COLUMN: Polar opposites

by Jon Lindley Agustin

 

 

Time flies.

Barely a few days before President Benigno Aquino III’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA), the World Wide Web is swarmed with news reports, commentaries, and opinion pieces shouting expectations from different sectors on his address on July 23 — more than the anticipation for the attendees’ fashion of course.

Believe it or not, it has been more than two years since Aquino took office, what Filipinos thought then as the man to lay down a straight path and lift them out of poverty. It was one of the most crucial victories in Philippine history. Two SONAs have been delivered and the third is set to unfold. Perhaps before one pulls out a long list of expectations on what his speech will be about, it is just fitting to ask ourselves first: how much of the promises Aquino made last year were laid into reality, and how much were left unabatedly unfulfilled? Because as soon we know the answer, it is then that we can measure clearly our expectations. No one would probably like another SONA with broken promises.

To keep track of Aquino’s undertakings, ABS-CBN has created a page called “Aquino Promises Tracker” that lists down his pledges and noting whether they have been completely executed or whether they are still in progress. As of posting time, out of 126 promises listed, 84 are said to be “in progress,” 31 are “to be done,” 9 are “done,” and 2 pledges are said to have been “stalled.” Relatively, it is a slow process. Counting the days since he came to power and expecting more promises to be made, he deserves a wake-up call.

Let me begin the list of evaluation with the enduring dispute on the West Philippine Sea. A couple of months ago, we were a raging bull – sending the biggest of our ships in the area, implicitly calling for the aid of the United States, and even trying our hacking prowess to the technology-savvy hackers of China. The plan then was to consult the issue with existing international laws. After the media feasted on the dispute, it seems it is gradually fading.

In another stand-off on Recto Bank, the Philippines suddenly became as complacent that local firms planning to explore gas locations in the area started to negotiate with one of China’s biggest firms for further exploration. Making friends with an “adversary” after a series of arguments is not bad at all. However, with the on-going debates on Scarborough Shoal, it is just right for the country to work with odds considering the mischief the other party is also into.

Aquino promised more jobs in his previous address but it appears the administration has failed to look at the surge of new graduates that additional jobs created have proven to be negligent. In a Social Weather Stations survey in March 2012 on adult unemployment , 34.4 percent (13.8 million workers) are jobless which is an even greater number that the previous administrations. Should we concede to the fact that only the rich could feel the development if there are indeed any?

Another controversial project of the administration is the conditional cash transfers (CCT). Looking back at the previous SONA, he said about 1.6 million families have already benefitted from the CCT out of the two million families registered under the program that time. The Department of Social Welfare and Development has recently delisted a total of 29,946 families from the list beneficiaries because of ineligibility. The goal of providing solutions for poverty is still a long winding road.

I have possibly mentioned an array of stalled, if not broken, promises Aquino narrated during his last address that make us ponder if the Filipinos could still stomach listening to another pile of pledges only seeing it unfulfilled in the following years. Aquino may well restate some points in his previous SONA to regain his credibility.

Nevertheless, Aquino, who has been ever so committed on punishing officials swimming in a pool of corruption and immorality, has made fairly good marks. Including the railroaded complaint and post-mortem, more than a month was spent by the Congress on placing the Chief Justice, the highest magistrate in the country, on trial. He may have set a precedent but it is through this manner that future, and incumbent, justices could learn from another’s mistakes. Aquino has succeeded on ironing a crease, no matter how small, on his prospect of a tuwid na daan – on the expense of legislations left unnoticed.

It is perhaps strange for a student to write about things concerning national issues while mentioning almost nothing about a student’s utmost concern – education. What is there to say when the president himself uttered nothing about education in his 2011 SONA. Using the “Find” tool of my internet browser to look for words related to education, all I heard were warning beeps that there was never a single word.

Jose Rizal, an alumnus of Ateneo de Manila University like Aquino, has always valued education and has constantly brought up the word in his works. Was there a distortion of reality on Aquino’s part? Oh yes, there was an increase in budget proposal but students, especially that of the state university, want more than an action that makes the administration smell and look good.

Time flies. But progress treads like a tortoise.