P-Noy delivers last SONA, backtracks

President Benigno Aquino III on Monday, 27 July 2015 delivered his final and longest ever State of the Nation Address (SONA) before the joint session of the 16th Congress and guests at Batasang Pambansa. The speech lasted 135 minutes and garnered 146 rounds of applause.

Blame game continues

A substantial part of the President’s speech was devoted yet again to lambast the Arroyo administration. Aquino began his speech by recounting the political scandals which occurred during his predecessor’s term including the 2004 fertilizer fund scam, the NBN-ZTE deal and the Hello Garci scandal.

He continued by citing the problems he had to face after assuming presidency in 2010. On his list were the P176.8 billion debt from rice imports, the misused billion peso fund for coffee in PAGCOR, undue bonuses in MWSS, and the P18 billion project for the Laguna Lake.

“Every government official takes an oath to do right by our countrymen and to uphold the law… our predecessor did precisely the opposite,” he said, speaking in Filipino.

Although he admitted the plight concerning the MRT in another part of his speech, the President didn’t give an apology to the inconvenience and danger it has caused the riding public. Instead, he narrated how a company supposedly in charge of MRT’s maintenance failed to do its duty and thus caused MRT’s woes.

 

P-Noy boasts reforms

PNoy’s speech heralded the achievements of his administration, especially in poverty reduction, education, and military.

The President took pride in the figures yielded by the much censured Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino program. According to him, 4.4 million households are already reaping the benefits of the program, of which 333,673 beneficiaries already graduated from highschool. He was also quick to defend the program’s lack of observable results. “K to 12 lasts 13 years, while my term only lasts for six,” the President said.

President Aquino also boastedthe reform he made in the education sector. The K to 12 program, Aquino believed, will be implemented because “it is not practical to cram learning in a 10-year basic education cycle.” Aside from the additional years in high school, Aquino said the administration has already caught up with backlogs in textbooks, school chairs, and classrooms.

The modernization of the Philippine military is a primary focus of the Aquino administration. In his speech, the President enumerated the many equipment and facilities that was provided for the upgrade of country’s military capability. He believes that this rehabilitation is crucial now that internal and external threats are becoming more serious than ever.

 

Rehash of past SONA?

Many of what has been said in the President’s last SONA echoes those of his past speeches. Perhaps the most hyped about is the country’s upgrade to investment grade status by globally known credit ratings agencies. In 2014 and 2015, P-Noy emphasized how this standing can attract investors due to lower interest rates and flexible debt payment modes.

Philhealth membership also appears to be a favorite topic of the President. The past SONAs outlined the growth in number of Philhealth beneficiaries and the expansion of its benefits. Despite no remarkable change in figures, it was still part of the speech and even the subject of one video presentation. 

For the second time, too, the President also discussed the progress in the country’s civil aviation sector. These include the lifting of significant safety concerns by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the upgrade of the Philippines back to Category 1 by the United States Federal Aviation Administration, and the European Union’s withdrawal of restrictions against our local carriers.

 

Priority bills

President Aquino thanked the Congress for the passage of laws including the Philippine Competition Law, Act Allowing the Full Entry of Foreign Banks, amendments in the Cabotage Law, Sin Tax Reform Act, and Responsible Parenthood Act.

He identified priority bills before his term ends in 2016. One of which was the Bangsamoro Basic Law. Aquino encouraged both Senate and the House of Representatives to look into the bill and dared BBL critics to suggest more meaningful measures to address the issue in Mindanao.

He also asked for the urgent passage of a bill on the Rationalization of Fiscal Incentives and the Unified Uniformed Personnel Pension Reform Bill.

Lastly, Aquino said that this is the right time to pass an Anti-Dynasty Law. “There is something inherently wrong in giving a corrupt family or individual the chance at an indefinite monopoly of public office,” the President said.

 

President highlights achievements of Cabinet members

In the latter part of the speech, Aquino dedicated a portion to thank Cabinet members, government appointees, and other staff for their support and service in his leadership. Before that, the President already highlighted the accomplishents of some appointees.

Comissioner Kim Henares was praised for making the country’s tax system efficient. The President also recognized Sec. Rosalinda Baldoz’ efforts in improving the labor and management sector of the country and Sec. Jun Abaya’s role as head of the Department of Transportation and Communications despite the ongoing MRT crisis. One video presentation also showed the success of a student who was a product of TESDA training. Sec. Joel Villanueva was applauded by the end of the video.

Most notably, President Aquino praised prospective presidential candidate Mar Roxas for his performance in the government. In contrast, the President leaves out Vice President Jejomar Binay, another presidentiable for the 2016 elections. 

 

A demand for continuity

With the approaching end of his term, President Aquino backtracked to how his Daang Matuwid vision changed the country. In all the good that has happened, he asked if we are willing to veer from the straight path that he has started. “The next election will be a referendum for the Straight and Righteous Path,” the President added.

 

What Aquino missed

Despite the lengthy speech, the President lost the opportunity to address some key concerns.  

One notable bill Aquino missed out was the Freedom of Information Act. In the past, many have criticized Aquino for not including FOI in his speeches as it appeared that his last SONA wasn’t any different.

Agriculture had not been discussed in detail. This is despite the adverse criticism on the current agrarian reform program and the stagnant condition of the agriculture sector in the country.

Recent issues such as the Mamasapano incident and Mary Jane Veloso’s ordeal were likewise left out.

By the end of his term, Aquino promised justice for the victims of the Ampatuan massacre but nowhere in his speech did he include trial updates and the issue of media killings.  Even the matter on extrajudicial killings which he discussed in his first SONA in 2010 wasn’t tackled.

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