Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is ‘Blue Eagle the King’ now the official hail-to-the-chief hymn? Was it played at the SONA to make sip-sip to the Ateneo alumnus president? Long litany of small achievements and target promises at 1.45 min. SONA, but toughest and most contentious issues evaded---to make masses feel good and slam critics about ‘noynoying?’ But these issues don’t go away by not talking about them.

President Noynoy Aquino

I have been attending State of the Nation addresses since the time of President Corazon Aquino, but last Monday’s 4th SONA of President Noynoy Aquino was the first time I ever heard a departure from the traditional processional and recessional music played within the Halls of Congress upon entry and exit of the President during the Sona. Instead of the traditional “Mabuhay” Overture, the House chose to play instead “Blue Eagle the King,” the Ateneo inspirational song played at games that that school participates in at the Araneta Coliseum or at MOA.
I imagine that the reason for this sudden change is that House leaders wanted to play up to or get into the good graces of P-Noy, an Ateneo AB Economics alumnus, but I didn’t find that funny.
The SONA is a solemn and historic occasion when the Chief Executive makes a report to the Filipino nation about the state of the country, and Congress, took a lot of pains to make every detail of the ceremony conform to tradition and ensure that invited guests behave according to dictates of protocol. Yet, they discarded the traditional Mabuhay Overture, the counterpart of the “Hail to the Chief” of the US, and the only reason I can think of is that the organizers wanted to make sipsip to P-Noy.  But the irony is that a good number of Ateneans themselves found this deviation irritating.
Speaking of P-Noy’s kilometric (1 hour 45 min.) SONA---the longest in local history--- it was aimed mainly at the masses watching over TV and listening to radio. He raised issues and cited accomplishments they can appreciate and that hit them in their everyday lives. Even the tenor of his speech reflected this---reports say that Isko Lopez, who writes for popular masa publications, helped couch it in the toughie language the man in the street understands.
One can see why:  P-Noy wants to ensure that his masa support remains with him and does not desert him at this last half of his term, when it’s easy to be a lame-duck president.
He sought to appeal to the masa by stirring up old Filipino values of patriotism and righteousness, citing cops doing their jobs heroically and families being lifted out of poverty through the massive state dole-out program.
For the intelligentsia and the middle and upper classes, however, many of whom have turned critical of his administration, P-Noy’s SONA strove to drive home the point that his is not a do-nothing administration, na hindi siya noynoying lang, and that things get done if right processes are followed---even if he left unstated solutions to the most contentious and toughest issues bugging the country.
For instance he cited statistics on the increase in CCT dole-out coverage of Filipino families (more than 4 million by next year), in PhilHealth coverage of 80% of the population (a figure that Philippine Medical Association vice-president Dr. Leo Olarte estimates as bloated), in mass housing, classrooms, jobs, bridges and airports built (most of them began by President Macapagal Arroyo), more tourists coming in, etc.
President Aquino spoke about various initiatives to be undertaken to alleviate the plight of two of the poorest of the poor Filipinos. One is the coconut farmers group which he plans to help through “inter-cropping;” but he failed to mention how the multi-billion coco-levy funds now ruled with finality by the Supreme Court as belonging to the coco farmers can be harnessed for their benefit and to rehabilitate the dying coconut industry. Then there’s the fisher-folk for whom he proposes to put up more storage facilities, so they could store fish-catch and not have to reduce 3 kilos of Lapu-Lapu into one kilo of tuyo.
President Aquino, aided by graphs of present statistics and promised targets, indulged in a long litany of small achievements and obviously his aim was to give his listeners a lot of feel-good time. But his SONA studiously avoided tough and contentious issues that such annual report to the nation is expected to tackle---issues that would not be solved by not being raised.
They include the grinding poverty and unemployment despite the touted 7.8% growth in the first quarter this year, which was fueled largely by pre- election spending, and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor, as shown by recent government statistics.  Still no clear roadmap to economic sustainability.
P-Noy avoided speaking about the following big issues: the rising criminality and drug trafficking; mitigation of terrible annual typhoons resulting from aggravating climate change; the burgeoning debt burden that will saddle each Filipino baby to be born with a P55 thousand debt on its head; the conflict with China and the controversial issue of renewed and more permanent US basing that the Cory Senate rejected in 1991; the Sabah issue and the suspended peace initiatives with the Left and the impending full accord with Muslim secessionists, especially on the controversial wealth sharing.
Certainly the President did not even give a hint that he was aware of the allegations on the P10billion scam that has hit both chambers of Congress. He ignored the demand for abolition of presidential and legislative pork barrel that is at the heart of corruption  (but if he did this, the assembled solons might have stopped the applause they punctuated his speech with every ten minutes). He also shelved the FOI bill once again.
Interestingly the President took the occasion to shower generous praise on a number of Cabinet members, but failed to credit some of them.  Peppered with praises were Secretary Armin Luistro of Education, Public Works Secretary Babes Singson and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario. The latter P-Noy particularly praised for persisting at DFA’s helm even if he doesn’t need this job as he is a wealthy man who made his pile in the private sector.  In fact P-Noy cited how Del Rosario courageously rode through 20 checkpoints in the Libyan deserts to personally supervise the rescue of Pinoy workers during the seething turmoil there. I found that action of the DFA Chief, however, misplaced heroism---what if he were hostaged by rebels there? Wouldn’t that have aggravated our problem no end?
There was praise for the late DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo but none for his successor, Secretary Mar Roxas, possibly because of allegations that his handpicked officials at his former post at DOTC were mulcting commissions from a Czech company. Neither did P-Noy have anything good for Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and his lead agency, headed by Kim Henares.
P-Noy, however, reserved heaps of criticisms on the National Irrigation Administration and the Bureaus of Customs and of Immigration and Deportation. But when Customs Chief Rufino Biazon texted his resignation after being scalded so, P-Noy rejected it. My guess is that he had second thoughts about getting rid of Biazon as he might have calculated that it would still be good to have the latter’s father, reelected LP Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, on his side.  But young Biazon should have resigned just the same.  One should only take so much brow-beating.
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