This year’s SONA would have been another ho-hum event were it not for the context in which it was being delivered.
Instead of rising above the gutter politics she swears she’s immune to but is actually the master of, she reached another low by using what was supposed to be a report to the nation to attack her critics, justify her actions or lack of them (she didn’t declare martial law), and to praise herself (for not declaring martial law, among other reasons).
Instead of telling the country what its real state is, she made claims contrary to what practically every sector of Philippine society knows, whether academia, the business community or the NGOs, but most especially the vast masses of Filipinos she and the political class she represents have condemned to short brutish lives.
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo claimed to have presided over the generation of millions of jobs, a claim not only the government’s own statistics, but also the daily exodus of Filipinos for the most menial and most dangerous jobs in other lands contradicts. Last year nearly a million Filipinos, over 3,000 daily, or half a million more than during Corazon Aquino’s term, left for various destinations, many driven by corrupt recruiters and desperate need. Obviously there are no jobs to be had at home in Arroyo’s “strong economy,” if some Filipinos have ended up dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, or awaiting execution in Middle East prisons for fighting off rapists or resisting brutal employers.
By claiming to have generated so many million jobs she also claimed to have reduced poverty—which the World Bank and local research groups warn has grown since 2001, reducing many to lives of daily hunger.
The hungry may now number two million. But they have to walk on those roads and bridges she’s built, as kick-back made as these are, and as literally enriching of the plunderers in the Department of Public Works and Highways and the contractors they collude with. With neither bread nor cake, the hungry have the streets to collapse on, and the bridges to jump off of.
And then there’s education, in which area she claimed to have constructed 95,000 classrooms, hired 60,000 teachers, and appropriated P1.5 billion for training teachers, especially those teaching English. That surely explains why many primary classes all over the archipelago are held under trees, and why levels of competence in the use of English in these parts are rapidly approaching Papua New Guinea pidgin.
But thanks to her, she also said, the country has weathered the global economic crisis through “unpopular measures”– like the imposition of new taxes most Filipinos can’t afford, and which includes taxes on the books many of them can no longer read.
Repeating an oft-repeated mantra, she said that popular after all she never wanted to be: instead what she wanted was “to work, to lead, to protect and preserve our country, our people.”
As everyone knows, Mrs. Arroyo has gotten what she wished for as far as popularity goes, her approval rating having been at basement level during the last four years. On the other hand, how well she’s protected the people is indicated by the finding, by human rights organizations including the Commission on Human Rights , that human rights violations such as extra- judicial killings, torture, abductions and enforced disappearances have multiplied since 2001 when Mrs. Arroyo became the beneficiary of EDSA 2.
The regime has also refused to sign the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICAED), and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Which makes sense in an insane way, the regime, through the military, being so obviously involved in disappearances, torture and the making of internal refugees.
Neither Mrs. Arroyo nor her piece sprang any surprises in the telling-it-as-it-is department. And that includes her staying clear of the issue of corruption, to curb which her administration has not only done little; it’s right in the forefront of it.
Her ninth SONA was the usual compilation of half-truths and total lies masked in the usual rhetoric that cheapens the words of both the English and Filipino languages by making them describe the opposite of what’s real. But what made her piece more than another ho-hum event was what it failed to say, and what that calculated failure suggested.
Certainly aware that what most Filipinos have wanted for years is, if she won’t leave ASAP, for her to categorically declare that she will peacefully surrender power to the next president in 2010, and that, in obedience to the popular will, she will no longer seek the amendment of the Constitution at this time, Mrs.Arroyo nevertheless refused to make either declaration.
Through that refusal she prevented any closure to the uncertainty and political divisions that in words though not in deeds she’s often claimed to be against. Through that willful default Mrs. Arroyo also managed to keep alive speculations that she’s either aspiring for another office, or– through some heinous plot like the “transition government” her misnamed “National Security Adviser” and his Jesuit capo have been peddling in the past several weeks– hang on to the perks and the power she so obviously relishes.
Either that, or, in keeping with her proclamation that she’s not interested in being popular, she simply doesn’t care enough for the sentiments of the people she claims to be serving and protecting to give them the assurance that there will be no constitutional amendments as 70 percent of Filipinos want, and that, as nearly the same number crave, that she’ll go peacefully in 2010 so someone worthier can take her place.
But it could also be both, which amounts to a malevolent indifference rooted in the medieval presumption that she need not really account for her actions. After all, she never wanted to be popular, despite the fact that popularity in the sense of acceptance and approval is the first condition of democratic governance. In Mrs. Arroyo’s universe the SONA is not so much a report accountable presidents must make to the people as it’s just another occasion for a display of the same arrogance of power that has enabled her to ride roughshod over public opinion.