Malacañang on Tuesday defended the absence of a definitive plan in Mr. Aquino’s third State of the Nation Address (Sona), saying the speech was “not the end-all and be-all of the President’s commitment” to the electorate.
Several members of Congress said the President presented glowing figures in his speech outlining the impressive gains of his two-year-old administration.
But what the people wanted to hear, they said, was the President’s plan that could rally the nation behind a cohesive national agenda.
Quick to come to the President’s defense, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte explained in a briefing at the Palace that the Aquino administration had no fondness for labels.
Asked by the Philippine Daily Inquirer whether the President wanted this country to be the next economic “tiger of Asia,” as he somehow alluded to in his speech, Valte said:
“Maybe, let’s not get stuck in names. Maybe, that’s what we’re looking for—a name that is necessary … for everybody to recognize that it’s a road map.”
What is important, she said, is proof of the government’s achieving its goals in just two years in office.
Interviewed separately after the Sona on Monday, Bayan Muna Representative Teodoro Casiño, Senator Loren Legarda and Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman noted that the President had reported to the nation rosy figures about the administration’s gains in the infrastructure, health, education, agriculture, energy, jobs creation and economic spheres.
Casiño, a third-term party-list lawmaker, said that as expected, the President reported only the “good news.”
Asked if he discerned any road map—i.e., how to achieve the administration’s goals for the next four years—Casiño said he heard none.
“None. He was too busy being truthful and inspiring. We just have to piece the road map together from the smorgasbord of accomplishments and targets he dished out,” Casiño said.
“We beg to disagree,” Valte said. A close study of the speech, she said, would show a themed approach to the annual report to the nation.
Mr. Aquino, she said, reported on improved access to basic social services, conditional cash transfer, health care and universal health coverage, among other achievements.
For an hour and a half, Valte said, the President, laid out his administration’s goals and the plans for achieving them. “How do we generate jobs? We increase spending for tourism, infrastructure—all of that,” Valte said.
On outsourcing, she said, the Aquino administration continued to encourage that industry because of the “multiplier effect” of the business opportunities offered by the sector
“The thrust of the President is really there is—it’s not a top-to-bottom approach. Neither is it a bottom-to-top approach. It meets in the middle. Because you invest in the solid … in a strong foundation,” Valte said.
“It meets in the middle rather than waiting for the effects to (trickle) down,” she said.
But Casiño explained that a road map is a “strategic plan.”
He cited as an instance the lack of a clear plan for the industrialization of the country.
“Business process outsourcing (and) tourism provide jobs and livelihoods, but the real engines of development are industry and manufacturing,” Casiño said. “There was no mention of policies (on) redistribution of wealth—both in terms of plugging the loopholes in land reform, or increasing wages (in the private sector).”
Casiño also cited Mr. Aquino’s new mining policy.
“Aside from higher revenues and more no-go zones, what does the government want to do about the industry? Are we still focused on pure extraction and export of raw materials, or are we going into processing, reviving the metals industry, using our mineral wealth to build a manufacturing base?” he said.
“Or how will local industry be made to benefit from mechanization of agriculture, which is needed if the government is serious in rice and food self-sufficiency? The strategic linkages of the economic sectors [on] how these will be directed for inclusive development is unclear.”
Don’t be cynical
Legarda said she would support the policies laid out in Mr. Aquino’s Sona even without a clear road map.
“Someone said, ‘great, but where’s the road map?’ I said, ‘let’s not be cynical.’ He set the direction, let’s all create the road map toward that direction,” Legarda said.
In a separate interview, Soliman said the President implicitly laid out the road map for continuing reform in the justice sector and ensuring that the executive would continue to deliver on its promises.
By going through the nitty-gritty of what he had accomplished since he came to power, the President painted a picture of a “progressive nation with desirable good jobs, with justice and a government responsive to the needs of the people,” Soliman said.
The Aquino administration, Soliman said, is a government by the people, “and the people are themselves working and have the power to effect change.”