The speech was long, two hours almost, interspersed with rounds of wild applause and bouts of smoker’s cough.
Men and women who strode the red carpet in their designer formal wear listened in awe as President Benigno Aquino III delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address.
There were many accomplishments, he said, trumpeting his administration’s gains in the fight against corruption. He named the corrupt and noted that many of them have been removed from office.
Those who are still in power will have their day, too, he warned.
He dished out a mouthful in a 105-minute televised speech, tackling a wide array of areas – from unemployment to land reform.
For instance, the president said that graduates of a state-run technical school have now been able to find jobs.
‘Of the 503,521 people who have graduated from their programmes, an estimated six out of ten have found jobs. Within the electronics and semiconductor programme, the percentage of employed graduates has reached 85 per cent. It is clear: you are the ones who will shape this growth, you are the ones who will determine whether the fruits of our labours become sweet and ripe for the picking, or if you will let them rot away and waste the chances that this new chapter in our history has given us,’ he said.
The president also claims that the government has been able to strengthen the agricultural sector:
‘Just think: according to the NFA [National Food Authority], in 2010, the country imported more than 2 million metric tons of rice. In 2011, this fell to 855,000 metric tons. In 2012: 500,000 metric tons. And now in 2013, the maximum we will import, including the private sector, will be the minimum access volume of 350,000 metric tons. This includes the 187,000 metric tons of reserve buffer stock in case typhoons arrive one after the other; in all likelihood, even the private sector will no longer have to import rice because we are still on track to becoming self-sufficient in rice. In addition to that, we have begun exporting premium quality rice,’ he said.
There are vital infrastructure projects, too – an eight-kilometre, four-lane elevated expressway, a fourteen-kilometre six-lane elevated toll-way, a five-and-a-half kilometre, six-lane elevated expressway and better airport roads.
‘Motorists will save time and gas, pollution will be decreased, and commerce and tourism will flourish. Is this not a win-win situation?’
But for all the accomplishments, President Aquino missed many key issues important to many people – human rights, mining and promised legislation that would make the government more transparent, among other major concerns.
The New York-based Human Rights Watch raised concerns over the lack of interest in addressing the culture of impunity in the country.
‘We are dismayed that President Aquino, in his State of the Nation Address today, chose not to talk about the continuing culture of impunity in the Philippines. We are disappointed that he did not take the opportunity to communicate to the military and the police that they will be held accountable for human rights violations. President Aquino’s failure to denounce abuses against outspoken activists, environmentalists, clergy and journalists sends the wrong message to abusive security forces and corrupt politicians,’ said James Ross, Legal and Policy Director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement issued immediately after President Aquino delivered his speech.
Advocates of press freedom, too, were left disappointed.
‘The state of press freedom has not improved at all. The past years saw the passing of repressive laws such as The Cybercrime Prevention Act, while the president reneged on one of his key promises: to enact the Freedom of Information Act,’ said the National Union of the Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).
Worse, journalists continue to be killed with impunity, the group said.
It said that only 10 of 155 cases of media killings – one every two years and three months – have seen convictions, and these only of those who pulled the triggers, not a single one of those who ordered the murders.
‘In fact, of the cases where the alleged masterminds have actually been identified and charged, not a single on has been arrested yet. The most brazen among these cases – the massacre that killed 32 of our colleagues on 23 November 2009 – is currently locked in a limbo of motions and bail hearings,’ the NUJP also said.
And yet, the country’s chief executive believes that he has done a lot.
There’s more to do, Mr President.