President Benigno Aquino III’s sixth and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) was held last July 27 at the Batasang Pambansa Complex. The speech revolved around the different accomplishments of the Aquino administration in terms of human capital development, social protection, transportation, infrastructure, legislation, military, and the fight against corruption.
What he has done
The Aquino administration has invested largely in human capital development in the past six years, as part of its commitment to inclusive growth. At the forefront of Aquino’s platform are the implementation of the K to 12 program, the expansion of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), the fulfillment of Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) initiatives, and the strengthening of PhilHealth’s coverage and benefit packages.
When combined, these programs assist in the social protection of every Filipino because of quality education, health care, and livelihood. The K to 12 program brings Filipino education at par with the competence of other countries all over the world by adding three years to the 10-year basic education cycle. Meanwhile, TESDA offers a number of programs that can help Filipinos gain employment while learning, such as the enhanced courses under the Technical Vocation and Training or even assist Filipinos in establishing their own enterprise through the Store Training and Access to Resources program.
In connection with all of these, Aquino mentioned the actions the government has taken in order to cope with the vast increase of students, such as building new classrooms, hiring more teachers, and providing millions of textbooks. In terms of labor management, the unemployment rate has decreased and is deemed as the lowest in a decade at 6.8 percent because of generation of real jobs.
The expansion of the 4Ps program includes the extension of coverage to high school level in order to encourage higher educational achievement and to prepare beneficiaries for employment. The 4Ps program now covers about 4.4 million households, as Aquino boasted, since he assumed office. The program also caters to quality health care of the beneficiaries as an imperative duty to develop human capital. With these actions, Aquino talked about the large drop of the total number of out-of-school children translating to 1.7 million now back to school.
In terms of health, Aquino’s Universal Health Care (UHC) or also known as Kalusugang Pangkalahatan (KP) agenda has been mentioned to be treading on the “tuwid na daan” through the doubled number of beneficiaries — from 47 million to 89.4 million Filipinos. Aquino also gave praise to PhilHealth for having 80 percent of the country’s population already covered under its system. Moreover, according to Aquino, the goal of targeting all Filipinos covered by the government’s social health insurance program has been achieved.
For transportation and infrastructure, Aquino still proudly presented nuance accomplishments albeit the different bottlenecks in rolling out the different projects. Aquino mentioned the newly opened Muntinlupa-Cavite Expressway, a public-private partnership (PPP) project. Majority of the other projects will just be starting this year, such as improvements in the aviation and seafaring with the lifting of safety concerns and resolved compliance issues on standards and training for both sectors, respectively, and the infamous developments on the overhaul of the MRT, along with new rails. On the other hand, Aquino also mentioned the finished and nearly completed infrastructure projects, such as Lullutan bridge in Isabela, Basilan Circumferential Road (now passable and only three bridges remain to be constructed), Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway (TPLEX, now already open), Cavite-Laguna Expressway Project, C-6 Phase 1, Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, and the NLEX-SLEX connector road. Furthermore, Aquino also spoke about the flood control projects being done, many of which will be completed by November of this year.
The Aquino administration has also made a significant upheaval in terms of legislation. Within his five years in office, the SIN tax reform, Responsible Parenthood Act, Philippine Competition Law, Act Allowing the Full Entry of Foreign Banks, and for the amendments to the Cabotage law were already passed. Aquino emphasized in his SONA his desire to pass the controversial Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), the bill on the Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives, the Unified Uniformed Personnel Pension Reform Bill, and the Anti-Dynasty Law, which was received by the audience with loud applause.
In terms of the armed forces in the country, Aquino spoke about how the government has acquired additional assets for improvements in evacuation plans for when natural calamities occur. Moreover, different landing craft utilities, fighter jets, aircrafts, warships, and other equipment for relief operations were also purchased. Consequently, a total of 56 modernization projects were completed and 30 are still underway, as proudly declared by Aquino.
Towards the “matuwid na daan”
Since day one, Aquino’s agenda has been about fighting corruption with the tagline, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap.” The whole speech of accomplishments was a product of the premise that corruption has been ingrained during the previous administration, seemingly the standard in the country. He went as far back as enumerating the different scandals of the Arroyo administration then went on to how he started to change things through making public officials accountable. Hence, the impeachment of the former Chief Justice Corona, the imprisonment of three senators, as well as Janet Lim Napoles, and the removal of irrelevant government agencies were mentioned.
This speech of accomplishments serves to remind Filipinos to never go back to being corrupt. Aquino even posed the question, “Will we lose all that we have built—all that we have worked hard for—in one election?”* which some may believe to pertain to a presidential aspirant, leading in polls but also now facing a number of graft and corruption cases. It has been a practice of most Filipinos to find mistakes in other people, and this year’s SONA is not an exception.
Many were waiting for Aquino to speak about the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill and the Mamasapano incident in his SONA, but Aquino did not make any mention of the two sensitive issues. Some also observed that Aquino just went around in circles, speaking about how his administration has fared better than the last and how the country continues to recuperate from the problems that were just passed on from the past administration.
* Quote taken from the official English transcription of the 2015 SONA.
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