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Much ado about P-Noy's promises and SONA 2

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Various comments and reactions – positive, “middle-of-the-road,” or negative – have been aired about the first-year accomplishment report and SONA 2 of President P-Noy. A major point on the first issue concerned the perceived failure of President P-Noy to fulfill certain promises he had made in his inaugural address and in his first SONA. On the second issue, the main point raised was the SONA 2’s perceived lack of what a supposedly standard SONA contains – vision, policy pronouncements, and relevant future programs of action.

After the dust and smoke of the verbal and intellectual battles had settled, as it were, I asked myself:  (1) What did President P-Noy really promise in his inaugural address and first SONA? (2) Does his SONA 2 contain the parts which some of his critics say are standard for such an annual, reportorial speech?

My own review of President P-Noy’s inaugural address, and first and second SONAs reveals the following answers and postulations:

1.    The promise of good governance. This is the fundamental promise President P-Noy has made in his inaugural address. Any other statement that may look or sound like a promise is an off-shoot or a follow through of his basic promise – a “subpromise,” if you will. Consider the following premises:

a.    The term “good governance” (or a variation of it) is emphatically mentioned five (5) times in President P-Noy’s four-page inaugural address;

b.    A reminder – Good governance is anchored on the following principles: transparency, participation, responsiveness, rule of law, accountability, equity, inclusiveness, consensus orientation, and strategic vision;

c.    Some examples of subpromises and the basic principles they respectively respond to:

1)    “If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor . . . it is the defining principle that will serve as the foundation of our administration” – rule of law, responsiveness, accountability, equity, strategic vision;

2)    “We will not disregard the needs of our students. We will begin by addressing the glaring shortage in classrooms and educational facilities” – responsiveness, equity, inclusiveness;

3)    “We will strengthen the armed forces and the police, not to serve the interests of those who want to wield power with impunity, but to give added protection for ordinary folk” – responsiveness, rule of law, accountability, equity;

4)    “We will strengthen the process of consultation and feedback” – transparency, participation, consensus orientation;

5)    “We are committed to a peaceful and just settlement of conflict [in Mindanao], inclusive of the interests of all – may they be Lumads, Bangsamoro or Christian” – responsiveness, rule of law, inclusiveness; strategic vision;

6)    “We will be a predictable and consistent place for investment, a nation where everyone will say, ‘it all works’” – transparency, responsiveness, rule of law, strategic vision;

7)    “You are the boss, so I cannot ignore your orders” – responsiveness, accountability,  consensus orientation, strategic vision.

d.    The goals of President P-Noy’s promise of good governance are clearly stated in his inaugural address:

1)    “Through good governance in the coming years, we will lessen our problems. The destiny of the Filipino people will return to its rightful place, and as each year passes, the Filipinos’ problems will continue to lessen with the assurance of progress in their lives”;

2)    “Our foremost duty is to lift the nation from poverty through honest and effective governance”;

3)    “We relived the spirit of people power during the campaign. Let it take us to good and effective governance. Those who believe in people power put the welfare of others before their own”;

4)    “We shall defeat the enemy by wielding the tools of justice, social reform, and equitable governance leading to a better life”;

5)    “With proper governance life will improve for all. When we are all living well, who will want to go back to living under oppression?”

2.    Fulfilling the promise. To fulfill his promise of good governance, President P-Noy must base his actions and decisions on the principles that underpin it. My review of his first SONA reveals his unique approach at fulfilling such promise. It starts with the following declarations:

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.

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.

Then follows an expose’ concerning the misuse of the Calamity Fund and the anomalous behavior of certain officials of the MWSS, DPWH, NAPOCOR, MRT, and NFA. The pertinent details are now in the realm of public knowledge, so it would be

pointless to dwell on them again here.

However, two (2) pressing questions should be asked at this juncture:  (1) What social gain could there be in exposing the ill deeds of certain officials of the past Administration? (2) What good governance principles are advanced by such expose’?

The answer to the first question is in President P-Noy’s reaction to some of his critics who had accused him of harboring an ill will towards his predecessor and suggested that he reconcile with the past:

To those who talk about reconciliation, if they mean that they would like us to simply forget about the wrongs that they have committed in the past, we have this to say: there can be no reconciliation without justice. When we allow crimes to go unpunished, we give consent to their occurring over and over again.

In answer to the second question, such expose’ is essential to the fulfillment of his promise of good governance, because it punctuates his commitment to such principles as transparency, responsiveness, rule of law and accountability, which are also the bedrock values of a democratic society.

It is worth noting that President P-Noy’s first SONA has a balanced structure; after a description of “how the public coffers were squandered” and other problems, it concisely discusses the “new and creative approach to [solve] our long-standing

problems.” This approach subsumes what I refer to as subpromises, some examples of which are the following:

a.    Public-private partnership, through which the economy will grow; many sectors could benefit from such growth;

b.    Efficient railway system that will make the transportation of people and merchandise faster and cheaper, and “for travelers to avoid crooked cops and rebels”;

c.    Creation of jobs that will come from the growth of the industries, which “will only be possible if we streamline processes to make them predictable, reliable and efficient for those who want to invest”;

d.    Improve Philhealth to cover the “correct number of Filipinos who sorely need [it]”;

e.    Implement the National Household Targeting System (NHTS) that will identify the families that most urgently need assistance.

3.    The second SONA. President P-Noy’s SONA 2 is composed of the following topics: amplification and emphasis on the “wang-wang syndrome”; control and resultant gains; proposed measures for the consideration of Congress; renewal of commitment

to eradicate that syndrome; and appeal for support in his agenda for change. 

a.    Amplification and emphasis on the ‘wang-wang syndrome.” President P-Noy’s inaugural address begins with a reference to what I call the “wang-wang syndrome” and its ill effects on our people. He sums up its negative impact in this question: “Have you experienced exasperation and anger at a government that instead of serving you, needs to be endured by you?”

In his SONA 2, he amplifies and emphasizes such syndrome (he refers to it ten times in this 12-page speech) as the root cause of the problems – corruption, in particular – that has plagued the government. He describes it in this SONA’s opening, thus:

Over the years, the wang-wang had come to symbolize abuse of authority. It was routinely used by public officials to violate traffic laws, inconveniencing ordinary motorists – as if only the time of the powerful few, and no one else’s mattered; instead of behaving like public servants, they acted like kings. This privilege was extended to their cronies and patrons, who moved along the streets as if they were aristocracy, indifferent to those who were forced to give way and were left behind. Abusing privilege despite promising to serve – this is the wang-wang mindset; this is the mindset of entitlement.

b.    Control and resultant gains. President P-Noy then presents a report on how his Administration’s control of the “wang-wang syndrome” has yielded positive results in various government agencies, the private sector, and other areas of the national economy. The following selected gains are indicative of the progress made in this regard:

1)    Revival of the investors’ confidence in the energy sector – 140 firms (from only 35 in 2006) are now “ready to participate in the exploration and strengthening of our oil and natural gas resources”;

2)    Through zero-based budgeting, many wasteful programs have been ended, like the ill-advised PhP18.7 Billion dredging of the Laguna Lake;

3)    Realized a saving of PhP2.5 Billion from projects at the DPWH  (the expected year-end saving is between PhP6-7 Billion), where the “wang-wang syndrome” was once deemed impossible to control;

4)    Effectively checked rice over-importation coupled with a 15.6%  increase in rice production by using the most effective types of seedlings plus careful and efficient spending on irrigation;

c.    Proposed measures for the consideration of Congress. President P-Noy’s SONA 2 proposes the following for the consideration of Congress as bases for the passage of relevant laws:

1)    Due compensation to the victims of Martial Law;
2)    Salaries and benefits for the house help;
3)    Improvement of the pension system for retired soldiers;
4)    Expansion of DOST scholarship for the underprivileged but outstanding students;
5)    Advancement of quality health care;
6)    Responsible management of the environment;
7)    Establishment of safety facilities for the population in times of great need and calamity.
Also in the agenda is the development of the Bureau of Corrections

(BuCor), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), National Electrification Authority (NEA), and PTV 4 so that they could better fulfill their respective public service mandates.

d.    Renewal of commitment to eradicate that syndrome.” The following declarations manifest President P-Noy’s commitment to eradicate the “wang-wang syndrome:

1)    Some of my critics say that I take this campaign against corruption personally. It’s true: doing what’s right is personal. Making people accountable – whoever they may be – is personal. It should be personal for all of us, because we have all been victimized by corruption.

2)    This has always been the plan: to level the playing field; to stop the abuse of authority; and to ensure that the benefits of growth are available to the greatest number.

3)    We are steering our government in a clear direction. A country where opportunity is available; where those in need are helped; where everyone’s sacrifices are rewarded; and where those who do wrong are held accountable.

4)    And to those who may resist the change we are trying to bring about, this I say to you: I know what I must do, and my personal interests are nothing when compared to the interests of the nation. . . . To those of you who would turn back the tide of reform: you will not succeed.

e.    Appeal for support in his agenda for change. President P-Noy’s appeal to his “bosses” for support in his continuing agenda for change echoes in the following statements:

1)    We still have five years left to ensure that we will not return to what once was. We will not be derailed, especially now that what we have begun has yielded so many positive results.

2)    Let us not acquire through patronage what we can acquire through hard work. No more cheating, no more taking advantage of others, no more one-upmanship because in the end we will all realize our shared aspirations.

3)    Let us end the culture of negativism; let us uplift our fellow Filipinos at every opportunity.

4)    Let us stop pulling our fellow man down. Let us put an end to our crab mentality. Let us make the effort to recognize the good that is being done.

An objective perusal of President P-Noy’s SONA 2 reveals that it contains the parts which some of his critics say are standard for such a speech, although these are not presented exactly in the language, order and style they want. Nonetheless, the ideas can be easily categorized and understood. After all, the most important consideration is that the SONA describes and explains well the real situation our society is in.

Were I to classify it, President P-Noy’s SONA 2 basically uses the “cause-effect resolution” cum ABCD (accuracy, brevity, clarity, directness) approach. But vis-à-vis all comments and reactions, what matters most is that the SONA 2 has accomplished its objective as provided in the Constitution of our Republic.

To use a cliché, President P-Noy’s presidency is a “work in progress”; it has just completed one (1) year of a six-year term. Thus, it is too premature and, some observers may even think, quite unfair to pass a definite judgment now on his performance in office. Although it can be justifiably granted even this early that his Administration’s programs are attuned with the

principles of good governance.

And were I to identify the four (4) principles which his inaugural address, first and second SONAs implicitly emphasize (based on his expose’ of the shenanigans and anomalous behavior of certain officials of the previous Administration), the priority list would include:  rule of law, accountability, transparency, and responsiveness.

This and other signs that are readable in the three (3) addresses reviewed in this article as well as from President P-Noy’s official pronouncements and performance since his inauguration seem to project this message:  He says what he means and means what he says. The distinct hallmark of a leader who fulfills his promise!

By Ric Adjawie




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