The second SONA
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan () - July 25, 2011 - 12:00am

When President Aquino delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), the end of wang-wang and self-promoting billboards of politicians, plus presidential speeches delivered almost entirely in conversational Filipino were the most dramatic changes under the new administration.

As in his inaugural speech, the first SONA dwelled on the mess that P-Noy inherited from his predecessor, which he intended to straighten out.

Today, as P-Noy delivers his second SONA, the prohibitions on wang-wang and billboards are still generally holding, with occasional violations. But people aren’t impressed when positive change is sustained in this country. The end of wang-wang and self-promoting billboards is remarkable for a month or two. But after nearly 13 months in office, the President is expected to present a much longer list of accomplishments, or at least one major dramatic achievement.

Fidel Ramos, in the first few months of his presidency, said, “let there be light,” and there was light.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, in her first few months in power, had her predecessor arrested and detained without bail for plunder, and she survived EDSA III. A credit rating upgrade to a notch shy of investment grade can’t compare, unless P-Noy manages to explain the possible impact of that upgrade on livelihoods.

For nearly a year GMA enjoyed the protection of people she had put in the right places to protect her back. For some time after Noynoy Aquino assumed power, foreigners kept asking me if Pinoys just imagined the sins imputed on the Arroyo administration. Now that several of GMA’s friends in the right places are gone, or hounded out of office by charges of tax evasion and graft, and even what’s left of her political allies are deserting her, Joseph Estrada may yet see his successor suffer his fate.

P-Noy delivers his SONA this afternoon amid plunder charges filed and other accusations hurled against GMA and several of her former officials. Not surprisingly, she is skipping the SONA.

People who didn’t vote for Benigno Aquino III will see nothing good about the current state of the nation or his speech today. The same goes for people who supported him but didn’t get the quid pro quo they had expected.

Then there will be the legitimately discontented – people who are poorer, hungrier and more marginalized than they were at the start of the Aquino administration.

There is also valid disappointment even among his staunch supporters, who believe some of his kabarilan and kaklase are leading him astray from his daang matuwid. Some people roll their eyes as they relate puerile chitchat at P-Noy’s Malacañang.

That’s a lot of discontent that P-Noy will have to address.

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Like his late mother, P-Noy is being accused of vindictiveness and dwelling too much on the past. Even some Catholic bishops, who have a lot of reason to forget their past, are urging him to move on.

But Pinoys also like to quote George Santayana’s admonition that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

We are Santayana’s poster boys. Pinoys are so notoriously forgiving and forgetful that since the Marcos regime, all sins have been forgiven and forgotten. The sins are repeated over and over precisely because people see that they can get away with everything including murder.

If the Aquino administration didn’t go after those suspected of wrongdoing under GMA, P-Noy would also be criticized for amnesia, and perhaps be suspected of benefiting from some of the crookedness. So his lieutenants should just forge ahead, making sure charges of plunder and tax evasion would hold up in court, or they would all be accused of conducting a witch-hunt.

At the very least, seeing all these individuals under investigation, banned from traveling abroad, their assets frozen, and with some of them even placed under arrest should make public officials think twice before engaging in crooked deals under P-Noy’s watch. What all these cases are doing is making public officials think: I might get away with this now, but will the next administration go after me?

Defenders of GMA have said that considering the nature of Philippine politics and society, she did what she had to do to get desired results for the nation’s good. It’s a theme that also runs through the arguments of those accused of misusing public funds ostensibly for charitable purposes: the end justifies the means. There’s always hell to pay in following that Machiavellian argument.

It’s up to P-Noy to show that there are other ways of achieving similar if not better results, without causing long-term institutional damage and weakening the foundations of the republic.

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In the face of recent criticism, P-Noy has asked for patience, and huffed that he was voted for six years not one. His underlying message is that with the mess he inherited, change isn’t going to happen overnight.

Still, P-Noy cannot dwell too long on the mess and the sins of the past when he delivers his SONA. GMA’s fate he can leave up to his feisty justice secretary, and especially to the incoming ombudsman, who if some Palace denizens are correct is going to be Conchita Carpio-Morales, with Gerard Mosquera as understudy of sorts.

What people want to hear in the SONA is not bigger troubles ahead for GMA or her former officials, but how P-Noy intends to make the nation shed its growing reputation as Asia’s laggard, and how he sees the state of the nation five years on.

People want to hear his plans on gut issues: livelihood opportunities, financing and market access, better health care and education, infrastructure to spur economic activity, and the creation of an environment that will bring in major investments to create enough decent jobs.

P-Noy is still popular enough to get Congress on his side in his legislative agenda, and the people behind his reforms. Every President since his mother has seen his or her popularity slide progressively after the first year. P-Noy must seize the moment; there’s not a second to lose.

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