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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

An analysis of the 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Noynoy Aquino

No wonder the fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III took all of 102 minutes. He tried to cover every bit of detail in what was an unstructured litany of statistics, examples, and anecdotes. But to the expansion of BS Aquino’s speech in duration was a reportedly marked contraction in the enthusiasm that greeted it.
Facing the joint session of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Aquino delivered a 102-minute, slightly longer than last year’s 91-minute SONA.
Lawmakers and guests at the Session Hall of the Batasang Pambansa however broke into applause 88 times during his speech, versus 120 times in his SONA last year.
A quick “analysis” of these statistics reveals that a 12% increase in the SONA’s duration was matched by a 26% decline in applause.
What do these numbers mean?
Frankly I don’t know. Perhaps they don’t mean anything.
Just like the statistics above, people are left scratching their heads as to what exactly is the overarching meaning in this year’s SONA. President BS Aquino’s 2013 SONA read out like a computer data dump — like a list of binary digits printed out on reams of computer paper. They were dots that haven’t been connected. And when you behold a hundred-odd dots and no lines drawn between them, you can’t really say that a picture’s been drawn.
You’d expect of a Chief Executive a report that uses the statement of strategic vision that defines his administration as the overarching context of any “achievement” he enumerates. In the case of President BS Aquino, the notion of the “straight path” or daang matuwid defines the current presidency under the premise that if there is no corruption, there is no poverty; i.e. Kung walang kurap, walang mahirap.
So, sure, more books were delivered more cheaply, more classrooms are being built, less rice is being imported, more crops will be planted in between coconut harvests, more roads will be built connecting fishermen to richer waters, illegal fishing practices will be cracked down upon, squatters will be removed and prosecuted, PhilHealth membership will be expanded, hospitals will be modernised, disaster preparedness will be enhanced, more storm drains and anti-flooding measures built, more public housing will be built, lots of Glocks were given out to cops, this year’s elections were “more peaceful”, some cop stopped to help change a flat tire in Quezon Boulevard, a deal was cut with the Bangsamoro, more phones will be strung out to the hinterlands, choppers and ships were bought for the military, some new laws were enacted, more power plants built…. Yadda yadda yadda
What does it all mean?
It comes across as a badly-written job description — Government’s job description.
What President BS Aquino spelt out in the 2013 SONA in essence is a list of things that we all assumed government was doing all the while — doing its job. What government would not build more classrooms when its student body increases in size? What government does not aspire to arm its cops and soldiers, connect as many of its citizens’ homes to a communications network, improve access of its producers to raw materials and energy sources, either make deals with or crush to smithereens groups that pose threats to security, or strive to keep its biggest cities humming efficiently?
President BS Aquino’s SONA makes it looks like getting government back to the task of doing the job it was supposed to be doing all the while is such an astounding achievement. To be fair, this is of course the Philippines, where doing jobs properly and returning bags of cash left in taxi cabs to their distraught owners are regarded as pinnacles of Pinoy achievement. In that sense, credit goes to BS Aquino then if he has in the last three years, put enough rockets up enough bureaucrats’ asses to get things running at pwede na yan standards of service as he reports in this SONA. At least then, as the President keeps asserting every other paragraph of his speech, no “problems” will be “handed down” to his “successors”.
Pwede na yan.
You’d expect then that at the mid point of his term, the question of whether the Philippines is a less-corrupt country and whether this being less-corrupt has translated to less poverty will have been answered by the mid-term SONA.
Unfortunately for BS Aquino I do a better job of answering the question of whether BS Aquino’s government has delivered to its kung walang kurap, walang mahirap vision. This I did in a previous article that, in our usually exceptional prescient form, anticipates what the SONA will neglect to address. Quite simply there was a one-point improvement in corruption perception in the Philippines and a fair upgrade of its ranking. However, there was only a small increase in the Human Development Index, and debatable movement in the proportion of the economy dependent on OFW remittances. So did poverty decrease as a result of changes in corruption perception? The statistics are there but the conclusions will forever be debatable.
Even with this straightforward report of ours the simple elegance of which dwarfs the enormous convolution of BS Aquino’s 102-minute speech, one cannot rely on statistics nor on a litany of “accomplishments” to make a sound assessment of how much has really improved for the average Filipino. Even more impossible is the making of any convincing assertion that such accomplishments were fully attributable to a sitting president.
In the closing part of the speech, what BS Aquino calls “our SONA”, the following words were said…
The road ahead of us is long; and we never said it would be easy—or that we could tread this path free of challenge. But I do not doubt our capacity to overcome any obstacle. We did not achieve our current success by chance. Let us not allow this transformation to be temporary; let us seize this opportunity to make the change permanent.
In light of what we’ve concluded here — that overall success is debatable considering the litany of unconnected dots delivered, and that whatever success that is reported cannot be convincingly fully attributable to any one sitting president — the only thing we could say about the above is that a lot of assertions were made on the back of shaky assumptions. More importantly, the final call to action, that we “seize this opportunity to make the change permanent”, all but rings hollow when we look back and take stock of the Filipino’s track record of doing just that.
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