Sona Reaction Paper

President Benigno Aquino the Third (aka, Noynoy) of the Republic of The Philippines made his State Of the Nation Address today. I will legitimately link to the whole thing at the end of this post, but for the moment, here are my impressions of his words and how things look like from my perspective on the country. Do I agree with what he’s been saying? Yes. And no. There are no overt lies and spinning in the President’s SONA, for even a malfunctioning democracy as ours does not need propaganda to soothe disgruntled citizens. Fact-checking is easy.

The Philippines possesses a free and combative media. Journalists may be murdered but still they continue. We’ve learned from the time of Marcos dictatorship – cracking down on the media is the first sign of tyranny. People do not really fear the goverment, but neither do they really trust it. If anything, it is harder to rouse citizenry out of apathy for the government’s initiatives. Who believes election promises anymore? Change is a constant promise of every new administration, and the poor remain poor, and the rich get even richer.

The gap seems only to stretch with every generation. However, it is also true that change does happen within a perceptible timeframe. My grandfather was born to a farmer’s son, he worked as a cook, and my father became a lawyer. My mother was farmer’s daughter, she became a teacher. The difference between a bare existence and that of middle class can be as short as one generation. This is where people put their trust and hope – not in their government, but in their children. The President’s speech had three main topics: 1) Economic initiatives 2) Peace and welfare 3) Tackling corruption.

The President touched on expansion on farming and fishing, which I will let pass without comment since I trust that there are improvements there. Ironically, for a rice producing country, the Philippines still imports rice. It is one of highest, if not the, highest importers of rice in the world. In 2010, it imported 2 million tons; in 2012 it was just 500,000 tons. In 2010, native rice production was 15. 7 million tons and in 2012 18. 5 million tons. I’m not worried about any inability to feed the people. Noynoy at least called out examples of the government’s sheer incompetence and tendencies for local governments to pocket funds.

For example, the Ternate-Nasugbu Road, that’s supposed to connect Cavite, Batangas, and Metro Manila, is only six kilometers long but took 20 years to complete. President Noynoy promised not to let any more problems be inherited by the next generation. Another interesting point raised is the lack of essential government manpower. There were 250,000 police and soldiers in 1986 to serve 55 million Filipinos. In 2013, there are still only around 250,000 to help deal with the problems of 96 million. Less than 1/4th of a million instruments of public order for close to a hundred million people. Why hasn’t it been increased?

Surely there’s more than enough ready manpower for the task. Because government workers are naturally given pensions, and Social Security is hemorrhaging funds heavily. Both the government GSIS and private SSS lack funding because of unwillingness to raise contribution rates in the face of already low per capita incomes. Peace in Mindanao? Well, that’s still a ‘we’ll see’ from me. Making corrupt politicians pay? As long as the Maguindanao massacre remains unresolved, I fear trust cannot be given. Among the dead were 34 journalists gunned accusedly down by the Ampatuan family in election-related violence.

When the police cannot provide protection, perhaps the Magdadatu family hoped that journalists, being noted nationwide, would somehow shield them from being permanently harmed. That did not happen. The hue and cry has been raised, but how long before the wheels of justice can turn? 2013 has been a good year for breaking traditional political dynasties, however. Yes, that’s also funny, coming from a nation with the second such Presidential child. ) Many government posts long predictably been traded off between members of the same influential family have been occuppied by new faces in free and electronically-authenticated elections.

Tampering with vote machines is harder than messing with the counting of physical paper ballots, huh? Overall, the President’s address left me not completely satisfied but optimistic for the future. That’s the only sort of change we can trust – slow, step-by-step, not expecting miracles. Filipinos are a naturally nonchalant people, able to deal with a lot of hardship. As long as the lives of our children would be better than this, that’s good enough for most of us. It’s enough to let Filipinos consistently be counted among the top 10 happiest people on the world.