Anticipating the future, reviewing the past

The most anticipated speech of the year will be delivered on Monday, as the President, Benigno Simeon Aquino III will give his second State of the Nation Address. A review of his first year of office and a projection of future projects of his government.

After riding a giant wave of sympathy to elevate himself to a landslide victory in the 2010 elections the newly elected Head of State delivered a speech that to most fell flat on its face. Holding no real value, faulty information nor long-term solutions and moreover described as a “complaint sheet, [and] a compendium of motherhood statements”.

Even caught its share of flak by reporting on the first SONA in an article entitled “We can dream again”. The article has been called “false publicity”, and “pathetically pleads for [that first Aquino] SONA to be perceived by the public to be a forward-looking solutions-focused message.”

Critics were very specific to highlight the statistics of the speech itself citing that the President “devoted 1,558 words out of the 4,055 words in his 35-minute [speech] to whining about the plunder of the National Budget and the salaries and bonuses of some Government employees. ” That’s 38.4% dedicated to saying that his government is broke due to the “corruption” of the previous administration.

However, this overwhelming sentiment was countered by Senator Edcel Lagman the very next day who in his own speech entitled “Sound and Fury of President Aquino’s SONA” said quoting the Bureau of Treasury.

“The total cash disbursement or the national government expenditures as of June 30, 2010 amounted to close to P789 billion. This means that close the P752 billion pesos or 48 percent of the budget remains unspent. The problem in the President’s accounting must have been caused by a lack of understanding of the difference between allocation as covered by a Special Allotment Release Order and actual disbursement to pay accrued or matured obligations,”

An inheritance of P752 billion pesos can hardly qualify an institution to call itself broke. This statement was corroborated by Former Presidential Management Staff (PMS) chief Elena Bautista-Horn in a Philippine Star report saying

“First of all, the President should also realize that 100 percent of the annual budget for government salaries or personnel services, and 75 percent of other operating expenses are automatically deemed disbursed on the very first working day. As such, the present administration would, in fact, have the convenience of having already paid for future salaries of government personnel and other operating expenses. It’s probably worth checking with Secretary Abad as well if, by the word ‘releases,’ is he referring to actual cash disbursements or just allocations or SAROs (Special Allocation Release Order) to the different government agencies which they may have not spent yet,”

It is worth noting that there is evidence that the President was indeed fed fallacious information during his first SONA when he gaffed even on the most basic of accounting terms. A very vivid example was the term ‘depleted budget’. A ‘budget’ does not necessarily imply the existence of actual money. A budget is ‘planned expenditure’, and as such, the concept of a ‘depleted budget’ does not make sense. We may exceed a budget, but to say it’s been ‘depleted’ is to state an oxymoron.

Three other large highlights in his SONA were (1) the formation of the Truth Commission that was supposed to review all the allegations of corruption in the past administration, which ended up dead in the water. (2) The plan to elevate the nations economy by using Private-Public Partnerships (PPP) but, as the Tribune reported a few days ago foreign investors are still reluctant to place money into the local economy. Stating that the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and South Korean investors want stronger assurance that laws and policies were stable. Unconvinced of the fact because the country still suffered from weak rule of law, and unpredictable policies.

An example of this could be found in the much touted preview of the SONA, the Independence Day speech. The President delivered two such speeches, one of them was in Kawit where P-Noy “exposed the corrupt contracts” with the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA).

The project was supposed to be financed with official development assistance (ODA) undertaken by Baggerwerken Decloedt en Zoon providing the country with 272 million euros (P18 billion). President Aquino ordered to cancel the contracts on the ground that they did not go through proper bidding procedure despite the fact that ODA projects do not require bidding, since the donor government designates the project’s contractor, and despite Justice Secretary Leila de Lima’s clearance of the project.

Miraculously, Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme wrote a letter to Mr. Aquino on March 16 asking him to reconsider his order, and emphasizing that the project will “alleviate flooding (in Metro Manila), improve local transport infrastructure and increase water capacity”. P-Noy did not reply to this and even threatened that the Belgians would be investigated for tax-evasion and graft they are now spreading the word that Mr. Aquino is not only incompetent to understand ODA projects, he does not even realize the adverse economic impact to his country of unilaterally canceling international contracts. All of it of course was no ones fault but P-Noys.

Finally, (3) No wang-wang. Well, that’s gonna fix all the country’s problems.

Anyone following the Presidents speeches will quickly find a pattern emerging in how he chooses to tackle the difficulties of government, “blame Arroyo”. Whether it be unemployment, the Spratlys issue, rice shortage etc., We can be reasonably certain to assume this juvenile style of governance will be demonstrated again on Monday. All of his critics are actually hoping to be proven wrong at least on this point. Pointing fingers and avoiding responsibility is no way to become an effective leader.

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