POSTSCRIPT / July 29, 2003 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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GMA gave a face to SONA concerns

POSITIVE REPORT: For one buffeted by endless nitpicking and obstructionism, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo submitted yesterday to the nation what we think is a very positive report card on the past year of her administration.

Her State of the Nation Address was not, as some quarters were praying it would be, a valedictory, or a signal that she has made up her mind about finally letting go of the presidency in 2004.

On the contrary, we saw in her delivery hints of her possibly running for president in 2004 to be able to continue building what she called a Strong Republic.

Examining her report, we think that, everything considered, she did creditably well during the short, turbulent time she has been in office.

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MUTINY ROUTED: As we expected, her SONA took off from her routing of the Sunday mutiny of more than 290 young military officers and men.

Their adventure was not expected to succeed, but it inflicted considerable damage to the economy and the country’s image. They are expected to be charged with violation of the Articles of War.

The rogue soldiers had been sent back to barracks after holding out in a posh private building in Makati and demanding, among other things, her resignation and that of Defense Secretary Angelo Reyes.

Her special mention in her SONA of Generals Narciso Abaya, AFP chief of staff, and Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., national police chief, was recognition of the collaboration between the commander in chief and the military and the police in fending off enemies of the state.

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ACTION TAKEN: The President stressed her having disposed of the mutiny in just one day with no lives lost and no serious property damage. We sensed a warning of sorts in her reiterating her vow to punish the wayward soldiers and go after their “political component.”

But it was not one-sided. While it was wrong for the soldiers to have fallen out of line and demanded the stepping down of the President just to air grievances, the incident set the stage for the President to crack down on alleged top-level corruption in the armed forces.

She announced the creation of two independent commissions, one to investigate the grievances listed by the mutineers, and another (on the request of Reyes himself) to look into accusations that the defense secretary was behind the recent Davao blast that killed several persons.

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ANTI-DRUGS DRIVE: Adding a fresh newsy color to her report, she mentioned the major busting of several drug lairs and sophisticated laboratories in the last five weeks netting prohibited drugs, mainly shabu, estimated to have a street value of P8 billion.

For drug lords and the owners/operators of these factories of illegal drugs, she favored the meting out of death penalties, reversing a previous inclination of hers to stay the execution of most of those on death row.

She vowed to carry the fight against prohibited drugs down to the barangay level. She would go down to the grassroots, she added, even if she had to knock on doors to bring home the message.

With terrorism, with which she lumped the mutineers, and drugs, President Arroyo also called attention to the high-profile problems of corruption and diseases.

In reviewing the crises and the opportunities of the past year, she also mentioned the SARS scourge that the country has overcome, the vital contributions of overseas workers, the search for peace in Mindanao, the fight against poverty, campaign for investments and the destabilization of partisan groups.

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GIVING IT A FACE: We were heartened by President Arroyo’s giving a face to the Filipino striving on despite much difficulties.

She first mentioned Manny Pacquiao, the Pinoy boxer who has just successfully defended his IBF crown as the superbantamweight champion of the world. The President said that like Pacquiao, the Filipino, “given the chance to compete…will take it and he will win.”

The President also mentioned:

  1. Sonny Ayao who joined the secessionist MNLF as a fighter at age 12, but who after 27 years is now a community organizer helping in the peace process.
  2. Teacher Josette Biyo of Iloilo, a world champion science and math teacher, after whom a newly discovered planet has been named.
  3. Luz Lozada, 72, a model farmer from San Isidro, Davao del Sur, who is making waves in hybrid rice technology.
  4. Police Colonel Boysie Rosales, whom she dubbed “kilabot ng mga drug lords,” who had turned down a P35-million bribe.
  5. Police officers Cayetano Gannaban and Raul Graza who fought off 20 rebels in a firefight in Quinapondan, Eastern Samar.

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OTHER PINOYS CITED: The President cited the residents of barangay Vacante in Alcala, Pangasinan, who worked together in banishing the SARS scourge in their community.

She also cited residents of barangay Inug-ug in Pagalungan, Maguindanao, who took the situation into their own hands by asking MILF fighters and government troops to leave their village so they could live in peace.

She praised Filipinos in Kuwait who, despite the US invasion of neighboring Iraq, refused to abandon their jobs and then took care of themselves and people around them during the conflict.

Of course, the doting lola mentioned her granddaughter Mikaela (who was there in the audience with her parents), for whose future and that of other kids of her generation, she said she was doing her best.

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U.S. TOP ALLY: In foreign relations, the President made special mention of the United States, a major trading partner and an ally in the global fight against terrorism.

Noting that there are around three million Filipinos living and working in the US, the President rationalized her policy of close collaboration with America. She said the benefits derived from this relationship far outweigh the concerns over sovereignty issues.

US Ambassador Francis Ricciardone, who was present at the Batasan where the President delivered her SONA, said earlier that the US was ready to help the Philippines overcome its problems.

At the height of the mutiny last Sunday, the US envoy expressed his government’s support for President Arroyo’s administration. The psychological impact of that statement was incalculable.

The President also took time to mention our ASEAN partners Indonesia and Malaysia for their assisting with Philippine problems. Malaysia has offered its good offices for the coming “final” peace talks between the government and the MILF.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 29, 2003)

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