FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 13, 2016 - 9:00am

Barack Obama is recognized as one of the most eloquent American presidents. It was that eloquence that enabled him to cut through the political party establishment and rise to become the first African-American president.

Yesterday, Obama outdid himself. He delivered a brilliant State of the Union address that looked far into the future and defined his country’s place in it.

This was Obama’s final State of the Union message, his legacy speech. He did not waste it with incoherence. Nor taint it with unwarranted claims. He did not waste the nation’s time by thanking his hairdresser or his tailor or any of his domestic crew like our president did when he delivered his last State of the Nation Address.

At the end of his speech, Obama left his people feeling a lot better about themselves – and perhaps feeling a lot more positive about the years he was at the helm. It was not a boastful speech like the ones we have gotten used to here. It was an agenda speech, outlining the challenges and the strategies to win the future.

In a word it was a most intelligent speech put together by an exemplary team of literary craftsmen.

Grand addresses, such as the State of the Union speech or the State of the Nation Address, are always the most difficult literary pieces to craft. The writer is tasked to weave together a great number of themes and topics using the least words to do so. The final product should be a coherent but colorful tapestry, a piece that tackles many ideas but comes across as comprehensible to as wide a swath of listeners as possible.

The temptation is great to be pedantic or monotonous, to hector instead of inspire, to be lost in the details by failing to reduce significances to size. In addition, the speech must consistently be in the speaker’s voice – or else he ends up sounding like somebody else.

This final State of the Union speech made Obama sound like vintage Obama. It tackled grand ideas in the plainest language the man on Main Street could grasp. Even when he had to criticize his political opponents, the speech did not lose elevation because he attacked ideas and not persons.

It was a speech that conveyed triumph even if it took care not to make Obama sound boastful. That was because all the many strands of the speech wove into a strong fabric, emphasizing that the country was on the right track and challenges will be firmly met.

This speech is every speechwriter’s envy. But then, not every speechwriter gets to work for someone like Obama: a visionary statesman gifted with exemplary eloquence.


And now from the sublime to the banal.

The Palace might seem nonchalant about the COA report about the DOTC’s missing toilets or that other audit report about the OPAPP faking signatures of ghost attendees to its consultative meetings. At the level of local governments, officials are a bit more vigilant regarding instances of graft and corruption.

Take the case of Butuan City, where 48 barangay chairmen took the initiative of filing a graft and plunder complaint at the Office of the Ombudsman against their own mayor. The complainants allege that Mayor Ferdinand M. Amante committed graft (and possibly plunder) for entering into an anomalous P253-million contract for the Butuan City Polysport Complex. The anomaly was documented by a derogatory COA report on the said project.

Included in the complaint are the members of the city’s bids and awards committee (BAC) as well as contractor Jesusito “Boyet” Legaspi.

According to the COA report, Amante and the bids and awards committee were remiss in disregarding the contractor’s failure to submit its list of personnel and their qualifications as part of the bid document. The COA said the mayor showed patent bias in favor of contractor JD Legaspi when he disregarded the latter’s failure to produce accreditation papers from the DPWH, the DOLE Accredited Certificate of Inspection and the TESDA Certificate of Operators.

The COA report likewise found the price proposal submitted by Legaspi exceeded by P2,188,304.16 the approved budget for the project. The contractor likewise overstated the cost of some components of the project, including backfill materials.

This is a textbook case of graft: an ineligible contractor wins a government contract at a cost way above estimate.

The COA report notes with dismay that the mayor and his BAC simply chose to overlook the “indispensable requirements and criteria” defined very clearly in the Government Procurement Reform Act. It was obvious to the state auditors that JD Legaspi is not technically qualified to “design and build” the project.

As a consequence, the project is undone.

The grandly named Butuan City Polysport Complex was scheduled to be built over a period of 210 days from Feb. 7, 2013 to September 2013. Well over two years from the turnover date agreed upon in the contract, the project remains incomplete. Because the contractor does not appear competent to do the project, this edifice might remain incomplete for many more years to come.

Butuan City’s barangay chairmen are not taking this sitting down. Armed with the COA report, they went right ahead to file the appropriate cases before the Ombudsman. It is now for the Ombudsman to act promptly on this well documented complaint.

If only the national administration could be as vigilant as the barangay officials of Butuan – instead of shielding favored members of the Cabinet even in the face of intense public indignation.

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