Sunday, July 24, 2011

The President's SONA 2011

(This is my article yesterday in the with original title, SONA bath and the liberal challenge)

The President’s annual State Of the Nation Address (SONA) is always an occasion to enumerate what it has done the previous year/s, what are its goals in the coming year/s, and what it wants from Congress and other sectors to achieve its remaining goals.

Thus, the SONA is an important political event every year where so many people in government meet and talk about past achievements and short-term goals, then only one person talks and almost the entire nation listens, then almost everyone talks as they analyze what the President said and did not say.

In a sense, the SONA is a brief embodiment of central planning thinking in the country. It is the main “roadmap” of the government for the year and the remaining years of its term, and every major economic, social and political actors in the country are watching if their respective sectoral agenda are being upheld, ignored, or contradicted by the President in power.

The President will deliver his second SONA this Monday. I have little idea what he will say or not say in his Address. I only wish that he will speak as a liberal political leader. After all, he comes from the Liberal Party, not from a socialist or nationalist or populist or other political party and ideology.

Liberalism in theory, is opposed to socialism, anti-globalization nationalism, and the populism of forced collectivism. Because liberalism stands for individual freedom, lean government, free market, rule of law and civil society self-reliance. “Good governance” is not the distinctive ideology of liberalism; it is a populist goal by all political parties. Even dictators, despots and authoritarian leaders talk about “good governance.” It is the belief in individual liberty and freer markets that distinguish liberalism from socialism and many other political ideologies.

It is wrong, therefore, for so many sectors to demand that the President should promise them all sorts of “free” or highly subsidized services. When they demand free or highly-subsidized education, healthcare, housing, credit, unemployment insurance, pension, transportation, public works, agricultural machineries and so on, they are asking for socialism. And as mentioned above, the President did not run on a socialist platform during the campaign.

One of the good promises of the President in his 1st SONA last year when he was just three weeks in office, was this:

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.

(Translation: The endless procedures in registering a business name, which takes between four to eight hours a day, we will reduce it to 15 minutes. The old requirement of 36 documents, we will bring it down to six. The eight pages application form, we will make it one page.)

I considered it a real liberal policy and promise. Simply reduce the bureaucracies, reduce the number of signatures by government officials and bureaucrats, and that will enhance individual freedom, the freedom to become economically productive and create jobs for the jobless. And that policy alone will drastically reduce (but not totally eliminate) corruption in the country.

As expected, some groups and individuals considered that policy as “elitist” and “pro-big business.” I don’t think so. That policy is both pro-big business and pro-small business. When there are plenty of bakeshops and food shops, internet and book shops, parlor and barber shops, vulcanizing and machine shops and so on, more jobs will be created. When people have jobs, they tend to become more independent of government. In emergencies, they have their own savings and do not easily run to politicians and government welfare offices. They have the resources and self-respect, self-confidence, to take care of themselves, their families and friends.

After a year, did the President deliver that promise? Sadly, the answer is No. The volume of business bureaucracies did not seem to have decreased. It even increased in some local governments as those units have the power and capacity to create their own business regulations on top of national government business regulations.

I just hope that the next SONA will not sound like sauna bath cleansing or “pagmamalinis” why the previous year’s promise was not delivered. Rather, there is recognition of failure to deliver, and that a stronger resolve will be made to really implement that and other liberal promises.

But honestly, judging from the way many Filipino liberal politicians themselves speak and behave, and from the way they have allied with so many populists and socialists, liberalism as a philosophy has been largely compromised. This is not the way to lift the economy and many poor Filipinos from the endless disease of bureaucratism, corruption and underdevelopment.

See also The President's SONA 2010

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