Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Summary and Thoughts on SONA 2012

So today President Benigno Aquino III (PNoy) delivered his third State of the Nation Address (SONA). The full transcripts could be found in the official government sites, both in Filipino and translated to English. It's quite a long read, around fifteen pages in PDF format.

Anyway, this post is basically what I gathered from the SONA. Personal comments are italicized. I know I may have missed some points, but it's a fifteen page speech that's an hour and a half long, so please give me some room for error (or misinterpretation).

It's not surprising that PNoy opened his address with a recollection of how the platform for his vision was built - his desire to correct the mistakes of the previous administrations (with particular emphasis on Arroyo's).

According to him, the mission of establishing the 'tuwid na daan' as the eventual norm for public administration was seeded by the transgressions brought upon the Filipinos (and his family) by the Marcos dictatorship and bolstered by corruption of the ten-year Arroyo regime. 

While history is written by the victors, it's pretty hard to disagree with his statements even if they were lacking objectivity, considering the clusterfuck that the previous administration left us in.

He mentioned some of the legacies left by the Arroyo administration: the debt incurred from the unfinished North Rail extension project, the misappropriation of public funds including the PAGCOR coffee scandal and those overpriced helicopters which allegedly involves the former First Gentleman.

PNoy mentioned the Philippines' increasing financial stability, highlighted by our country's recent acquisition of a positive credit rating. He mentioned that the country exceeded its expected GDP growth rate and mentioned the fact that we are now creditors for the IMF.

While this is good for the long term, most Filipinos have no clue on what it means and how it directly affects them. It's good that he did not elaborate too much on this matter, as I think those who have a need to know this already do so. It should be noted that while we're technically creditors now, we still have a mountain of debt to pay and we should concentrate on lowering the country's debt-to-GDP ratio. I'm no expert on economics, so take that with a grain of salt.

PNoy mentioned the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, which provides conditional cash transfers to qualified families. He also mentioned the various health initiatives the government implemented, such as free vaccinations and improvement of the services of the government's health insurance system (PhilHealth) for the poor. He also mentioned the creation of jobs for our surplus of medical professionals, nurses in particular,  by providing assignments to isolated communities. PNoy also urged his support for the Sin Tax Bill, citing that it aims to reduce health issues as well as provide additional government funding.
Personally, I believe that conditional cash transfers are temporary solutions at best, and focusing on creating a  sustainable economy would be a good long-term solution. I might also be paranoid, but hopefully the Sin Tax Bill won't create a situation similar to the US Prohibition. I may have missed it, but I haven't seen PNoy mention anything about the RH Bill, which I feel should be resolved as soon as possible.

PNoy mentioned that the administration was nearing its goal of eliminating the backlog of classrooms and resources of the public school system. He also promised that there will be increased funding for state universities and colleges, provided they follow certain guidelines from CHED to ensure the quality of education. Also of note was that TESDA, under new management, has increased its quality of service in assisting folks to get the necessary technical skills for their jobs.

PNoy stated that the Philippines continues to decrease its unemployment rate, citing the BPO sector as a major driving force. He mentioned that apart from increasing foreign investments, BPOs helped create jobs both directly (TSRs, CSRs, and whatnot) as well as indirectly (baristas, fast food attendants, taxi drivers among others).

This is something I'm lukewarm about. It's good that jobs are being created, but hopefully they're for the long-term. I know it's a longshot, but I hope that someday Filipinos would work in the fields they actually specialize in instead of having graduates fill in 'generalist' roles. As for now, I guess we'll take what we can get.
PNoy highlighted some ongoing projects, such as the construction of new airports and improvement pf existing ones. He also stated that the long overdue overhaul of NAIA 3 should be finished within the next year. Other things of note include the LRT Line 1 extension project, a propesed connection between NLEX and SLEX as well as improvement and planned expansions of national roads.
Also of note is the country's energy program. PNoy said that in the previous administrations, places are considered powered as long as town halls were supplied electricity, which resulted in inflated figures. He said that within the current administration he aims to provide electricity not just statistically but literally, and that the project is both well ahead of the projected quota and under the proposed cost.

PNoy mentioned the continued flourishing of the country's tourism industry, spearheaded by the 'It's more fun in the Philippines' campaign. He hopes that by the time his term ends, we would have more than double the amount of visitors, hopefully to get the same numbers as the neighboring countries.

PNoy mentioned the ongoing programs of the Department of Agriculture, in particular the flourishing coconut industry, effective irrigation and seeding programs and research which would increase the yield of local rice. He stated that we have reduced our rice imports by more than half (majority of which now only serve as buffers for unforeseen disasters) and that hopefully we would be able to export rice by next year.

PNoy also mentioned the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP), a project started by his late mother. He stated that he aims to finish this program before his term ends and that all the lands under CARP would be distributed (within the confines of the law).

National Security
PNoy said that crime rates have been reduced by half compared to previous years and that drug-related arrests have increased due to increased activity from PDEA. He also mentioned the additional provision of arms to the police, where previously only less than half were armed.
With regards to national defense, PNoy mentioned the purchase of additional military assets which includes ships, planes, helicopters, APCs and small arms. He also highlighted the funding provided by the US under their Defense Capability Upgrade and Sustainment of Equipment program as well as their initiative in establishing coast watch centers for maritime security.

PNoy highlighted the housing benefits provided for AFP personnel, which intends to boost troop morale.

With regards to ARMM, PNoy supported the continuous peace talks and applauded the lack of armed conflict for the better part of the past year. He also commended the restoration or infrastructure to those communities affected by the conflicts.

Lastly, PNoy supported diplomacy and due process as the best resolution for the recent territorial disputes between China and the Philippines for certain parts of the West Philippine Sea.

My only concern with this is that most of the equipment PNoy mentioned are horribly outdated, and would be decimated by most modern armed forces.

Environment and Disaster Management
PNoy mentioned the reforms geared towards the improvement of the mining industry. He implied that he aimed to increase government profit from private mining coprporations to promote the idea that Filipinos should benefit from their own natural resources.

PNoy highlighted the government's increased ability for disaster response, citing Project NOAH in particular (which allegedly provides real-time flood monitoring or something similar) and that he aims to increase the efficiency between government agencies in providing effective emergency services.

PNoy also mentioned the administration's goal of eliminating illegal logging by taking out the loggers as well as the corrupt government officials who provide protection. He also mentioned initiatives such as publicly and privately funded tree planting as well as conditional cash transfer programs in exchange for guardianship.

Government Benefits
PNoy mentioned increased benefits for government pensioners and pledged to increase it to a respectable amount by the end of the year.

He also said that in order to promote the desirability of jobs in the public sector as well as compete with posts from the private sector, performance-based incentives are being implemented. He mentioned that this would encourage healthy competition between employees as well as increase morale and initiative. He stated that bonuses would also be based on agency-wide metrics to promote confidence and public trust.

Lastly, PNoy renewed his vision of a 'tuwid na landas' and emphasized on his refusal of a 'forgive and forget' mentality for the crimes of the past administration, in particular the Maguindanao massacre and the plunder cases against the Arroyos and their allies.

PNoy closed the address by stating that the people are the bosses of those who serve in public office and that the facts, figures and promises from the State of the Nation Address were not created by him, but by the people.

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