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July 29, 2014

SONA 2014: Not a True State of the Nation

The ManilaSpeak post-SONA Google Hangout verdict

It didn’t sound like a true SONA.”

This was the resounding statement made by the panelists of the first-ever ManilaSpeak Google Hangout. The online event was hosted by ManilaSpeak.com, the Philippines’ first all-opinion website, at the Leo room of the Diamond Hotel after President Benigno Aquino III’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).

The Hangout panel was made up of thought leaders Budget Secretary Dr. Benjamin Diokno, intellectual property expert Atty. Rod Vera, Exec. Director for the Ministry of Ecology of the Archdiocese of Manila Fr. Benny Tuazon, social entrepreneur Pacita Juan, broadcaster Rey Langit, and Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines Chairperson Elizabeth Angsioco who all expressed their thoughts on the SONA. The discussion was moderated by former GMA7 newscaster Margaux Salcedo.

MS Panel

NOT A TRUE STATE OF THE NATION

The panelists agreed that the report on the government’s response to Typhoon Yolanda was questionable given that it did not really paint the true picture of what was happening on the ground.

“The other organizations who helped, even more than the government were not even mentioned. What about the donations? No report was given about how much was received and how they are not being used,” Fr. Benny Tuazon explained.

NOT A PASSING RATE FOR PPP

The much-touted private-public partnership (PPP) was also considered by the panel as a contentious point of achievement by the government. “Only 7 out of the proposed 45 PPPs have been awarded. That doesn’t even warrant a passing grade,” Dr. Ben Diokno said.

Fr. Benny Tuazon also asked the President to rethink and reexamine the airport reclamation project. “He might be damaging a high-potential body of water, essential to our source of water in the future,” he said.

BETTER EMPLOYMENT SITUATION?

Another cause for confusion was the President’s claim that the country’s employment situation was getting better due to the lack of strikes.

“A no-strike sitatiom is not necessarily good. It could mean that the situation is so bad that the would-be rallyists would rather not go on a strike for fear of losing their jobs or that they are already part of the urban poor that they no longer have the luxury of doing so,” Elizabeth Angsioco said.

Dr. Benjamin Diokno also added that the government shouldn’t be so quick to claim victory over unemployment given that the 500,000 jobs created is certainly not enough to cover the 1.2 million Filipinos entering the work force. “This number still does not include the 3 million unemployed and the 7 to 8 million who are underemployed,” he said citing Mahar Mangahas’ recently released SWS Survey stating that more than half of Filipinos consider themselves poor.

OFWs FORGOTTEN

Support for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) was also not mentioned as noted by Elizabeth Angsioco. “Now that there are many OFWs in war-torn countries, it is becoming more important to extend the much-needed help these modern day heroes need. We rely heavily on their remittances, the least we could do is care for them,” she said.

Pacita Juan voiced her agreement by saying that doing business for OFWs needs to be made easier. “The government should help them grow after their stints as OFWs,” she said.

Rey Langit adds that the Overseas Workers’ Welfare Association has become increasingly absent when it comes to helping OFWs deal with abuse cases they are subjected to or escape from. “Even the OWWA desk at NAIA has no personnel when it should be open 24/7,” he shared.

ENERGY CRISIS NOT A FOCUS

Critical issues such as the country’s plan to address the impending energy crisis were also noted to be noticeably missing from the President’s 5th SONA.

“There was no mention of existing laws such as the Electric Power Industry Reform Act (EPIRA) or the power crisis when Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla has already been saying that its become so bad that the President needs to be given emergency powers to address it,” Rey Langit said.

“He only mentioned other means of alternative power but not the plans of how to harness them to help avert this impending crisis,” Fr. Benny Tuazon added. The environmentalist said that the country currently has a 1,000-megawatt potential for hydroelectric power and a 35,000-megawatt potential for geothermal energy. “If we harness this, the power crisis may become a thing of the past,” he said. At present, we have 15,000 megawatts for our use from renewable and non-renewable energy sources.

PLAN FOR AGRICULTURE SUPPORT STILL LACKING

Social entrepreneur Pacita Juan expressed her dismay that no mention of how the country will equip the country’s agricultural industry to be climate change-ready.“There has to be a cohesive plan. There has to be a way to put all the existing laws together and have them work in harmony to help this industry,” Pacita Juan said.

“Yolanda happened and it is clearly not the last of its kind. Stronger typhoons are in the horizon. So what is being done about this?” Fr. Benny Tuazon adds.

The move to create more farm-to-market roads and a P3.5 billion allotment for irrigation for Bohol and Cebu was considered a positive step towards improving agriculture in the country by the environmentalist. “I just hope that the process isn’t politicized and that they also pay attention to provision of seeds, crop insurance, and machinery to our farmers who are among the poorest in the world,” he said. “The goal is to be like the United States and Europe in the coming years.”

FOI MISSING, DAP MENTIONED IN PASSING

Most notable of all was the absence of any mention of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill. “It was his campaign promise when he was running for President. Where is it now?” Elizabeth Angsioco asks.

The controversial Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) was also barely mentioned during the SONA. Atty. Rod Vera noted that he didn’t touch on it as one would expect. Instead, the President mentioned “success” stories related to DAP such as the TESFA program and other educational programs.

“The success of a TESDA graduate doesn’t necessarily mean that the DAP was responsible for that. That was either a white lie or a black truth,” the lawyer said. “One success story doesn’t make DAP legal or constitutional.”

RESPONSE TO CRITICISM, A NEGATIVE

His response to his critics also drew negative reactions from the panel. “I didn’t appreciate him going against his critics. Allowing critics to have their say is the mark of democracy. Again, this is your job, you ran for it,” Atty. Rod Vera said.

The intellectual property lawyer also wasn’t impressed by presidential sister Kris Aquino’s antics. “Her crying, I think it was scripted,” he said.

“He’s entitled to say who his parents were but what happened seem like a desperate plea to say ‘If you don’t support me, you don’t support my parent’s legacy.’,” he added.

Elizabeth Angsioco appealed to the President to sit down with his “detractors” and see where they are coming from instead of attacking them. “I hope he sees that they truly care for the country, enough to say something about its ills. It’s shouldn’t be about pro- and anti-PNoy, but rather about achieving true progress for our country,” she said. “The President is the president of the country, not just of the Liberal Party supporters.”

FOCUS ON THE LAST TWO YEARS

“With just two years left in his term, President Aquino should just focus on working for the Filipinos,” said Dr. Benjamin Diokno as he urged the President to prove his worth by working.

Fr. Benny agreed by calling for more work and less attacking. “Deal with those attacking you by working to disprove their claims. That’s the best answer for those who criticize you,” he concluded.

The resounding verdict of the panel was concluded rightly by moderator Margaux Salcedo: “When PNoy said that the Filipino is not only worth dying for but worth fighting for, he should mean all Filipinos, not just the yellow ones.”

 

 

 

Photo credit: Rica Palomo-Espiritu

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