SONA 2011: Little to report, less to look forward to

Pres. Aquino’s difficulty to report any meaningful economic accomplishment had led the SONA to resort to half-truths

In just its second state of the nation address (SONA), the Aquino presidency has confirmed that it cannot be upfront about the real state of the nation and is unable to take the difficult reform measures needed to lift tens of millions of poor Filipinos from their poverty.

According to independent think-tank IBON, Pres. Aquino’s difficulty to report any meaningful economic accomplishment had led the SONA to resort to half-truths such as on jobs and social services, empty claims such as on rice, and exaggerations such as on conditional cash transfers (CCTs).

The SONA reported an all-time high in the stock market, improved credit ratings, and investor interest in oil and gas exploration in the country. Yet while Pres. Aquino hailed these as signs of an “improved and improving economy”, these are in reality more relevant to investors than the ordinary Filipino, IBON noted.

The reality of Filipinos is not as the SONA had portrayed. As expected, Pres. Aquino claimed an improvement in the employment situation with a slightly lower unemployment rate and 1.4 million jobs created. But in failing to mention that the jobs created were more than off-set by the growing labor force (1.2 million more) and increase in number of poor quality work (829,000 more underemployed), it glossed over the reality that the number of jobless and underemployed Filipinos increased by over 600,000 in the past year. There are now 11.6 million unemployed (4.5 million, by IBON’s estimate) and underemployed (7/1 million) Filipinos in the country.

Also as expected, Pres. Aquino claimed that the CCT program reduced poverty in the country. But he failed to mention that the supposedly 100,000 additional CCT beneficiaries per month would only be eligible for the cash dole-outs for at most five years. Even if these families had been lifted from poverty, which is actually an exaggerated claim because being a beneficiary does not automatically mean no longer being poor, the more important question is their prospect for jobs or livelihood after the program ends.

Pres. Aquino also repeated the untruth of improved rice production due to his administration to give the impression of improving the country’s food security. However, whatever increase in rice production this year is not due to any effort of the administration but rather just from more favorable weather, with no adverse El Niño this year unlike last year, and an expansion in areas planted to rice. Projected rice productivity of 3.8 MT/ha in 2011 is virtually unchanged from 2009.

A more truthful account of the administration’s efforts in the agriculture sector would also have mentioned that the budgets for the departments of agriculture and of agrarian reform were each cut by some Php4.4 billion from the year before which can only undermine agricultural productivity.

Pres. Aquino also mentioned supposed ghost schools and teachers as burdening rural children. However, it failed to mention that it halved the budget of the education department’s school-building program from Php2 billion in 2010 to Php1 billion in 2011. Only 13,147 new classrooms will be built this year against the public school classroom backlog of some 113,000.

The SONA also did not mention at all among the most pressing problems faced by tens of millions of Filipinos– low wages, continuing landlessness, and a burdensome regressive tax system. This omission and the lack of concrete measures to resolve these make the optimism of the SONA contrived and hollow. According to IBON, the only foundations being laid are those for continued social and economic backwardness. (end)

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