SONA 2013: On Straight Paths or Skilled Leadership

There are many critics, fans, analysts, bloggers, politicians, jeepney drivers, high school teachers, fishermen, and countrymen, who all have an opinion on president Aquino’s State of the Nation Address. As varied and diverse as the responses may be, I think it’s (relatively) safe to say that we all can agree on at least one trait, one description for our president and his speech – he is principled; he is not corrupt. Indeed, even before he was elected, one of his rallying cries was “kung walang kurap, walang mahirap!”. You’d be hard-pressed to find fault in our president regarding this aspect of political leadership, but ultimately, while he is not corrupt, one has to ask, is our president competent? Can he turn everything around, and give us a society that is less poverty-stricken, more empowered, and more productive?

One of the impressions I got while watching the SONA was that Noynoy was humble enough not to take full credit of the positive changes that happened during his administration. He thanked Secretary Armin Luistro for his work on providing materials for the public education system. He noted ordinary people, everyday police men, who have done their jobs well and demonstrated that, yes, there is still faith in the Filipino man. PNoy was also frank, criticizing the corrupt culture which has so characterized Filipino government. He chastised the Bureau of Immigration and the NIA for their lackluster performance. He called out Syjuco, former TESDA leader, as well as former members of the PNP and PAGCOR, for embezzling and pocketing tax pesos for their own self interest.

I’m glad the President was able to go above boasting and lay responsibility where it is due. People often wave away his promise of less corruption as if it’s no big deal, but really, we can’t have a successfully functioning government without the trust that is so difficult to foster. And it really is difficult to build that trust, to rework a dishonest regime into a system which can serve the people; PNoy deserves credit for that. Of course, it can be argued that a government system should always work like this. Why should corruption-free, efficient operation be celebrated when it should be a norm? Aren’t there bigger fish to fry, so to speak? To that argument, I have no comment.

Beyond the president’s message of inspiration, he also painted a nice picture with his numbers and welfare projects. Technological improvements such as intercropping for farmers, or the Blumentritt Interceptor Catchment Area project in Manila show promising signs of long term investment for the future and welfare of Filipinos. TESDA scholarships have been shown to be a viable alternative for education. He notes how PhilHealth is now covering 81% of Filipinos, and how the strengthening tourism sector helps create millions of jobs each year. The NLEX-SLEX road is an exciting project which will hopefully cut down on traffic, as well as air pollution. Long-standing projects have finally been completed during his administration, like the ADMATEL facility, which will help strengthen the electronics sector by allowing products to be manufactured and tested locally. From an economic viewpoint, we saw a promisingly high GDP growth of 6.8% in 2012. Not to mention, the Philippines has finally attained investment-grade status from several top credit rating agencies.

The list goes on, and truly it is encouraging to see the changes. I will note, however, that the report lacks some sort of connecting thread, a bigger picture. The cornerstone problems of government, I feel, were not addressed directly. Employment, for example, was not given a clear plan of action beyond being mentioned as potential results in PNoy’s tourism, agriculture, and similar projects. I’m not necessarily asking PNoy to solve the employment problem overnight, but a status report would have been nice. Similarly, the topic of education was relatively untouched. Aside from the TESDA scholarships, there was not much mentioned about the state of our public school system, nevermind the topic of our dear STFAP. The poverty and wage gap problem has barely been addressed at all. Despite the high GDP growth in 2012 and first quarter 2013, the idea of “trickle-down economics” is simply not representative of reality. I was expecting, if not a tentative solution, then at least an acknowledgment that, yes, here is the problem, we’re working on it. This is, after all, a State of the Nation Address.

I will not hold President Aquino fully responsible for the problems the Philippines is facing. He is not a superhero. One man cannot be expected to solve the economy by himself, nor should he take full credit for the things he has solved in his administration. The laundry list of achievements he dictated are promising. They are not enough to actually solve the core of the problem – our perpetual fight against poverty, but they are steps nevertheless. Ultimately, what we want to achieve is not possible with one man, is not possible in three years, is not possible with just one Republic act. It requires all our work, with the leadership of our president, to achieve such a goal. The lowliest man is as much an important part in the catalyst of change as the president himself. Still, the question remains, “can Noynoy lead the people though?”. It’s difficult to unequivocally say yes, but personally, I like to think he can.

– Brian Robles

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