The EON Public Affairs and Government Relations group reflects on the guideposts of President Aquino’s recent State of the Nation Address for 2012, and offers perspectives in maintaining vigilance on pronouncements made by the Chief Executive. (Published 01 August 2012)
In his 3rd State of the Nation Address, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III said that it is possible to forgive but not to forget. PNoy vowed to pursue those who broke the law and make them pay for the injustices they committed – whoever they are, whatever power they have, and whichever office they hold.
EON enumerates the key points made by the President in his latest SONA and shares its thoughts on PNoy’s lines that he says we should not forget.
1.THE PHILIPPINES IS NO LONGER THE SICK MAN OF ASIA.
PNoy talked with pride about the country’s strong economic showing. With the Philippine stock exchange index reaching all-time highs, eight positive credit ratings,, , and a 6.4% GDP growth, the Philippines, the President said, is no longer the sick man of Asia. Good news for the Philippine country brand!
The Aquino administration’s efforts to promote good governance and accountability help lift the Philippine image on the global stage. The country’s corruption perception index improved, its global competitiveness ranking moved 10 notches higher, and, it inched ahead of Indonesia, Vietnam, China, and India in the 2012 Economic Freedom Index.
In his SONA, the President cited ASEAN leaders’ and Foreign Media Policy magazine’ remark that the Philippines is on its way to becoming “Asia’s next tiger”. He also quoted Ruchir Sarma of Emerging Market Equities who said that “the Philippines is no longer a joke” as well as Bloomberg Businessweek’s advice to “keep an eye on the Philippines”.
Given the good press that the Philippines now enjoys, it is imperative for the government to translate these into tangible results for ordinary Filipinos. Equally important is that these good numbers are communicated and built upon. Today is the perfect opportunity to consolidate these gains and trumpet them to international stakeholders and the investors’ community. The country brand Philippines must be pushed with much vigor, credibility, and a sense of urgency. The Philippines may no longer be the sick man of Asia, but the greater challenge is to make sure investors believe and put in their money in the country.
2. HEALTH, EDUCATION, AND HOUSING FOR THE FILIPINO PEOPLE.
“Nothing is impossible,” said PNoy after he enumerated the positive changes during his first three years in office and highlighted the delivery of social services for Filipinos who need them most. But while Cabinet officials were praised for a job well done, they were also instructed to meet specific targets – promises that the nation should not forget and should monitor if delivered. Start making that checklist now!
The Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Program, according to PNoy, enabled 3 million poor Filipino families to send their children to school and avail themselves of basic health services such as maternal care and vaccination. The President also shared other good news such as increased memberships and expanded scope of PhilHealth, higher subsidy for state universities and colleges, reduced unemployment rate, AFP modernization, and a housing program for soldiers and policemen, among others.
The SONA painted a rosy picture of the ‘future Philippines’ with better airports countrywide, the classroom backlog addressed, maternal mortality rate reduced, increased pensions for the elderly. Yet all these are promises that have yet to be realized. Thus, as the President showered his Cabinet officials with praises for jobs well done, he also issued marching orders and reiterated specific targets for different sectors. Pressure to achieve them doubles as PNoy reiterated that he is personally accountable for each of the promises made by his administration.
If there is one thing that the people should not forget, it is the list of the promises made during the SONA. When the appropriate time comes, we hope all that remains on that list are tick marks symbolizing the word “accomplished”.
3. GROWTH IN KEY INDUSTRIES
Better road and transport networks, the Philippines as a rice and coconut exporter, 10 million tourists and US$25 billion outsourcing revenue by 2016 -- things are looking good for infrastructure, agriculture, tourism, and the BPO sector if the SONA is to be believed. But how competitive are the local industries amid the prospect of integration of the ASEAN economy?
President Aquino cited the country’s improved rice production and decreasing dependence on rice imports. He wowed the audience with his report on the 15-million liter increase in coconut water exports, and the US$11 billion revenues of the BPO sector. He told his audience it is certainly going to be “more fun in the Philippines” when the country meets the 4.6 million and 10 million tourism arrivals target in 2012 and 2016, respectively. The President paraded a list of new, upgraded, and remodeled airports to rise countrywide and talked about a 1 hour and 40 minute travel time from Clark to Calamba once the SLEX/NLEX Connector Highway is completed.
Infrastructure is key to sustaining the gains achieved by the local industries and it is good to know that the administration is prioritizing initiatives under this sector. Ensuring the competitiveness of the industries, however, goes beyond hard infrastructure. The current business and market landscape demands more from both the government and the private sector. Policies, reforms, and enabling legislation are some of the factors driving investments, trade, and other business activities.
These are particularly important with the prospect of regional economic integration. In 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) is expected to be realized. As an ASEAN member county, how will the Philippines compete and perform in a single market with free flow of goods, services, investments, capital, and skills? Therefore, it is important for it to build its competitive advantages. Government agencies like the DTI, DOTC, DOF, DOLE, and DFA – in cooperation with industry groups and business leaders – have a lot of homework to do.
4. LEGISLATIVE MEASURES PUSHED
The SONA laid out four major bills for Filipino legislators – sin tax, anti-money laundering, mining, and responsible parenthood. Can Congress deliver?
A more rationalized sin tax is seen as a source of funding for Universal Health Care, a priority project area of the administration. The House of Representatives has passed the Sin Tax Bill on 3rd reading although the Senate has yet to approve its own version. The sin tax reform measure is likely to be passed in the Congress given strong support from Aquino allies.
The proposed mining bill may take an uphill journey in the Congress. The bill seeks to address ambiguous issues in the mining industry and increase excise tax on mining from 2% to 5%-7%. Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how legislators will work on amending the Anti-Money Laundering Act following recent debates on foreign currency deposits during the impeachment trial of former Chief Justice Renato Corona.
PNoy’s mention of responsible parenthood triggered debate among advocates from both opposing and supporting parties of the Reproductive Health (RH) bill. Supporters interpreted PNoy’s statement as an endorsement of the RH bill but opponents think otherwise. Amid the ambiguous stand of the President, one thing is certain – RH bill debates on the Senate and House of Representatives will be far from over.
PNoy’s third SONA generally gathered positive comments owing to the wide range of issues it addressed, its figure-backed statements, and inspiring messages. It is also refreshing that this year’s SONA no longer made mention of the supposed ills of the past administration.
Between now and 2016, when he steps down, the President faces increasing pressure to deliver on his promises in the hopes that this will lead to the advancement of the Philippines. It is therefore imperative for Filipinos to listen, remember, and monitor all the issues that the government commits to address and the promises that it made.
The EON Public Affairs and Government Relations group specializes in providing public affairs and government relations expertise on legislative monitoring, strategic perception research, and policy advocacy.