What's missing in Aquino's 3rd State of the Nation Address


President Benigno S. Aquino III had just delivered his third State of the Nation Address (SONA).  As expected, he delivered a litany of his achievements, a broadside against his critics and the opposition, and promised continued government services. Evidently, the continued anti-corruption campaign is seen as the foundation of good governance which eventually should result in advances against poverty.

In the SONA, Aquino cannot resist pointing out the transgressions of the past regimes, including those of the Marcos dictatorship. He contrasts these with the achievements of his first two years.
What was not expected to happen was the continued absence of a reform agenda for his next four years. Aquino’s SONA seems to equate delivering government services to good governance and even lasting reforms.

This maybe so, particularly since delivery of government services is a logical outcome of both policies. However, addressing only the freeing up of government funds that otherwise is lost to corruption and spending these for citizen welfare cannot guarantee a lasting solution to corruption. Even the list of new anti-corruption measures or institutional policies will not guarantee its end, much more address the far graver problem of pervasive poverty.

The SONA failed to address the structural imbalances and injustices that brought about corruption and poverty. The question of asset reforms and wealth redistribution in the economy and the question of eradicating warlordism and empowerment of the people were not even mentioned. Even the more palatable measures such as the reproductive health bill, the freedom of information bill, the human rights compensation bill, and the political party development bill were not mentioned.

The brightening macro-economic picture is well-presented in the SONA—such as the maintenance of a relatively  high gross domestic products (GDP), soaring stock market, improving credit ratings, and better debt/reserve ratio. The characterization of an “emerging” Philippine economy was underlined and contrasted to its previous image of the “sick man” of Asia.

However, there was no clear roadmap on how the Aquino government proposes to bring this economic growth to the poor, except through government services. The intention is clear but the political will was lost in platitudes.

The SONA puts in proper perspective—from the point of view of the nation’s leader—the events of the last two years of his presidency. Now, it remains for the people to understand this perspective—from their own point of view. I think the prevailing public reaction is one of “So far, so good but what if you’re not there anymore.”