Tuesday, August 01, 2006

State of the Nation Address: Story telling on a rainy day

“I’ll build a bridge that will link us to the future.”
“No need; we don’t have a river here.”
“Don’t worry; I’ll build a river as well.”

WAS that the president of the republic talking or some fantasy story teller?

For a State of a Nation Address, that speech did not dwell on the “state of the nation” but rather on the wishful thinking of a president hoping to survive, hoping to get a better positive survey rating. She peddled solutions-a massive infrastructure program- without analyzing the roots of the problem. What are the problems based on people’s perceptions as gauged by Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia surveys? Inflation, jobs, hunger, poverty, deteriorating education system. And what’s GMA’s solution? Infrastructure-roads, bridges.

That’s nice except that the message was probably intended for certain constituencies like politicians who are salivating for more pork barrel and kickbacks. The message seems to sound this way: “Friends, stay with me until 2010. Don’t impeach me for I have something for every body.”

Why did the President not dwell on the state of the nation? Critiques say there’s nothing to tell. The President actually rattled off a few statistics about people getting removed from poverty but it’s also true that these changes are imperceptible. People simply can’t eat her statistics. For every ripple of numbers about how things are getting better, comes a flood of other numbers of rising cynicism, hopelessness, and negativity-something that a Sona could not force off people’s consciousness. For a line on graft and corruption (“We are lining up corrupt officials to face the consequences of their misdeeds”) comes back the image of Joc-joc Bolante escaping to America so he could avoid the Congressional inquiry on the billion-peso fertilizer fund scam.

And for her vow to stop political killings comes the image of General Jovito Palparan, grinning among a riotous crowd in the gallery of supporters like Darth Maul, the dreaded Iridonian Sith apprentice in The Phantom Menace sans the six horns and the black ominous cape, able and maliciously eager to terminate the enemies of the little Empire with extreme prejudice. In fact, the President herself called on Palparan from the crowd of sycophants, like Darth Sidious revealing her new lethal apprentice to the rest of the trembling galaxy.

In truth, there are a few good things to tell. The economy has been growing at 5 percent or more in the last several quarters. It has been resilient despite the continuing rise in oil prices. Business process outsourcing has been growing fast, thus providing job opportunities for many fresh graduates. Henry Sy is still building malls in all corners of the country. Overseas workers are still sending in dollars, giving their families money for education, health, and cellular phones. Indeed, there are many positive news among the flood of bad news and misfortunes. But certainly, the President did not have to dwell on them because, in truth, these tales of heroism from people and entrepreneurs, are not part of Malacañang’s accomplishments. The people achieved them despite the government, despite the monkeys on their backs, so to speak.

Well, if you could not tell the truth because it’s just too painful you might as well tell children’s fairy tales, like those tall talk and dreams about some kingdoms called “cybercorridor,” and “super-regions.” After all, no one could criticize dreams and fantasies. Panaginip na lang, pinag-iinitan niyo pa! We all know how “regional planning” works in the Philippines: they are usually all about “vision-mission-objectives” and not much details on programs and projects and how they are implemented. You hire highly paid “consultants” to prepare those fancy documents for a press conference then keep them in some shelves to gather dust.

And yet, we should really take a closer look at those mega-projects being dangled before our eyes. Those projects are worth billions of pesos and we are not sure how they are going to spend them. Next year, we will have a mid-term election and the fertilizer scam is still fresh in our memory. Those billions are going to be spent in the regions, in infrastructure projects that are likely to be used to win the “goodwill” of local officials and lawmakers. If there’s one language these politicians gravitate to like ducks to water, it’s “infrastructure money” where one could have something to hang a sign board on (“another project of Congressman….”) besides the usual percentage kickbacks.

Apparently, occupants in Malacañang fear the 2007 mid-year elections are going to be a seen as a “referendum” on President Arroyo’s continued stay in power. A decisive victory of her allies therefore is necessary for her to say she has another fresh mandate-hopefully, to erase all doubts about the stains of Virgilio Garcillano’s tapes and Bolante’s politically toxic fertilizer. Of course, if we should learn from history, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos had all those huge 11 industrial mega projects when he felt his Administration was on its last legs. Tales of corruption followed until it collapsed under the pressure of people power mass actions. We therefore have to be extra watchful these days because it might just be history repeating itself.

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