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Sona most crucial for Aquino, say solons

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Sona most crucial for Aquino, say solons

/ 02:50 AM July 28, 2014

A protester holds a mask of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III while shouting slogans during a rally near his residence Sunday, July 27, 2014 at suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. AP

MANILA, Philippines—Will it be all gloves off or all apologies for President Aquino in his penultimate State of the Nation Address (Sona)?

Lawmakers differ on the President’s mindset going into his fifth Sona, which they agree will be his most crucial, given his declining popularity ratings, the fallout from the legal debacle of his economic stimulus program and the first murmurs of a military unrest.

Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. admitted that this would be the President’s “most difficult” Sona after coasting along on his popularity and “daang matuwid (straight path)” in previous years.

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“Yes” was Belmonte’s curt reply when asked if the extended honeymoon of the President was over.

For Belmonte, he would rather the President focus on his priority bills in Congress and give “only passing reference to the DAP (Disbursement Acceleration Program) and his adherence to the Constitution.”

Belmonte also cautioned the President against harping on the three  jailed senators—Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla—and more than a dozen current and former representatives indicted for the pork barrel scam, which led to the abolition late last year of the graft-ridden Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), the President’s main tool in keeping Congress in line.

“They have already been charged, that cannot be ignored. But this should not be gloated over as the investigations [are] continuing,” Belmonte said.

Hanging in balance

But Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, an administration ally, admitted that Monday’s Sona would be crucial because the President’s “daang matuwid” campaign promise was “hanging in the balance” because of questions about his  credibility.

“If the President comes across as willing to have a constructive dialogue on the DAP and announces measures to speed up structural reforms, like completing land reform by the end of the year and restructuring the energy sector by repealing or radically amending the Epira (Electric Power Industry Reform Act), then he could reenergize his administration. A combative stance toward critics might not go down well, and I really hope he avoids that,” Bello said.

To appease his critics, the President could use the Sona to announce a change in his Cabinet in the light of the Supreme Court’s voiding of the DAP and the PDAF, according to Bello.

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“Using the occasion to announce strategic replacements or reinforcements to his team might work wonders. The President does not need to convince me about his intention to continue and deepen reform. He needs to convince the people, most of whom retain goodwill toward him,” Bello said.

“I wish some people had the delicadeza to turn in their badge and ride off to the sunset, like Gary Cooper, with Grace Kelly in tow, in ‘High Noon.’ Like Fidel Castro, they could just say ‘history will absolve me,’ take the hit for their actions and just let history render its judgment on them.”

Deputy Speaker and Isabela Rep. Giorgidi Aggabao expected the President to be his feisty self. “He will be in the offensive, flaunting his achievements especially in his anticorruption agenda. The economy is not doing bad. At 5- to 6-percent GDP (gross domestic product) growth thus far this year, the economy remains robust,” Aggabao said.

“The DAP issue is relevant only in Metro Manila. In the countryside, the talk is how a President jailed three popular senators. I sense the President is on a warpath. In his Sona, I predict he will be less deferential to those he sees as undermining his program like the Supreme Court,” Aggabao said.

In high spirits

On the eve of his Sona, the President remained in “high spirits,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said over Radyo ng Bayan on Sunday.

“The President is determined to implement his program of governance and serve in the best manner the Filipino people,” Coloma said. “His intense commitment to deliver to his ‘bosses’ his promised reforms, to implement the priority initiatives under our Philippine Development Plan, they have not changed,” he said.

A likely major theme of the Sona is inclusive growth amid rising prices of commodities. The government is eyeing a GDP growth of between 7.5 and 8.5 percent when Aquino steps down in 2016.

Coloma said the Sona would be accompanied by a technical report detailing accomplishments of different national government agencies and corporations. He said the report, along with a copy of the Sona, would be uploaded to the official government website.

‘Judgment day’

Militant groups led by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and youth activists will lead a big rally against the President on Monday in what Bayan calls “judgment day for P-Noy” for “his various betrayals of the Filipino people.”

“Foremost is his failure to abolish the pork barrel system,” Bayan said in a statement. It said “Aquino’s stubborn defense of the unconstitutional and illegal presidential pork barrel (DAP) and his connivance with Congress in coming up with discreet mechanisms for the congressional pork barrel (PDAF) are clear proof that he refuses to dismantle the corrupt pork barrel system.”

Army on standby

The Philippine National Police announced that it would deploy a 10,000-strong contingent that would keep protesters on Commonwealth Avenue at the Ever Gotesco Mall area, away from the Batasang Pambansa complex. Authorities announced that 32 public schools in the area would be shut down for the day.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines is ready to back up the PNP contingent. “We will have deployments based on what they want and need as augmentation,” said the public affairs office chief, Lt. Col. Ramon Zagala. On standby from the AFP side are a medical team, explosives and ordnance team, a K9 unit and civil disturbance management units.

Asked if the military has monitored any terror threats, Zagala said: “From our side, there is no terror threat. We are continuously monitoring our intelligence networks.”

Protests are also expected in the provinces, including Panay Island where mass actions are planned in Iloilo City, Kalibo town in Aklan province and Roxas City in Capiz province. Jaro Archbishop Angel Lagdameo will lead speakers in the Iloilo rally.

Lawmakers hope that the President will focus on making the most of his last two years in office and scale  down attacks on the Supreme Court, which had declared the DAP unconstitutional.

More careful tone

“We should now move forward,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a text message.

“He should just disclose his specific plans, general plans for the last two years of his administration. If he has a lot of plans, that would be long enough,” Sen. Koko Pimentel told dzBB.

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora said he hoped the President would adopt a more “careful” tone during the Sona instead of going in with “all torpedoes being launched.”

“In the end, a little more friendliness, a little more cordiality may go a long way toward resolving many of these difficulties,” Zamora said. “What the President needs is better lawyers and better accountants.”–With reports from Christian V. Esguerra and Leila B. Salaverria in Manila, and Nestor P. Burgos, Inquirer Visayas





 Originally posted: 8:06 pm | Sunday, July 27th, 2014

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