 1) the government’s strategy to arrest the surge in COVID-19 cases; and 2) the country’s economic recovery plan. With so much uncertainty in the coming months, it would have been better for the President if he used the Sona to assure Filipinos that the government has a comprehensive plan to revive the economy and the business sector while keeping people safe.
The thing that struck me most was the black paint on big business. This just should not have been there. Oh, I know that many in the public arena strongly dislike big business, and the elite — oligarchs, the President called them — that run some of it. But big business is an essential component of any economy. And it was big business that stepped in in a big way to address the suffering in this crisis. Without them, we’d be in far worse state today.
A small business, even a group of small businesses, can’t build and run a 650 MW power plant. They have neither the money, $2 billion in this case, or the technical know-how. So, as it is with numerous facets of a country’s economic system—you must have people with lots of money to put in place the underpinnings of an economy. What you have to avoid is monopolistic, or oligopolistic, control. That’s what the Philippine Competition Commission is for.
It’s true that the Philippines is dominated by too few large companies, but you can’t make the poor rich by making the rich poor. Socialism doesn’t work—unless you think North
Korea is a resounding success. Instead of attacking them, it would be better to reduce their dominance by adding more. Encourage and assist entrepreneurs. Look at Tony Tan Caktiong, taking Jollibee from an ice cream parlor into a multi-business rivaling the “oligarchs.” Or is he now one of the “oligarchs”? And open up the economy to the big foreign players — initially with the passage of the Public Service Act, then eventually with the removal of constitutional restrictions. The so-called oligarchs don’t control this country (which is the definition of oligarch), the President does, on behalf of the people if one follows democratic principles.
The pandemic has exacerbated unemployment, reaching 17.7 percent in April 2020 — a record high. To create jobs, the President needs to get business on his side, both big and small. To do that, the President needs to become more intimately involved. Meet with business, not attack it.
It was a glaring omission that the President excluded House Bill No. 6815 or the P1.3-trillion Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy (Arise) bill. Arise is the measure intended to support small businesses affected by the pandemic to recover. It is urgently needed.
If I’d written this Sona, I would have started with a brief, very brief, assessment of how well the economy was doing till January 2020. How people had jobs, poverty was declining, infrastructure was being built, and the economy was heading to a consistent over-6-percent growth.
Then a bug ripped into our shores and it all came apart. A tiny bug brought us down. We didn’t handle it too well at first, but we learned, and we improved. Not as well as we would have liked. I grieve for the millions of our countrymen who have suffered, but we’ve rushed to improve since.
We are struggling, I’ll admit it. The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases we created has done a sterling job, but we’re way too short on the data needed to make the best decisions. So I can only hope we’ve got it right; I think we have. We have to save lives, and that has been our primary focus till now. But we mustn’t be over-focused on COVID-19. Filipinos are dying from other diseases, too, and they must be looked after as well. And I’m worried that children aren’t getting the nourishment they must have, that parents aren’t getting the incomes they need, that too many are suffering in other ways, and dying. We must bring a balance into how we handle COVID-19 versus the destruction it’s doing to our economy and the well-being of the multitude.
So we are heading to a more selective quarantine regime, both geographically and sectorally, that opens up where we can, but keeps the hot spots closed (Manila is back under MECQ since Aug. 4).
What I must insist to you all: Wear masks when with others. Keep distance from people. Go out only if you have to. These three things can save your life. Be sensible, act responsibly. We can’t be that for you.
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