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Opinion

The SONA

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

I was hoping that the State of the Nation Address would include the President’s plan to hasten our economic recovery following five quarters of sharp economic contractions. I was not so lucky. Neither did he present a plan to solve our COVID-induced health care and social problems. Instead, we got the obligatory praise for China, the usual protracted spiel on illegal drugs and a narration of accomplishments, many of which were from 2017 and 2018.

I’m sure he confused many foreign observers when he said “there is no room for lawlessness in the country,” only to threaten nine generals with a menacing, “I will kill you.”

The President’s last SONA marks the end of his fifth year in office. I doubt if anything significant will be accomplished after this, given Malacañang’s preoccupation with the elections. Thus, for the most part, what has been achieved so far is what we will be left with.

If anything, I feel a sense of loss since the President had all the opportunity to implement the difficult but necessary economic and political reforms needed to set the country on the path of   sustainable high growth. He had a super majority in the legislature and immense support from the populace, after all. So much could have been done. But alas, he had other priorities.

That said, let me start with what I count as the positives in the last five years.

Infrastructure development is President Duterte’s greatest achievement. Thanks to Secretary Art Tugade, government was able to complete 200 aviation-related projects, with 100 more in the pipeline. Among the completed projects is the brand new Clark International Airport, which will become operational soon. The fly in the ointment, however, is that Malacañang cancelled the much-needed renovation of NAIA to accommodate a political ally. For this, we will have to live with an ageing airport for at least seven more years. Good thing NAIA general manager Ed Monreal is able to make the most of the existing facilities.

In railways, 1,132 kilometers of train lines are in various stages of completion. In the maritime sector, 451 projects have been completed with 101 more projects ongoing. Bar none, the DOTr has been the most prolific department in the executive branch.

Tax reform is another achievement of the Duterte administration. Secretary Sonny Dominguez successfully pushed for the passage of the TRAIN and CREATE laws, both of which neutralize the inequities in our tax system. In the same vein, the Universal Health Care Law and Free Tertiary Education Laws were passed.

NEDA completed the well-considered medium-term development plan under the baton of former secretary Ernesto Pernia. Pernia was also the “voice of reason” with regards to the economy during his stint.

The establishment of the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) are the other positive legacies of the Duterte government. Working in tandem, ARTA and DICT hope to bring government services to the 21st century.

In defense, Secretary Delfin Lorenzana successfully carried out the modernization of the armed forces. Per my last review, the DND acquired two missile capable warships, Black Hawk helicopters, Scorpion submarines, among other hardware.

And these are the negatives….

Too glaring to ignore is the multitude of President Duterte’s broken promises. Among them is his promises to defend the country against China’s territorial grab. His promise to end corruption, to end illegal drugs, to end social injustice, to enforce judicial reforms, to end political dynasties, to end political turncoatism and to end the insurgency.

On China, the President’s Policy of Appeasement and Accommodation effectively enabled the enemy to advance its territorial grab. Worse, his refusal to enforce our victory at UNCLOS, referring to it as just a piece of paper (parroting the words of the Chinese ambassador), negates the single legal ruling that legitimizes Philippine ownership of the disputed waters. The President’s policy made China the runaway winner. For now.

Make no mistake, China will eat up more of our territories until the Philippine government pushes back. This is why it’s important that our next president be one who unequivocally opposes China’s tactics. We should not be fooled by fake patriots in 2022.

As for the rest of his campaign promises, he either reneged on them, made a joke of them or ignored them. Those who voted for him on the back of these promises must feel duped. In fact, many social ills even got worse. Corruption is back with a vengeance, social injustice is pervasive again and political dynasties are more entrenched than ever.

Malacañang’s selective enforcement of the law has emboldened those aligned with the administration to act with impunity. The allies operate with entitlement, they abuse with privilege and they commit graft as if it were their right.

Impudence (shamelessness) has become the overarching attitude of the ruling party. Nowhere is this more evident than in the President’s intention to run for vice president. Just because one can doesn’t mean one should. Having delicadeza is what makes us a civilized society… the opposite is true. We now have a clique of leaders bereft of scruples, morality and ethics. Shamelessness has become the culture among public officials and this carries long-term ramifications.

The President’s penchant for prioritizing political considerations over what is intelligent and sensible is evident in his political appointments. We are governed not by the best and brightest but by the most obedient. Thus, many of our leaders are mediocre and this is why the Philippines has spiraled in most development indices since 2017, including economic competitiveness and education.

Speaking of the economy, my column last week explained why the country’s finances have deteriorated even before the pandemic. Suffice it to say that the budget deficit and the national debt have ballooned to “concerning levels.” This is because the Duterte government relied on spending to drive the economy, not on investments, production and exports.

Unless quickly resolved, the next government will have no choice but to cut spending across the board. This will lead to slower economic expansion, less infrastructure spending and poorer public services. The alternative is to sink deeper into debt or depreciate the currency.

To sum up, while there have been favorable accomplishments, the Duterte administration failed to be the game-changing government it promised to be. In fact, the economy is less competitive, our institutions are weaker and the future is less promising.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

SONA 2021
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