July 28, 2008. It was my second SONA (State of the Nation Address) rally. This year’s mobilization was definitely larger than last year. It was a broad-alliance rally of BAYAN (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) and other political opposition groups. I went there as a member of the University Student Council along with my other colleagues in the institution.
More than a hundred UP students joined the march all the way from Diliman to the rally site near Ever Gotesco Mall along Commonwealth Avenue. Some of my blockmates from UP College of Law even joined the rally after our Legal History class that morning.
I shall just repost the editorial we have for the current issue of Oblation, the official newsletter of the University Student Council.
OBLATION ISSUE #2 EDITORIAL
When power becomes an end in itself, and not a means for the common good, moral judgments are bound to take the backseat. And so, the annual State of the Nation Address — meant to truthfully report on the president’s progress for the year — has evolved into a tool for deception.
Since 2001, Gloria Arroyo has trumpeted her administration’s achievements. Elaborate cover-up techniques were employed, with numbers and rhetoric as her most potent weapons. The littlest improvements were exaggerated, harsh statistics were ignored, and outmoded yet positive data were favored over the recent but negative figures. Consistently, the end result is a rosy picture of the national fabric, even when reality tells of bleak prospects. Yet, a closer look on Arroyo’s fiscal reforms reveals sinister details.
This year, Arroyo chose to laud the unpopular Expanded Value Added Tax (VAT), crediting the regressive measure for providing the necessary cushion amid the global economic crisis. “Ito ang nakasalba sa bayan,” she proclaims. Seemingly, the success of future government initiatives, pro-poor programs, debt servicing, and infrastructure projects hinged on one aspect alone — the additional profits generated by VAT. “Take VAT away and you and I abdicate our responsibility as leaders and pull the rug from under our present and future progress, which may be compromised by the global crisis,” she further declared. Amid disbelieving ears, Arroyo punctuates this statement with a glowing report of development. “We ended 2007 with the strongest economic growth in a generation. Inflation was low, the peso strong, and a million new jobs were created,” she stated with a smile.
Quidquid latet, adparebit. Nil inultum remanebit. Yet, all that is covered shall be unmasked, all that is hidden shall be known. In a PCIJ report, UP Economics Prof. Ernesto Pernia pointed that while the global recession wrought adverse effects on practically all countries, neighboring regions such as Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam fared better than the Philippines. Despite the absence of regressive tax measures, the relative strength of their economies was key in weathering the oil and food crisis. In contrast, Pernia describes Philippine economy as “weak,” predicting a collapse in the markets following a brewing financial typhoon. Economic experts agree that Arroyo’s policies have largely been in the wrong for the last seven years, aggravating an already unstable national economy. With no financial security to speak of, the most vulnerable sectors are also the most hard-hit. More and more people are constrained by the dearth of opportunities as poverty rates increase from 30 per 100 in 2003 to 33 per 100 in 2006.
Government response, however, is characterized by a lack in both insight and foresight. Social desirables such as democratized education, employment opportunities, adequate income, sound housing projects, and affordable healthcare system have largely been missing in government plans. Instead, efforts were wasted on “band-aid solutions,” such as oil and rice subsidies and cash dole-outs. These policies are essentially populist, aimed at boosting Arroyo’s popularity while failing to safeguard the majority from the recurrence or exacerbation of the crises. Certainly, the rise in poverty levels is cause for alarm. Yet, this trend is bound to continue for as long as government is preoccupied with palliative measures that are more of a bane than a boon.
With limited national resources, Arroyo must concentrate on solutions that will have a lasting effect on the population while shielding the country from similar predicaments. For in the final analysis, all presidents are weighed according to one standard — the assurance of the future of the Filipino people. This, in turn, is guaranteed by measures that address the root cause and not merely the symptoms of the malady.
“Leadership is not about doing the first easy thing that comes to mind; it is about doing what is necessary, however hard,” said Arroyo to a country where millions are hungry for opportunity. Yet, the Filipino people deserve more than empty and deceptive rhetoric. Substantial and palpable changes are in order, for there is no other alternative but to perish.