Aquino tears up in his 5th Sona
MANILA, Philippines—President Aquino choked up, surprising his audience, and left not a dry eye in the house as he wrapped up his fifth State of the Nation Address (Sona) talking about his parents who fought for democracy, the legacy they left, and how he would not let his administration’s detractors take away the gains his presidency had achieved the past four years.
Aquino’s celebrity sister, Kris Aquino, was seen crying in the VIP gallery and wiping away her tears.
The President was optimistic that his program, dubbed “daang matuwid,” could extend far beyond his six-year term so long as the public would choose the path of “transformation” and pick his rightful successor in 2016.
“To my bosses: You gave me the chance to lead our country’s transformation. If I refused the challenge you laid before me, it is like saying I will help prolong your agony and my conscience cannot take that. If I turned my back on the chance given to me, it is like turning my back on my father and mother, and everything that they sacrificed for us. That will never happen,” the President said in Filipino.
And then his voice cracked. Regaining his composure, the President continued: “As we tread on the straight path, you chose what is good and what is right; you remained true to me—and I remain true to you.”
Some of the people in the audience stood up in one of the most loudly applauded parts of his 91-minute speech.
“The transformation we are enjoying now can become permanent with the help of the Lord. As long as our faith and trust is complete, and as long as we become each other’s strengths, we will continue to prove that ‘the Filipino is worth dying for,” “the Filipino is worth living for,” and I will add: ‘The Filipino is worth fighting for,’” Aquino said.
The President’s late parents, assassinated opposition leader Sen. Benigno Aquino Jr. and President Corazon Aquino were the country’s icons of democracy, toppling the 20-year conjugal dictatorship of the late President Ferdinand Marcos and then first lady, now Leyte Rep. Imelda Marcos.
The late senator famously declared, as he continued to oppose Marcos that “the Filipino is worth dying for.”
Three years after his death, his widow, Corazon, was swept to the presidency in a four-day bloodless uprising now known as the Edsa Revolution.
President Aquino faces his toughest year yet in office, facing three impeachment cases stemming from the outlawed Disbursement Allocation Program (DAP) and the Philippine-US security pact, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca) meant as a deterrent in the country’s territorial dispute with China, and the lowest approval rating in four years.
Aquino spoke of a “second life” after surviving a gunshot wound in the 1989 coup against his late mother, then President Corazon Aquino.
He said he could not help but think about the gravity of the nation’s problems. He said there were times on his speaking engagements the thought came that taking the stage would be his last day. He said he had thought about someone successfully exploding a bomb, or someone with dark thoughts would return the nation to the old corrupt ways.
“Should those times happen and I am on my second life, can I tell myself I am happy with what I had accomplished?
“I am satisfied that when I am gone, many will pursue the path we have taken. Maybe that is my role, to get things going,” he said.
Filipino worth fighting for
In seeking to inspire the public toward sustaining the “transformation” achieved under his administration, the President recalled the words of his late father who said, “The Filipino is worth dying for.”
“I would like to add: The Filipino is worth living for. The Filipino is worth fighting for,” he said.
Unlike in previous Sonas, the President was relatively less combative and was more sentimental on how the gains of “daang matuwid” were now manifested in Philippine society.
Aquino opted not to assail the Supreme Court in his biggest speech of the year, despite three recent public addresses lambasting the magistrates for declaring his DAP unconstitutional.
Instead, he spoke of the need to stop certain DAP-funded projects “to ensure that we follow the decision of the Supreme Court” against the economic stimulus program.
He urged Congress to pass a supplemental budget for 2014 to fund such projects, plus a joint resolution that would “clarify definitions and concepts” apparently on the pooling and realignment of government savings.
Prior to the Sona, he attacked the magistrates and warned of a “collision” between the executive and the judiciary, which might require the “intervention” of the administration-controlled legislature.
Change is being felt
Faced with growing public discontent, the President sought to remind the public of the country’s political and economic conditions prior to his election in 2010, and what had been achieved under his watch.
“I think the transformation is now being felt by each Filipino and it’s up to you to continue this,” he said in Filipino.
Citing the projected water shortage in Metro Manila by 2021, he said he had approved the construction of the Kaliwa Dam Project in Quezon province and the rehabilitation of Angat Dam’s pipelines.
There’s also the Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike, the biggest of a total of P62.6-billion public-private partnership projects approved as of December 2011. Bidding will start before the end of the year.
Aquino said the dike would reduce flooding, ease traffic in the area and clean up the waters of Laguna Lake.
On the looming power crisis, he said he had tasked Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla to coordinate with the Joint Congressional Power Commission, Energy Regulatory Commission, consumers and the entire power sector in coming up with a solution.
Petilla earlier recommended that the President be granted emergency powers so the government could purchase and operate power generators. But Aquino said the solution was “not as simple” as going to a store and saying, “I would like to buy a 600-megawatt generator and kindly install it tomorrow.”
Despite the promise of rice self-sufficiency before, the President trumpeted the importation of more rice. He said the rest of the 800,000 metric tons of imported rice for “buffer stocking” would arrive by September. Another 500,000 MT would be imported soon, on top of a similar volume that could be made available in case of calamities.
A purported casualty of the Supreme Court’s decision against the DAP was the Philippine National Police, for whom new pieces of equipment were supposed to be purchased using funds pooled under the questionable acceleration budget program. The President cited the PNP’s “Oplan Lambat,” which yielded 862 vehicles and 29 firearms in Metro Manila.
Aquino assured the public that the government would go after those behind “high-profile killings” such as those of Pangasinan town Mayor Ernesto Balolong, businessman Richard King, and race car driver Ferdinand Pastor.
The creation of the Bangsamoro region only merited less than five minutes in the Sona, even though it is one of the most delicate security issues his administration is facing now because of a major snag in the peace process.
The government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace panels are hammering out an “agreed version” of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) after the latter accused the Malacañang review team of watering down the original draft put together by the Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC).
MILF chief negotiator and BTC chair Mohagher Iqbal was in the audience, together with fellow negotiator Datu Al Camlian. It was the first time for both Iqbal and Camlian to attend the Sona.
Seemingly addressing the MILF, the President stressed that his administration has no intention of breaking the trust established between the two parties after a long war and long-drawn negotiations.
“We’ve gone far because of trust. And we don’t have any plans of breaking this trust,” the President said. He said that the government now keeps to its word.
Highlights of achievements
Aquino ticked off highlights of his achievements:
— Of 223,615 scholars of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, 146,731 are now employed.
— Expanded conditional cash transfer worth P12.3 billion has begun this month.
— 2.5 million Filipinos now above the poverty line.
— Good fiscal management has led to lower debt-to-GDP ratio.
— 42 percent of investments at the Philippine Economic Zone Authority made within first four years of Aquino administration; remaining 58 percent made in the last 15 years.
— International Civil Aviation Organization removed “significant safe concerns on the Philippines” in 2013.
— Good labor-management relations creating climate conducive to investments.
— 12,184 kilometers of roads (equivalent to four roads connecting Laoag City to Zamboanga City) built.
— P62.6 billion worth of PPP projects awarded since December 2011.
— Major infrastructure projects: Mactan-Cebu International Airport Passenger Terminal Building, Naia Expresssway Project Phase 2, Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway, Aluling Bridge, Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, Ternate-Nasugbu Road, Basilan Circumferential Road, Laguna Lakeshore Expressway Dike.
— Neda-approved projects: Laoag City Bypass Link Road Project, Cebu Bus Rapid Transit Project, LRT Line 1 South Extension and Line 2 East Extension, Busuanga Airport, Clark Green City in Capas, Tarlac.
— DREAM-LiDAR project under Project Noah which identifies areas to be flooded.
— 1 is to 1 police-to-pistol ratio.
— More guns, aircraft for AFP.
— Additional 1.65 million Filipinos employed from April 2013 to April 2014.
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