POSTSCRIPT / July 28, 2009 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Hard-hitting, emotional valedictory of a SONA

VARYING VIEWS: The true state of the nation may not be all in the address yesterday of President Gloria Arroyo before the Congress. But neither is it in the critical remarks of the opposition and the usual hecklers.

The true state of the nation probably lies somewhere between their contrary assessments. To the average Filipino, any report on the state of the nation is meaningless if it does not conform to life as his family lives it.

A family that is satisfied or whose situation has improved in the past three years is likely to agree with the President’s upbeat report. But another family languishing in, or claiming, poverty can be expected to dismiss it as hogwash.

On political questions, the President made it clear that there will be automated elections next year, she will not stay on when her term ends in June 2010, until her last day in office she will keep her grueling 24/7 work ethic, she would rather be right than popular, and she does not flinch in adversity.

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DOING IT RIGHT: Opening her 54-minute SONA, the President set as background the global financial crisis that has spawned widespread recession:

“The past 12 months have been a year for the history books. Financial meltdown in the West spread throughout the world. Tens of millions lost their jobs; billions across the globe have been hurt — the poor always harder than the rich. No one was spared. It has affected us already.

“But (the Philippines) weathered a succession of global crises in fuel, in food, then in finance and finally the economy in a global recession, never losing focus and with economic fundamentals intact.

“A few days ago, Moody’s announced the upgrade of our credit rating, citing the resilience of our economy. The state of our nation is a strong economy. Good news for our people, bad news for our critics.”

Later in her speech applauded 126 times, President Arroyo remarked that if the country got a credit upgrade in the midst of recession, “we must be doing something right” although those ensconced in their corporate cocoons may not admit it.

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DEFT HANDLING: As expected in a valedictory report summing up her eight years in office, the President ticked off statistics indicating that the situation was not as bad as her critics would want to show it. She said:

“Our reforms gave us the resources to protect our people, our financial system and our economy from the worst of shocks that the best of the West failed to anticipate. They gave us the resources to extend welfare and enhance spending power.

“Our average inflation is the lowest since 1960. Last time, it dropped to 1.5 percent. Paano nakamit ito? Proper policies lowered interest rates, which lowered costs to business.

“The next generation will also benefit from our lower public debt-to-GDP ratio. It declined from 78 percent of GDP in 2000 to 55 percent in 2008. We cut in half the debt burden of government corporations from 15 to 7 percent, likewise the foreign debt from 73 percent to 32 percent… Past administrations conjured the demon of foreign debt. We exorcised it.”

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STERLING SHOWING: The President said: “In good times and bad, our overseas Filipinos keep our nation resilient. Their remittances of $16 billion last year were a record. This year, they are even higher.

“Our vigorous international engagement has helped bring in foreign investments. Net foreign direct investments multiplied 13 times from 2001 to 2007. Foreign exchange reserves increased from $15 billion in 2000 to $40 billion last June.”

“(The Philippines) stands among a few economies in Asia-Pacific that have not shrunk. Compare this to 2001, when a failure of effective government put me at the helm, when Asia was surging but our country was on the brink of bankruptcy.

“Since then, our economy posted uninterrupted growth for 33 quarters; more than doubled its size from $76 billion to $186 billion. The average GDP growth from 2001 to the first quarter of 2009 is the highest in 43 years.

“Self-rated poverty went down from 59 percent to 47. Even with our population increase, the number of poor went down by more than two million. GNP per capita rose from $967 to $2,051. We produced eight million jobs, an average of one million per year, much, much more than at any other time.”

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HITTING BACK: With clear reference to some politicians having a field day attacking her, the President fired some choice salvos, to the delight of the generally supportive crowd.

She said: “The noisiest critics of constitutional reform tirelessly and shamelessly attempted Cha-cha when they thought they could take advantage of a shift in the form of government. They oppose it now that they cannot benefit from it.”

The President said she supported the tougher House version of the Cheaper Medicine Law but the watered-down Senate version prevailed in the bicameral haggling. She said her administration has been pushing cheaper medicines even before the law was enacted.

She advised a senator-critic that if he wanted to become president, he should not say bad words in public. The gallery broke into laughter.

“I am accused of misgovernance by politicians w hose declared and official incomes cannot explain their profligate lifestyles and spending habits,” she said. “I have been accused without proof of using my office for personal gain — which I have never done — by politicians who are walking evidence of that crime.”

“Those who live in glass houses should cast no stones. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 28, 2009)

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