Among the supposed accomplishments he crowed about were the decline in the crime rate and the improved peace and order situation—claims that are at least as outlandish as the allegation that economic growth and the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) have benefitted the poor.
On the very same day that Benigno Aquino III was delivering his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), 23 men and women were killed in Sulu in an ambush by suspected Abu Sayyaf gunmen, while up and down the archipelago, murders hold-ups and rapes were going on unabated, no thanks to his favored and favorite creatures in this earthly paradise, the Philippine National Police and the military.
So crime-ridden is the country under Aquino’s watch that the previously unfamiliar phrase “men riding in tandem” to describe killers on motorcycles today regularly falls from the lips of even the most illiterate. Aquino didn’t devote a single word to it, but four journalists have also been killed this year, which he probably thinks is an improvement since ten were killed in the line of duty in 2013.
Instead of a pledge to do something about his indifference as far as the killing of journalists is concerned—25 have so far been killed for their work since 2010, while 17 others were killed for other reasons, adding up to 42 killed since he stumbled into the Presidency—Aquino singled out the military for praise for supposedly saving the day in the Zamboanga incident, swallowing hook line and sinker the generals’ claim that it was the MNLF fighters who burned the very communities where they had taken refuge.
In about the same breath Mr. Aquino pledged that those responsible for “high profile” crimes would be punished—and no, he didn’t mean the killers of journalists, environmentalists, clergymen, human rights defenders, lawyers and judges, or reformist local officials.
He was not even referring to the most high profile crime of all, the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre, but to the killing of a race car driver, indicating thereby what his priorities are. Those priorities do not include putting a stop to the culture of impunity by identifying and punishing those guilty of the violence against journalists, social activists and anyone else who takes seriously the task of holding government to account.
If he didn’t breathe a word about the Ampatuan Massacre, neither did Aquino mention Freedom of Information, several bills on which are pending in the House of Representatives. By not mentioning FOI, Aquino sent his allies in the aptly named lower House the same message he’s been sending them since 2010: that he’s against an FOI law. That’s why his allies have filed so many FOI bills in that House of ill repute: it’s their way of so complicating everything it’s become nearly impossible to have any halfway decent discussion on any one of the 20 versions of an FOI bill, while making it seem that every last one of the alleged representatives of the people are for public access to government-held information.
And why should Aquino even mention the Ampatuan Massacre? After all, the news from that front is that the trial of those accused of planning and carrying it out is likely to end in the same mockery of justice the justice system is so expert at.
The prosecutors of the department of justice have told the court that they’re no longer “inclined” to present more evidence against all the arraigned accused and are ready to rest their case despite the private prosecutors’ objections that the court had not yet admitted the testimonies of witnesses to prove conspiracy. Secretary Laila de Lima, who’s running for senator in 2016, apparently approves of her prosecutors’ plan despite a media statement she made last March. That was when private prosecutor Nena Santos was complaining that the decision to rest the prosecution’s case was premature. De Lima then said she was still to decide on whether that indeed was the proper course to take, but has apparently approved her prosecutors’ decision, which increases the chances of a mistrial that would further encourage more killings.
The DOJ prosecutors’ decision has understandably aroused suspicions that, for the usual reasons, they’re no longer, or have never been, interested in prosecuting the case. Which leads us to the corruption issue, and to the main plank of what passes for an Aquino platform.
In 2010 Aquino declared that there would be no poor without corruption. But the most recent Social Weather Stations survey found that 12.1 million people now consider themselves poor. That’s two percent more than earlier this year, which translates to 600,000 more Filipinos who believe that they live poverty-stricken lives.
If, as Aquino himself has declared, there’s a direct connection between corruption and poverty, would not the growth in the number of poor Filipinos mean that corruption has become even worse?
Not that one even needs to make the connection between poverty and corruption to realize that public sector corruption is at least continuing if it hasn’t increased. The diversion of pork barrel funds to ghost NGOs suggests that corruption is unabated, even as controversies continue to haunt the awarding of government contracts with the private sector.
Aquino also made a big show of disclosing how much has been appropriated for the construction of roads and bridges and other infrastructure. But as the PDAF scandal revealed, funds may be appropriated for certain purposes without the money necessarily being spent for them.
And did anyone notice that—perhaps understandably, given his petulant refusal to recognize the supremacy of the Constitution over the Administrative Code of 1987—he didn’t mention the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that his administration signed a few months ago, and which, like PDAF and DAP, is probably as unconstitutional for allowing foreign troops and nuclear weapons into the country?
Some Aquino admirers say we should evaluate Mr. Aquino’s fifth SONA for what it said and not for what it failed to say. But what he said, we can safely assume, had been selected for its positive impact. What he didn’t say he avoided precisely for what it would show about the kind of governance he’s been inflicting on the country since 2010.
What he didn’t say said much more about the real state of the nation than all the rhetoric and the numbers in his latest, 91-minute litany of self-congratulations. And yet, only a few words will serve to describe the real state of the nation: it’s poor, it’s crime-ridden, it’s putrid with corruption, it’s ruled by a visionless, self-centered political class that mocks its own laws including the Constitution, and it’s a veritable killing field for journalists and anyone else who dares exercise his or her alleged right to free expression. What Aquino didn’t say said it all.
First published in BusinessWorld