After giving out his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 28 at the Batasang Pambansa in the Batasan Complex, Quezon City, critics are still going after President Benigno S. Aquino III (PNoy) for not mentioning issues such as the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, the upcoming Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration, and the impending power crisis in 2015.
Unlike his previous SONAs, Aquino’s address for this year veered away from bringing up his personal battles with the Supreme Court (SC), his predecessor and current Pampanga representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and hot issues such as the country’s territorial dispute with China and the pork barrel scam. PNoy focused on enumerating the achievements and plans of his 4-year-old administration.
Following the SC’s decision declaring three Executive Acts of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) as unconstitutional, tension has broken between PNoy and the SC. It reached a point where PNoy had to deliver a special address last July 14 to defend the legitimacy of DAP. The president insisted that DAP corrects budgetary flaws and hastens the completion of the government’s priority projects.
Despite the growing tension, PNoy opted to highlight a laundry list of government projects being financed by DAP instead of mentioning the SC and his other critics.
Actions amid territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea also weren’t addressed in this year’ SONA. Reports from local broadsheets say that the issue had already been tackled in past SONAs, according to Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. He furthers that the president may have felt that the public is already sufficiently aware of the issue, causing him to leave out the issue in his most recent SONA.
Several countries like the Philippines, Brunei, China, and Malaysia have asserted territorial claims on the West Philippine Sea. When China’s Ministry of Geological Resources and Mining estimated the sea to contain 17.7 billion tons of crude oil, it was then that the territorial disputes began to intensify.
Recent developments on the pork barrel scam, which broke out last year, also weren’t covered in Aquino’s SONA, particularly the recent arrest and detention of senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Bong Revilla, and Jinggoy Estrada. The senators are facing plunder charges — a non-bailable offense — for allegedly pocketing their pork barrel funds.
The unmentioned and the forgotten
Dr. Winfred Villamil, a professor and former dean of DLSU’s School of Economics, says that although the president enumerated several accomplishments of his administration, there is still a lot to address and some other issues were not raised in the SONA.
One in particular is the FOI Bill, which Aquino did not include in any of his five SONAs, despite clamor from different civic and international organizations. The bill requires government documents, including how the government uses national funds for capital expenditures like infrastructure projects and government officials’ Statements of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth, to be readily available to the public for transparency purposes.
The FOI Bill ranks only 18th in the administration’s 26 priority bills, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, even if the Aquino administration looks at the bill as an integral element of the 2012-2016 Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan. The bill that is said to guarantee accountability among government officials is already on its third and final reading in the Senate.
Read more on the details of the FOI Bill.
Dr. Eric Vincent Batalla, the DLSU Political Science Department chairperson, expresses his dismay in the lack of a clear plan on how PNoy’s administration will fight corruption, given that it was one of his top priorities back when he was just campaigning to be the next president. “Despite the president having a clean track record, it seems that the fight against corruption is selective and deficient or lacking,” Batalla points out.
Batalla also cites minimal improvements in Aquino’s fight against corruption based on the corruption perceptions index of Transparency International, a non-governmental organization that monitors political corruption among countries. Last 2013, the Philippines received a score of 36 out of 100, which indicates a relatively high corruption rating.
Some of the information in PNoy’s SONA were doubtful, like the supposed quick response of the government during the onslaught of Typhoon Yolanda late last year, and Batalla suggests that the inputs came mostly from the president’s cabinet members.
Apart from local issues not addressed in the most recent SONA, PNoy also didn’t mention concrete steps on how the country will smoothly transition towards the ASEAN integration come next year. The ASEAN consists of ten member states, namely: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. Part of the integration includes bolstering economic ties with the member states through the free movement of goods, services, investment, skilled labor, and capital.
Another pertinent issue not mentioned in the SONA is the country’s growing demand for energy and the impending energy crisis in 2015. Last year, there were several areas in the country, especially Mindanao, that experienced rotating brownouts. PNoy only mentioned minor details of the energy crisis in his SONA, particularly the work the Department of Energy (DOE) is doing to prevent the crisis from occurring.
The president, however, did not state how the energy crisis could be solved, how energy will be sustainably produced, and if the type of energy produced will be environment-friendly. The only assurance Aquino gave is that DOE Secretary Carlos Petilla shall convene with other stakeholders in the energy sector to remedy the situation.
Where the youth stands
Right after Aquino’s SONA, there was an open forum held at the Central Plaza with faculty, students, and organization representatives as panelists. Mae Mae Gonzales, the Vice President for External Affairs of the University Student Government (USG), said that little attention was given to issues of the youth. She also expressed her hopes that the Philippine government would target the needs of the youth more in the future, and urged the youth to become more participative and involved with the issues of the country.
One student who opted to remain anonymous observed that PNoy, in his fifth SONA, was trying to “win the sympathy and trust of the Filipino people after many years of deceit the Philippine government has been in.” This was evident when Aquino turned emotional during latter parts of his SONA, when he began giving out adlibs asking for the continuing support of the Filipinos.
Another student, Joyce Manrique (II, PHL-BSA), praised the president’s honesty, but also clarified that though she liked the SONA, she could see that it was still lacking, particularly in explanations on the issue of DAP. She also expressed support for the president, saying “Sana yung pangako niya… hindi man completely ma-fulfill, pero malaki pa rin ang bahagi na na-fulfill. [I wish that his promise, although it might not get completely fulfilled, a big portion of it would still be fulfilled.]”
She ended by saying that the SONA should inspire more concrete projects from the USG and a higher level of social awareness and conscientiousness from Lasallians.