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Monday, July 23, 2012

The President's SONA 2012

The President’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) will start in about 1 1/2 hour from now. Seems to be a lucky day for the President, the sky has cooperated, cloudy but no rain, the Sun is showing up a bit, after four days. Usually SONA day is SONAbath as the rains, heavy or mild, would fall on that day. July to September are the three wettest months of the year always.

Meanwhile, thousands of anti-government protesters are out on the streets near Batasan, the venue of the annual SONA. People who complain against certain programs of the government and exclaim, “anak ng tokwa” or “SONAmatofu”.

Government climatism bureaucracies like the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) keep pounding on “fight climate change” and “fight man-made warming”. How can they fight something that is naturally occurring? Climate change is purely natural, warming-cooling-warming-cooling, in endless, natural, multi-decadal cycles. And global warming should mean less rain and less flood, not more; less snow, not more. They just keep deceiving the public to justify their huge budget and junkets to various global climate meetings.

A SONA is a summary of the administration’s achievement of the past year or two, and a list of promises of what it intends to do the next year to improve the lives of the citizens. When promises are not met, people often exclaim, “anak ng tokwa” or other worse terms. From what I observed among the promises in the President’ SONA in 2010 and 2011, here are some of the SONAmatofu.

One, reduce business bureaucracies. He said in SONA 2010, “Ang walang-katapusang pabalik-balik sa proseso ng pagrehistro ng pangalan ng kumpanya, na kada dalaw ay umaabot ng apat hanggang walong oras, ibababa na natin sa labinlimang minuto. Ang dating listahan ng tatlumpu't anim na dokumento, ibababa natin sa anim. Ang dating walong pahinang application form, ibababa natin sa isang pahina.”

SONAmatofu, this did not happen in 2011, and did not happen this year. The volume of business bureaucracies, both at the local and national government levels, generally have remained the same or even got worse. A few cities though, like Quezon City I heard, were able to simplify their business registration and/or renewal procedure and hence, shorten the process. But many have remained bureaucratic. If the government has succeeded in that promise, it should have figured prominently in his SONA 2011 or in his speeches lately, but they did not.

Two, imprisonment for the corrupt, SONA 2011. Aside from former President Gloria Arroyo and the father-son Ampatuan clan, there seems to be no other high profile corrupt officials who went to prison. At least three high profile personalities accused of murder have remained at large – former Congressman Ruben Ecleo of Dinagat Island (murder of his wife), former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes (accused mastermind of the killing of media and environmentalist Gerry Ortega, and former AFP General and party list Cong. Jovito Palparan (accused mastermind in the abduction and murder of two UP students, Empeno and Cadapan).

Cases like these of powerful people committing serious crimes and not getting arrested while ordinary folks are being penalized for minor concerns like driving a motorcycle without helmet or driving a car with a busted headlight, make the citizens’ trust of the police and the government in general to remain low. But even if they distrust the police and the government in general, people simply have to pay lots of taxes and fees to sustain the various bureaucracies in government, from national down to local governments.

Three, lower unemployment rate, SONA 2011. The latest labor force survey of the National Statistics Office (NSO) showed that as of April 2012, the unemployed plus underemployed (those with jobs but are seeking additional work) constituted 26.2 percent of the total labor force. This is still high, more than one-fourth of Filipinos looking for jobs are either jobless or have jobs but are looking for extra work mainly to augment their low income.

Part of the explanation why this is so is in problem #1 above. To start a simple barber shop, bread shop, internet shop, carinderia, etc., one needs a barangay permit, electrical permit, health and sanitation permit, fire department permit, Mayor’s business permit, BIR-SSS-DTI permits, etc., with their corresponding taxes and fees, and penalties for delayed registration and payment. So the formal sector’s capacity to generate jobs is drastically limited. And that is how the informal sector, micro- and small entrepreneurs who go on with their wares, are subject to extortion by some local governments and the police for lack of necessary business permits. SONAmatofu.

Lest this article be accused of endless whining and complain, there were also promises in the past two Presidential SONA that were attained. Among them:

One, no more wang-wang, SONA 2010. People thought, me included, that it was just a short-term campaign, but so far it has been sustained, for two years now. Hats off to the President and his administration for such achievement, both symbolic and actual.

Two, bring the South China Sea (SCS) or West Philippine Sea (WPS) conflict to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), SONA 2010 and 2011. This is a significant action that must be sustained, to further internationalize the issue, non stop. Use various regional and international fora (UN, APEC, ASEAN, etc.) to engage China at the diplomatic level, never at the military and warships level.

Three, some governance-related measures like having the new Ombudsman, compensation for victims of Martial Law, children immunization law, etc.

The President will definitely have a long list of its own definition or perception of achievements over the past two years in office. But two important measures that it has failed to act are the enactment of a Freedom of Information (FOI) bill and controlling the rising public debt.

While it is true that FOI is already in the Constitution, there are no details how government agencies can be penalized for not being transparent to the citizens and taxpayers. And while the ratio of public debt to GDP has declined somewhat, from about 60 percent a few years ago to around 50 percent today, this ratio is still high. A high public is a big problem that requires big payment from taxpayers, not from politicians and legislators. At around P328 billion a year in interest payment alone, average for 2010 to 2012, this problem will continue to hound us as it is the single biggest problem in many European and North American economies now.

But more than waiting for what the government will promise, or over-discussing what it has not promised and not delivered, it is important that citizens’ action – more personal and parental/guardian responsibility in running our own lives, our households and communities, more civil society and voluntary organizations’ involvement – be put into action always.

Government is coercion. By expecting less from government, by demanding less from government, and demanding that government should confiscate less from our pockets and savings, slowly but surely, we should be able develop a more peaceful, more economically dynamic society.

See also:
SONAnyms and Anthonames, July 25, 2009
The President's SONA, 2010, July 26, 2010
The President's SONA 2011, July 24, 2011
The President's SONA 2011, part 2, July 26, 2011
Fat-Free Econ 17: SONA, the Budget and Debt, July 22, 2012

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