Sona a double-bladed weapon
The reformist Aquino administration submits its claims of accomplishments in its first year in office on Monday to the sovereign people amid a falling popularity and growing skepticism over its competence and capacity to deliver results matching high public expectations at the time of his inauguration.
When President Aquino delivers his second State of the Nation Address (Sona) to Congress this afternoon in his first test of accountability, he will face the people—whom he calls his “bosses”—clamoring for economic achievements beyond just pummeling the legacy of monstrous corruption left by the much-reviled administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The President also is hearing rising clamor from the business community for direction in the economic and social goals of government, as well as specifics on how to achieve what economists love to call pompously “inclusive” economic growth—a call addressed to a government whose primary priority has been centered during the year battling the demons of past corruption while pushing to the sidelines demands for economic expansion as the answer to alleviating poverty.
Also in the President’s second year, there are signs of growing public weariness over the slogan, “Kung walang corrupt walang mahirap,” which has increasingly become an empty and simplistic nostrum.
In his first Sona, Mr. Aquino declared “we can dream again,” when outlining a program to form public-private partnerships (PPPs) to raise revenues for the treasury strapped for cash he blamed on the “inefficiency and corruption” of the Arroyo administration.
He denounced the “revolting” manner the public coffers were raided by the past administration, stressing that “change can come from our determination to stamp out this extravagance and profligacy.”
Where’s road map?
The President said, “The mandate we received last May 10 is testament to the fact the Filipino continues to hope for true change. The situation is not what it was before; we can all dream again.”
Mr. Aquino is now being asked, “Where do we go from here?”
Former President Fidel V. Ramos said: “Anomalies should be dug up and brought out. Whoever is responsible should be accountable and be punished.”
But Ramos also asked, “where is the road map to the future?”—a question echoed by the private economic sector.
Will the President continue to highlight the crackdown on the corruption scandals of the Arroyo administration and tighten the noose around her neck to prosecute her as the primary concern of his second year?
There was hardly a mention of the economy and the festering social justice and agrarian reform issues associated with Tarlac’s Hacienda Luisita owned by the Aquino and Cojuangco families.
Assailed by mounting criticism over emphasis on an anticorruption campaign against an administration already out of office and over slowdown of economic growth, low investment rate in the country, fall of public spending on infrastructure, and rising inflation, administration officials are guarded this time against making extravagant claims that might raise unrealistic expectations.
No dramatic change
Officials have revealed very little about what makes the 2011 Sona different from last year’s. All they could say is that “the overarching themes” would center on the administration’s anticorruption campaign and on what Mr. Aquino intends to do in the coming year.
The leadership in the House of Representatives is equally ambiguous on what the President is proposing in his Sona. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is as anxious as the private business sector for signals from Malacañang.
“While we await a clear national direction from the President,” Belmonte said, “we in Congress will continue policy reforms already set during the 2010 Sona.”
This statement suggests the House majority does not expect any dramatic initiative or change in focus to change the phlegmatic pattern of executive leadership of the past year.
One Palace official, who has a reputation for uttering weasel words, said: “Let us remember that President Aquino was elected because of his promise of an anticorruption program among our priorities. And we will show what we have done to fulfill that promise in the year or so.”
The spokesperson said nothing about the economy. What if in its anticorruption campaign, the administration succeeds in strangling the former President, who is now the center of its obsessive campaign to clean up government?
Would that halt the fall of the administration’s satisfaction rating and improve its competence in economic performance?
The last scapegoat
The Sona is not as important as the first 100 days as the platform from which to launch initiatives for political change. Nothing of that sort has altered things during the first hundred days, except the atmospherics that set the stage for the mood for honesty in governance.
No doubt, that mood has remained, and so far there have been no issues on corruption against the Aquino administration.
But while the President continues to enjoy public trust, questions have started to be asked with disturbing frequency: What is he doing to deserve this reservoir of political capital? Is he not squandering this goodwill bequeathed by his electoral mandate? Will he use the Sona to deliver economic results and reverse the erosion of his ratings?
Arroyo could be President Aquino’s last scapegoat for a nonperforming presidency. President Aquino is running out of scandals to unearth or whistle-blowers to squeal on their former patron and benefactor.
The Sona is merely a government feel-good assessment of its accomplishments. It is a double-bladed weapon. It also contains enough data to measure its shortfalls against unfulfilled promises and targets.
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