MANILA, Philippines - In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, President Aquino said he would shock his listeners with a litany of his predecessor’s alleged misdeeds and how they had shrunk the national budget from P1.54 trillion to just over P100 billion.
“I’m not comfortable revealing the details to you now. But you’ll be surprised at what’s left of the budget,” Mr. Aquino told reporters in Filipino.
“There will be at least a minimum of five (anomalies) that we have uncovered. You will be very, very surprised at the things that we have discovered,” Mr. Aquino said.
“I think the common reaction was, among those who already know, the expression was, ‘Ha? They did that? Why did they do that?’ There is really no sense, no rhyme, no reason, but we will be the ones to fix that,” he said.
Mr. Aquino explained that little is left of the current budget because much of it had either been used or earmarked for congressional initiatives.
The President said he has instructed Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and his other officials to “re-sharpen their pencils and do the computation again” to determine why only 10 percent of the original budget was left when it was only the middle of the year.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Mr. Aquino said of the ongoing re-computation.
Mr. Aquino did not use the word bankrupt in describing the current fiscal condition but said the government would have to work on revenue generation measures.
He admitted that the figures he mentioned would be verified so that he would be able to give the public the correct information on Monday.
Mr. Aquino said the budget would be a “major part” of the SONA because the people would have to be informed of the capabilities and limitations of his administration for this year.
The President said they were now on the “fourth or fifth” rewrite of the speech because the initial SONA documents had “24 pages, single spaced, font (size) 16.”
“I said this is too much and I have to be very, very careful of what I say because it might create the wrong impression,” the President said.
He stressed that the current water shortage would be treated in his SONA as one of the urgent concerns his administration would have to address immediately.
He said even the Calamity Fund had been misused to benefit selected districts.
“It seems there was a particular district that benefited that was not affected by ‘Basyang’ or even ‘Ondoy’ or ‘Pepeng’ but 20 percent of the 70 percent (funds used) allegedly went to this district,” Mr. Aquino said.
Mr. Aquino stressed that they would have to get a clearer picture of the problem so that proper solutions could be put in place.
“If you misidentify the problem you are guaranteed to not come up with the correct solution and you will exacerbate the problem,” he said.
“The problems left a lot of us gasping at what has been done,” Mr. Aquino said.
“In terms of gaining knowledge, Monday’s SONA will really shed light on so many things,” Mr. Aquino said.
He also said his administration might re-align some funds or tap the Kilos Asenso savings program of the Arroyo administration.
“How do we take care of the funds? There is an authority to realign savings. There are savings coming from a program called Kilos Asenso. This has been there since 2004 and there have been allegations that there are no guidelines; bottom line, there are no takers for the fund, it’s about P1 billion or P1.5 billion that can be tapped (to counter) the depletion of the calamity funds,” Mr. Aquino said.
Aquino added the drive against tax evaders and smugglers as well as other schemes could enhance the government’s revenue collection.
“(We will) seek the help of the legislature to enact certain laws that would enable us to do innovative solutions,” Mr. Aquino said.
He declined to elaborate, saying he’d “rather be the doer than the promiser.”
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the first SONA would be “straightforward and will also be in Filipino” with “intersperses of English.”
“Well, this is the first SONA of the President so we’re coming from the situation where we’re going to inevitably describe what we inherited from the past administration. So there will be a discussion of, for instance, the problems left behind by the Arroyo administration,” he said.
“How you put it, how you describe it – whether it’s criticism or not – it’s going to be factual,” Lacierda stressed.
“The things that would be described, the ills that we are inheriting – these are all factually-based, there will be no criticism beyond the objective presentation of the ills that we are inheriting,” he said.
But for former President Fidel V. Ramos, Mr. Aquino’s first SONA should focus on the positive.
“For me, it (message) is healing because the country is wounded,” Ramos said.
“The composition of the SONA can be anything. But if they would talk about the problems of the past, which had been discussed interminably, just talk about the future. It should be a bit brighter,” he said.
Will she attend SONA?
As the new representative of Pampanga’s second district, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presence is expected at the opening of the 15th Congress, but will she stay long enough for President Aquino’s SONA?
“I think the former president will attend the SONA since it will be more awkward if she didn’t,” said La Union Rep. Victor Ortega, chairman of Lakas-Kampi-CMD for Northern Luzon.
Rep. Arroyo chose to be silent on the issue when sought for comment at Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga where she, along with Lakas-Kampi-CMD House members, attended a training course on the “dynamics of legislation.”
Mrs. Arroyo’s son Camarines Sur Rep. Diosdado Arroyo said he would attend Monday’s SONA, but declined to say if his mother would also be attending.
“Ask her, I am not her spokesman,” he told reporters.
Neophyte Pangasinan Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil also said he expected all Lakas-Kampi-CMD members to be at Mr. Aquino’s SONA.
Another Arroyo ally, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, also said he wasn’t aware of the former president’s plans for Monday.
“I am not privy to that information,” he said.
Harry Potter theme
Militant groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said they would come up with a Harry Potter themed visual representation of Mr. Aquino during their planned SONA rally, Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes said.
An artist group, Ugat Lahi, has been commissioned to produce a “kinder” effigy of Mr. Aquino. The same group had made effigies of Arroyo for her nine SONAs.
Mr. Aquino, Ugat Lahi said, would be portrayed as a magician waving his wand, and surrounded with effigies representing the different problems of the country.
“President Aquino campaigned on the strength of promises of change. As president, he is in the best position to address the people’s demands for change,” said Max Santiago of the Ugat Lahi Artists Collective, one of the artists working on the effigy.
“After showing the effigy, we will listen to President Aquino’s speech, since we are interested to know whether or not he will take up the challenge of carrying out the reforms the country badly needs at this time,” he said.
Reyes, for his part, said he was disappointed with Mr. Aquino’s call for them to just hold their rally at the Quezon City Memorial Circle.
“We had hoped the new administration would be more flexible in listening to the peoples’ clamor for change. His predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, during her first SONA, allowed rallyists to march as far as the Sandiganbayan and Batasan Road,” Reyes recalled.
“Our issues include human rights, jobs, land, social services and justice and the various problems left behind by the Arroyo regime. If the issue is simply traffic, this can be easily discussed and resolved, as had been done before,” he pointed out.
Reyes said even the Commission on Human Rights had expressed openness to allowing militant groups to march close to Batasan during a dialogue with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Quezon City government.
“The PNP itself did not immediately object. We would have wanted our lawmakers and top government officials to see the different issues of the various sectors, which would be impossible if the rally would be hidden inside the QCMC. We would have also wanted to listen to P-Noy’s first SONA,” Reyes said.
Reyes stressed that launching of mass actions during a SONA has long been a tradition and part of the democratic process.
Aurea Calica, Philippine Star