During his maiden State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 26, 2010 before the Philippine Congress, President Benigno Aquino III stumbled right away with a false vision of government. At the beginning of his speech, the new President talked about the two directions, which his government is going.
“Our administration is facing a forked road,” he says. In very basic terms, the President referred to one road as good, and the other, bad. The good one takes us to the heart of what every government stands to deliver: the welfare and interest of the people. Opposed to this path is to put personal interest and political considerations above all else to the detriment of the nation.
President Aquino’s vision of two paths to choose is absurd, if not downright silly. As leader of the nation, the President has no other choice but to lead the government to what is best for the people. The people installed him to power. This leaves him no other options, no two ways to achieve his goals. No matter if the road ahead might be bumpy, rocky or full of potholes, but that’s the only way the government must go.
So much is expected from this President, yet it would appear there’s little that he can he deliver.
After laying the two roads open for his administration, President Aquino then painted an ugly and dismal picture of the country. He should have borrowed from the famous Clint Eastwood spaghetti western and added ugly as a third option, in addition to the good and the bad.
In contrast to the U.S. ritual of State of the Union Address, upon which our own practice was largely based, both as a constitutional obligation and traditional rite of passage to the opening of Congress, American presidents have always stressed the fact, although not necessarily true, that the state of their union is strong. This reference to strength has hardened into oratorical tradition in every American president’s State of the Union message. Perhaps, it drives the instinctive desire of every American president to be optimistic about the future by starting from a position of strength, rather than admitting things aren’t going well.
Diagnosis: “Critical but stable”
However, it is to President Aquino’s credit that he takes the courage, absent noblesse oblige, to admit the sordid state of our nation. Truth be told, he expressed it in the simplest way he can get the message across.
This traditional state of the nation address could be aptly likened to a medical diagnosis of a patient. To summarize President Noynoy Aquino’s prognosis, he was stating that the country is in a critical but stable condition, with immediate changes expected. We’re not yet dead but the situation could turn to worse if changes are not made, the President seemed to imply in a single sentence.
Nothing spectacular about the President’s message. It’s plain and simple acceptance of the fact that our nation is broken and his task is to fix it. The only problem with President Aquino’s diagnosis is his prescription on how to fix the country’s conundrum.
“For a long time, our country lost its way in the crooked path. As days go by (since I became President), the massive scope of the problems we have inherited becomes much clearer. I could almost feel the weight of my responsibilities.”
How did this epiphany come about to President Aquino?
Continuing his state of the nation address (SONA), President Aquino said: “In the first three weeks of our administration, we discovered many things, and I will report to you some of the problems we have uncovered, and the steps we are taking to solve them. This report is merely a glimpse of our situation. It is not the entire picture of the crises we are facing. The reality was hidden from our people, who seem to have been deliberately obfuscated on the real state of our nation.”
President Aquino talked about reality being hidden from the people, an act that was deliberate in order to conceal the truth. Nevertheless, just three weeks into his term as President, he suddenly experienced a quantum leap of understanding the truth. What was he doing during the whole time when this “reality” was being foisted on the Filipino people? As a former Congressman and Senator, President Aquino appeared to have slept on the job, not knowing what’s happening with the country.
The point behind the Truth Commission
Granting Aquino has finally come to an understanding of the ugly truth about the previous Gloria Arroyo administration, what then is the point of a Truth Commission? To investigate what he already knew?
The problem with our system of justice in the Philippines is the lack of faith, even by the current President, that it works. He can’t order the Office of the Ombudsman to initiate the prosecution of Gloria Arroyo and her minions because the sitting Ombudsman was appointed by Arroyo and was a classmate in law school of her husband Mike Arroyo.
President Aquino does not have the full support of a rambunctious Congress which appears to be the most logical place to conduct an inquiry into the wrongdoings of the Arroyo government. Besides, if Congress were allowed to investigate the sins of the past administration, it would create a bad precedent and open a floodgate for future governments to follow every time a new president is installed.
The best recourse for the people is to go directly to the courts and file criminal and civil suits against Gloria Arroyo and all those responsible for corruption in the previous government. Every citizen must have legal standing to sue a corrupt government. What does the phrase “the people” stand for in a criminal litigation against an offender if not for “the state”?
Failed liberalization policies
There is, however, a more dreadful and sinister truth in the President’s state of the nation message. This refers to “public-private partnerships” which Aquino said would be the solution to the country’s massive deficit. The President hinted to a contractual arrangement between the government and private investors for projects like building expressways and leasing government facilities such as the Navy headquarters on Roxas Boulevard and the Naval Station in Fort Bonifacio. Moreover, he was talking only for starters, because there’s still plenty to come.
The public-private partnership platform has been the favourite model for project execution by the World Bank, especially in infrastructure, health and education. While its effectiveness is still open to debate, this model has only limited success in developing countries where it has opened up issues of access, equity, and proof of further marginalization of the poor.
A country’s critical resources could best be managed by the public sector because of its ability to bundle in the responsibility for effecting public welfare, and to take into consideration the rights of the citizens. This is opposed to the privatization of public service as a consequence of globalization. President Aquino should draw lessons from the failed experiences of the World Bank and other international institutions in the liberalization of resources such as water and electricity. These failures clearly show that the provision of commercialized services in pursuit of profits cannot be expected to meet the needs of the population because they undermine the basic principle of public service.
No matter what economic system the state believes in, there are certain resources or sectors of the national economy that are never or rarely left entirely to the free market. Access to these sectors should be maintained as a right of every citizen.
Not so long ago, the same partnerships were explored and used by the Marcos government to the benefit of cronies and foreign investors. Most public-private partnerships carried out in other parts of the world have been accompanied by partial (or ultimately) privatization of public services. The net result of such arrangements is clearly to advance the interest of big business, and not really to reduce the public debt. It is foreseeable that this will not change under the Aquino government.
Not surprisingly, President Aquino’s state of the nation address echoes the liberalization strategies of the governments before him which constitute the principal cause of the nation’s current malaise. Maybe the President was right after all in his vision of two paths, but he has opted for the road towards more of the same plunder of the country’s economy.