+Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, D.D.











The President's SONA -- Promises to be Fulfilled

The sense of hopelessness of a good number of Fili-pinos is rooted in two decades of promises unfulfilled by leaders in the context of great popular expectations, the success of the first few years of the Marcos regime was due to fulfilled promises and expectations regarding peace, discipline, and public honesty. Its disastrous failure was due to inability to maintain this success. More fundamentally the regime became the alleged perpetrator of graft and corruption and the cause of social unrest. In a true sense, our country has not fully recovered from the political, social, economic, and cultural debacle of the long years of dictatorship.

To a great extent the country's failure to recover fully is due to the kind of politics that we practice. The Bishops of the Philippines wrote a comprehensive pastoral statement on Philippine politics in 1997. It is a document that is still very much to the point today. The bishops said then that the profound renewal of politics is the urgent need of the day. The way we practice politics is a concrete demonstration of how we separate moral and religious principles from daily life. It is one of the most serious obstacles to the living of Gospel values in our private and social lives.

With the State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo we hear promises once again. Are they going to be fulfilled?

Let us take the positive side. She began her administration only 18 months ago. At that time she gave promises and also set up concrete targets by which her administration could be judged. In her column, economist Solita Monsod was as surprised as many of us that such measurable targets of performance were readily available. This showed the government's problem of communication. Without such concrete measures of performance, each group, sector, local or national pundit, opposition groups, critics, were free to set up their own expectations and judge the GMA administration on their own terms, using their own agenda. This is why it was possible for the political opposition and for the ideological Left to criticize GMA's SONA even before she delivered it. The present SONA will surely have its measures of performance. It is now the task of GMA to communicate these measures to the general public.

Another positive aspect of the present SONA — it is generally devoid of political rhetoric. It is not a piece that an elocution teacher would ask students to memorize and deliver. It is straightforward. It sticks to the basic elements of sound and solid planning: (a) this is the situation today, global and national; (b) this is what we have accomplished well/not done well in the past 18 months; (c) these are the basic agenda that must be done; (d) this is what we, therefore, want to do in the next 12 months. Moreover, except by allusion, it generally refrains from finger pointing.

But there are also some points that make me uneasy. (a) Understandably, the President looks up to her father as a model. But all former presidents have their own failures. Attributing the "stone" of social justice to her father is likely to create controversy. We need to look at the bigger picture of the struggle toward social justice in the Philippines, from administration to administration, since the time of Manuel L. Quezon. But thank God, this citing of her father is not the substance of her SONA. And this point could be rather petty, I admit. (b) Even while she once more declared that the "fundamental war" is against "poverty," her SONA avoids the big picture of poverty that our people not only see but feel. Feelings are internal to the national psyche, the spirit of the nation. What the people feel about their lives has to be addressed. True, we cannot make plans based on "feelings." We do have to make use of statistical indicators, like the price of galunggong and basic commodities. But beyond this is immediate restoration of hope. The SONA should probably have elaborated on the linkage of hope and the many concrete things the President has set out to do.

The President's choice of focus is relevant and urgent. She states that in the past 18 months she has focused on: (1) Tangible results in the delivery of government services; (2) preserving and defending the Republic against divisive forces; (3) Adopting macro-economic stability and winning back investor confidence. She declares that she will even work harder and do better on all of the above. But she has also set her focus for the next 12 months on the following: (a) creating and improving job opportunities; (b) integrity and transparency; (b) peace and order, and (4) the cost of power. It is really these issues that, to the public mind, directly address the big picture of poverty.

On the above issues, popular expectations will be very high, the fulfillment of promises will be minutely examined and judged.

All the above issues have moral dimensions. The Church will surely take up the challenge of critical solidarity. The call to Congress to work with the President on the agenda of rebuilding a nation is also a call to the Church that has consistently called for the renewal of politics. Surely the Church will ensure that her own social action, justice, peace, and development network in all of the dioceses will work for the same common objectives. After all, it is the mission of the entire People of God to spread the reign of God to every strata of society.




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