Sona 2015: Loudest cheers come from business
The loudest cheers came from the business community, the sector that benefits most from President Aquino’s reform program.
As the community understood it, Aquino’s sixth and final State of the Nation Address (Sona), in which the President reviewed the achievements of his administration, provided a springboard from which the Philippines could continue to grow economically beyond his term.
“The President’s message was very clear. He emphasized the gains we’ve made in terms of his anticorruption campaign and on the infrastructure front,” Banco de Oro strategist Jonathan Ravelas said in an interview. “When you look at his time in office, that’s really been his focus.”
Ravelas said it was important that President Aquino contrasted the country’s present situation with the state of things before he came to office in 2010. That, he said, put things in perspective for the Filipinos.
Aquino’s final Sona dwelled heavily on his administration’s achievements on the economic front, including several credit rating upgrades from international debt watchers, unprecedented growth of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), as well as rapid job creation, among other achievements.
The President also stressed that investors continued to line up to bid for big-ticket projects under his administration’s public-private partnership (PPP) program, even as he explained that delays in the program’s implementation was due to his desire to ensure that the contracts would withstand close scrutiny long after he stepped down from office.
Ravelas said the Sona was “more of a rehash of an old thing,” and that he would have wanted to hear from the President what he had planned to do in his final year in office, but noted that the more important part of Aquino’s message was his exhortation to Filipinos to continue following the “daang matuwid,” or straight path, the term for the administration’s good government program.
“His message was that we now have a baseline for how future administrations should perform. It is now up to the people what kind of government they want to have, going forward,” Ravelas said.
And forward appeared to be the step Aquino was goading Interior Secretary Mar Roxas to take by praising him too long in his speech.
Aquino is expected to announce in the coming days that Roxas is his chosen candidate for President in the 2016 general elections.
“As the last Sona, it was mostly a big thank you, pat-my-back speech by the President. The format really hasn’t changed since 2010,” said Jose Mari Lacson, head of research at local stock brokerage Campos Lanuza & Co.
Lacson said the President’s speech did reveal a few things, noting that the long praise and expression of support for Roxas seemed to be like a “quasi-anointing” of the ruling Liberal Party’s standard-bearer for 2016.
Lacson said Aquino’s prioritization of the antidynasty bill came as a surprise and would likely win favorable points in the coming elections alongside his strong support for the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law.
Lacson also noted: “The blame on MPIC (Metro Pacific Investments Corp.) for the commuters’ woes in the MRT reveals the perception is not just at the DOTC (Department of Transportation and Communications) level but all the way up. That’s not good for MPIC or for the private sector.”
Economist Victor Abola of the University of Asia and the Pacific was also happy with the President’s surprise push for the antidynasty bill.
“I strongly support that, but I’m disappointed with his lack of push for the FOI (freedom of information) bill,” Abola said.
“The antidynasty groups welcome the pronouncement of President Aquino’s support for the passage of the antidynasty law. We are hopeful Congress will heed the clamor of the President and his bosses. We call on the voters to monitor their senators and representatives who will derail or support the passage of this landmark political reform,” said Leon Flores III, convener of the Anti-Dynasty Movement (AnDayaMo).
Lawyer Francis Lim, former president of the Philippine Stock Exchange and now head of the Shareholders’ Association of the Philippines, which advocates protection of rights of majority investors, said: “The President is truly a transformational and inspirational leader. The data shared by him with the nation indubitably prove that a good leader is what the country truly needs to earn its rightful place in the community of nations.”
In the foreign business community, reactions to Aquino’s final Sona were mixed. Some groups found it “long on accomplishments” and “short on promises” while other quarters saw it as Aquino’s best speech.
John D. Forbes, senior adviser at the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, and Henry J. Schumacher, vice president for external affairs at the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines Inc., both found the Sona lacked promises and had much discussion about the ongoing and future national challenges.
“We still encourage the administration to implement the recommendations in the May 15 letter of the Joint Foreign Chambers and the Philippine Business Groups to the President,” Forbes and Schumacher said in separate text messages.
Dan Lachica, president of Semiconductor and Electronics Industries in the Philippines Inc., said that while he rated President Aquino higher than his predecessors for bringing the Philippines to investment grade and significantly improved GDP growth of 6.2 percent, there were several key issues he would have wanted to hear.
For Philippine Exporters Confederation Inc. president Sergio Ortiz-Luis Jr., President Aquino’s Sona seemed more like a “valedictory speech.”
Ortiz-Luis said in a phone interview that while many of the accomplishments were valid, such as those in labor, employment, education and poverty alleviation, there were other accomplishments trumpeted that he deemed questionable, such as foreign direct investments (FDIs).
He argued that while the Philippines saw growth in FDI inflows, the value was relatively marginal compared with those in the country’s neighbors in the region.
Management Association of the Philippines president Francisco F. del Rosario Jr. added: “He delivered his speech well. His economic gains (i.e., gross national product growth, national competitive rankings, strong banking system, PPP projects) were truly remarkable. His strong leadership was obvious. His reform agenda was effective in achieving economic spurts. What was lacking was the future business direction for the country, solution to traffic and transportation problems, passage of the freedom of information bill for transparency, China conflict approach and Mindanao peace and development. Also, (mention of) inclusive-growth programs was lacking.”
Peter V. Perfecto, executive director of the Makati Business Club, said the President was able to clearly communicate what his administration had managed to deliver.
“I believe this was probably his best Sona and I hope that this will mean that we can expect more from the final year even as elections are fast approaching. I am still hopeful that key infrastructure PPPs will roll out and legislative priorities like the antidynasty bill, Bangsamoro Basic Law, FOI, Build-Operate-Transfer Law amendments, Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, and Department of Information and Communications Technology will prosper,” Perfecto said.–With reports from Amy R. Remo and Miguel Camus