In closing the 2012 SONA, President Aquino asked rhetorically: “Isn’t the agenda for change moving forward?” Unfortunately after two years, there is clearly no fundamental change and no systematic economic reforms taking place.
By SONNY AFRICA
IBON executive director
MANILA — State of the nation addresses (SONAs) are typically exercises in political advertising rather than government road maps for genuinely addressing the needs of the majority of Filipinos. President Benigno Aquino III’s 2012 SONA on Monday was no exception. The severity of the country’s social and economic problems was not just unmentioned but actually sought to be glossed over with an enumeration of supposed achievements. The SONA, the most important and widely publicized policy speech of the year, would have been memorable had it defined a break from the economic policies that cause severe poverty and inequality in the country.
Housekeeping rather than change
Much was reported in Pres. Aquino’s SONA– around two thirds of the SONA was abundant detail about various government economic and social programs. Yet a large part of every administration’s work is about normal housekeeping tasks. It is in this sense unremarkable to report building roads, airports, trains, terminals and schools, hiring health professionals, paying government salaries and pensions, and others. More so if the quantities involved are not even extraordinarily larger and were just built on the accomplishments of previous administrations.
A candid reporting of the social and economic well-being of Filipinos would have been much more meaningful particularly because admitting the seriousness of the problem is the start of taking real steps to resolve this. On the other hand, painting a picture that all is well on the economic front is at the very least irresponsible and at worst deceitful.
As expected the president cited positive international credit rating actions (eight in two years), record stock exchange index highs (44 times), relatively rapid economic growth (6.4 percent first quarter growth in gross domestic product) and ostensibly becoming a creditor nation as proof of an economic upsurge. The president also mentioned the country’s favorable image internationally.
Even granting the glowing numbers their significance to the daily lives of the people cannot be assumed. The most eloquent refutation would come from tens of millions of Filipinos who know that their lives have not correspondingly improved in the last two years. But another way to put the self-congratulatory account into perspective is to mention some details that the SONA remained silent on.
The 2012 SONA was selective in the data it presented and dealt in half-truths. A few stand out for the misleading picture of the economy that they seek to create.
Half-truths: Social development
When the speech declared “once, we were the debtors; now, we are the creditors” it actually meant something much less impressive. More precisely, all that could be claimed is that the Philippines had technically attained creditor member nation status within the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Even more specifically, the Banko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) lent foreign exchange to the IMF which is very different from saying that the national government (NG) lent the IMF money or that the Philippine economy is so awash with cash that it is now a creditor economy..... MORE