Let me begin by saying that you will be reading a SONA reaction from a loyal Noynoy Aquino supporter. However, this does not mean that I will be singing kumbaya with my President at all times – just because. Having said that, I will try to be fair with Gloria Arroyo (Can you imagine me saying that? I must be going nuts!) By saying that the findings would have been more believable if it was conducted by a third-party and/or independent auditors and I’m certainly not referring to the Commission on Audit because I’m really confused what their role is, given the unrelenting news on graft and corruption. It would probably serve the nation best, to have each department be audited by independent auditors.
Now, let me start by saying that for all the bruhaness of Gloria Arroyo, it is shocking to finally find out, that she has no balls after all, to face the sitting president just like what educated leaders in the west does. So much for respect, for we know who does not deserve one. If indeed Noynoy Aquino’s numbers were erroneous, she could have offered a rebuttal right after the speech, similar to what is being practiced in the United States after every State of the Union Address by the sitting President, where in a rebuttal will be issued by the other party to counter whatever charges or claims unpalatable to the opposition. But here, all that Gloria Arroyo can do is fly her equally [insert a really ugly word here] husband to Hong Kong.
Blame the teasers for there is nothing memorable in the speech anymore. It doesn’t have the umpt! or the “I have a dream” inspiration or persuasion. In my opinion, our President made a mistake by discussing to the media the meat of his speech. It would have been more dramatic and piercing to see Gloria Arroyo at the Plenary Hall while he was delivering his punches. We love telenovelas, don’t we?
As expected, the President started very nervously with the first part of his speech delivered in a machine-gun style sans pause. I was shouting in front of my laugh-top, “Breath Mr. President! Breath! Even if it’s not budgeted!” A little past halfway during the speech was when he became comfortable and slowed down his delivery. It’s obvious that our President needs a little help in the speech delivery department.
There were two portions of the speech. First, the current state of the nation or better, the national budget, but in a very limited form, devoid of details, which to me sounded more like a continuation of the teasers whom Noynoy had originally provided to the media earlier.
The second part of his speech is what he wanted to happen. In fairness, as shallow as the speech was, he was direct. The speech might be devoid of vision, but he was clear on what he wanted to happen. The promised shock factor was missing.
But if you go back to his speech during the proclamation, he was consistent. He wanted an inventory of what he was inheriting from the previous administration. This was just but proper. There really has to be a demarcation line of responsibility. This was the reason of the first part of the speech by outlining the current state of the national budget but again, in a very limited form.
Understand that the electorate pushed him to this position with a very clear mandate and with a very clear wanting: end corruption. Therefore, he was right on the mark by outlining the fiscal irresponsibility of the previous administration, the unbelievable waste, abuses and irregularities, ridiculous midnight appointments, improper and/or wasteful spending or usage of governmental funds, using power or favoritism over one district as opposed to those districts directly affected by calamities, in fact, you can call it electioneering for it was well within the campaign period, if I hear the President correctly.
But while he provided a solid example of what abuse and fiscal irresponsibility by pushing MWSS in the picture, he stopped short of providing an answer, a penalty, a punishment to a very important question silently asked by all of us: what are you going to do with these corrupt MWSS executives? I heard nothing. He only said something to the effect of a voluntary resignation. I was confused if he was powerless insofar as these people were concerned.
In my mind, a strong leader would have fired these abusive people already. Why did he not do anything? If there is an impediment for him to get rid of these people, why was it not discussed in the speech? Barrio folks will not understand the legal intricacies as to why these corrupt MWSS officials were still allowed to sit despite the seemingly positive graft findings discussed in the speech. In the private enterprise world, it would have been spelled hasta la vista!
One delightful insight though, one mark of a great boss is that if the boss would have no shame in commending his staff – anywhere. This is what I like from the President. He mentioned several Cabinet Officials but what stuck in my mind was his commendation to Mr. Rogelio Singson for discovering some pre-signed contracts relative to some P3.5 billion allocation and/or a special allotment release order. In other words, from what I hear, the contracts have already been signed even without any proper bidding done.
But I also have my own questions on some of the items pointed out by the President. For example:
They spent more than what they earned.
If I were the President, I will be careful using this against Gloria Arroyo. Why? Because this is exactly how you silently define a government for I have not heard of any government administration that stuck to their budget and managed a truly balanced budget. In a perfect nirvana world of government administration, you can only spend based on how much you earn. There are problems here. During the budget process, several calculations are made in terms of tax revenues, for example, or sources of funds. More often than not, some of these calculations tend to be higher. Why? To justify domestic and/or foreign loans to bridge the gap, besides, there is always the next administration to worry about finding sources of funds to resolve the budget deficit or emergency disbursements. Who remembers Noli de Castro using that argument when he signed some developer contract payments? Anyone? And here’s another thing; tax collection is always a problem. So what do I mean by saying that the President has to be careful with this finding? Because he cannot surrender social services at the expense of having a balanced budget and because there is always the possibility for his administration to run into a budget deficit given the inherent deficiencies in the system, especially tax collection.
Depleted the budget
The use of the word “depleted the budget” was confusing. The way I understood it, all the numbers on the approved budget have already been allocated. By allocation, it means that they have already been earmarked to certain projects. But allocating a budget does not necessarily mean that it has already been spent. In other words, it could be possible that there were no disbursements made yet. And so therefore, the thinking goes that the money is there. It depends – it could be there or maybe there are no funds after all. In government administration, you will run across a situation where:
a.) There could be an approved budget
b.) There was an allocation made based on the approved budget
c.) Bidding could have already been made for the approved budget
d.) The kicker is that, there is no source of funds yet, worse, someone diverted the funds.
Did you hear the President mentioned that the Senior Citizen Discount Legislation was not covered by any revenue source? Who introduced this?! Who passed this?! Who voted for this?! How come every single one of them forgot the memo! Now why someone would introduce legislation like this without identifying the source of funds first is [insert nasty word here]. Any smart and intelligent lawmaker will have to come up with a revenue source first, before passing a law like this. That’s rule number one when trying to pass a legislation that involves funding.
Now, as I have said in my Prelude to the State of the Nation Address, I am not shocked at what the President had told the nation with regards to their findings.
That Gloria Arroyo abused the national budget and used a good portion of it in electioneering.
That MWSS were a bunch of crocodiles
That DPWH arbitrarily changed, diverted and wasted government projects
That utility management like electric was based on politics
That MRT was badly managed
That NFA was a cover for an unbelievable corruption
Those smugglers will be prosecuted starting with this pawnshop owner
How is the President going to approach his problems? The approach he discussed was zero-based budgeting and a review of every single government contract. If I were a neophyte congressman sitting at the Plenary Hall, I’d take notes because if they were true to their word to assist the President in curbing corruption, then there is a need to introduce legislation and reforms and institutionalize them so that these will not occur anymore.
In my mind, this was not really a State of the Nation Address. This was more of a narration of the predicament of the present administration and how they will move from hereon vis-à-vis the promises he made during the campaign. It was more of an in-case-we-fail-to-deliver-hope-you-understand-and-still-love-us kind of thing.
But if this is in any way for the opposition to celebrate because the administration is already wounded even before the battle started, they’d better not forget – this President is very popular, and I could feel the determination of one President, who is faced with a very tight fiscal position, seriously wanting reforms in cutting waste, curbing corruption and apprehending twisted government officials.
Now, I might be disappointed because I did not hear the President talk about building a decent expressway from Manila all the way to Matnog, Sorsogon; which means, we will have to do with our talahib highways, it’s ok – as long as he answers my final questions:
So when will Merciditas be impeached? And when’s the arrest going to happen?
Many thanks naman to Pia Hontiveros of ANC’s Strictly Politics for quoting and/or using parts of this commentary in their program tonight, 7/27/2010, which was relayed to me by Ms. Ellen Tordesillas.