President Aquino merely glossed over in his 100-minute State of the Nation Address (Sona) the burning corruption issues facing government appointees, lawmakers and the police force that have created roadblocks on his “daang matuwid” (straight path) policy.
The most glaring omission was the fate of the long-dormant Freedom of Information bill, which has strong public support.
In his 55-page, 11,674-word report, the President devoted only one paragraph to recent headline news that transportation officials allegedly tried to squeeze $30 million (about P1.3 billion) from a Czech train supplier and that bogus NGOs allegedly diverted P10 billion in pork barrel to ghost projects and two paragraphs to the killing of two members of the Ozamiz robbery gang, including its leader Ricky Cadavero, while under police custody.
“On the issues on Cadavero, PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund), MRT 3, and others: “Just because our critics do not know what we are doing, they think we are not doing anything on these issues. If a government does not yet hold any data and shouts ‘we will investigate you,’ isn’t that like telling those we plan on charging ‘go hide all evidence’? We will go where the truth will direct us; evidence will dictate our steps,” he said at the Batasan session hall where some of those implicated in these hot issues were present.
Aquino was more blunt about those behind the Cadavero case, unlike in the pork barrel and MRT scams.
“There are still incidents that taint the honor of the police. You might have heard about what happened to the members of the Ozamiz gang, Ricky Cadavero and Wilfredo Panogalinga, who were caught but also murdered. Just like our investigation in the Atimonan incident, we will make sure that any policeman involved in this will be made to pay no matter how high their rank. Whoever is behind this: Get ready. I will know who you are soon,” the President said.
Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco, spokesman of the United Nationalist Alliance, said the President should have issued a stronger statement on the corruption issues.
“Since daang matuwid is the trademark of the P-Noy administration, I wish that the President had given a specific timetable for the investigating agencies to come out with their findings. He could have declared that he would not allow even his political allies to commit abuses because he himself will make sure they will pay under the law,” Tiangco said.
ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said that “the President clearly downplayed the corruption scandals of the moment.”
“The magnitude of the alleged PDAF scam and MRT extortion would overshadow the numerous triumphs of matuwid na daan that the President was keen to highlight in his speech. The challenge remains for P-Noy to take a stand for the abolition of the pork barrel system as the lasting legacy of his anticorruption drive,” Tinio said.
And the scoundrels?
Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan noted that Aquino heaped praises on police officers for deeds that were part of their jobs. “What about the scoundrels?” she asked.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said the opposition would raise the corruption issues in the future.
Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello was disappointed about the President’s failure to address more fully the MRT scam but gave him the benefit of the doubt because of his sincerity. “I guess it was a judgment call on his part how much he wanted to say about them with the facts still coming in,” Bello said.
He said that while the President’s praise for Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario was “spot on,” he rued the omissions on the country’s foreign policy and the plight of overseas Filipino workers.
“The speech was a curious mix of statistics and inspiration, with programs especially to address inequality and poverty receiving fleeting mention. Too bad he left OFWs and their tribulations unmentioned. Also, why the absence of mention of foreign policy?” Bello asked.
Del Rosario said, “Given the sub judice nature of the West Philippine Sea issue before an arbitral tribunal, it was prudent of our President not to have mentioned it in the Sona.”
No economic plan
Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said there were plenty of issues that the President skipped.
“Aside from P-Noy’s accomplishments, his Sona lacks a strategic plan on job generation, agriculture development and modernization, poverty reduction. Despite the 7.8-percent economic growth, jobs are decreasing, agriculture funds for poor farmers are drying up, investments are thinning. Growth should have to be felt by the people. After three years, we still do not have the blueprint for our economic road map to 2016,” said Ejercito.
Ejercito also cited the failure of the President to miss out on pushing for the Freedom of Information bill.
Other issues that some sectors believed should have been addressed were the country’s diplomatic ties with China, military ties with the United States, the pending changes in the Mining Act, the unresolved extrajudicial killings, and proposed changes in the Foreign Investments Act through amendments in the Constitution.—With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Tarra Quismundo