No mention of land reform, no promise of any wage hike, no hint that the budget for education and basic social services will be increased, no reference to the reality that debt servicing eats into the national budget more than the corruption at the MWSS or Napocor or NFA, and no acknowledgment of the fact that the cease-fire precondition for the resumption of the peace talks with the Communists is the same precondition that bogged down previous negotiations.
By MARYA SALAMAT
With reports from Janess Ann J. Ellao, Ronalyn V. Olea, and Anne Marxze D. Umil
MANILA – They did not really expect much but when Benigno Aquino III ran true to form and, in his first State of the Nation Address, “remained true to his class as a big modern landlord,” progressive Filipinos still felt “dismayed.”
“We did not really expect him to talk about land reform,” said Greg Ratin, 45, a farmer from Negros Occidental. Yet, Ratin was still disappointed to say that “we have nothing to gain from his presidency.” Their livelihood, he said, is in danger despite the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) because a lot of lands under CARP coverage are subject to land-use conversion. In Hacienda Luisita, the sugar plantation in Tarlac owned by Aquino’s family, more military troops have been deployed and are patrolling the area in full battle gear.
In his first Sona where he was expected to outline the direction of his presidency, Aquino did not mention — not even once — the words “land reform,” as Renato Reyes Jr., secretary-general of Bayan (New Patriotic Alliance), pointed out in the closing speech of his group’s “People’s Sona” rally along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City. “Is it because it would open too many hacienda issues?” Reyes asked. “Or because he has too many campaign contributors from hacienda owners?”
Aquino’s Sona, according to leaders of cause-oriented groups, is “sorely deficient,” “vague, empty, longer on infrastructure than justice,” and offered “nothing new,” considering Aquino won the presidency with promises of change. “It’s like Aquino just delivered an exposé for The Buzz,” a gossip show, said Axel Pinpin of the Confederation of Farmers’ Associations in Southern Tagalog.
“What he’s really advancing is the interest of big business through what he calls private-public partnership,” said Evan Hernandez, spokesperson of Hustisya (Justice). “How sad.”
All Talk, No Teeth on Justice and Accountability
“We are waiting. It has been more than nine years since we started living under a culture of impunity. He should make those responsible for it be held accountable,” Hernandez said. She also asked Aquino to stop speaking on issues he clearly has little or no knowledge about. Hernandez is referring to Aquino’s boast that his regime is on its way to resolving 50-percent or three of the six cases of extrajudicial killings (EJK) under his presidency.
Ordinary folks demand basic things from President Aquino. (Photo by Angelica de Lara / bulatlat.com)
“It is good to hear the suspects have been pinpointed but the EJK cases are not just three, but hundreds since the last Aquino administration. How about them?” asked Reyes of Bayan. He added that if Aquino did not remove the military’s counterinsurgency program Oplan Bantay Laya, which seems to be still operative, “every horror of rights violations we endured during Arroyo would happen again.”
Already a third into his first 100 days in office, Aquino has yet to completely form his Truth Commission. He said in his Sona he would soon sign the executive order forming this commission but did not yet give the details as to how it would go after plunderers and human-rights violators.
“It is good Arroyo’s anomalies were mentioned as it was an admission that the people have indeed been screwed, but how would the Aquino government make her account for it? That was not concrete in Aquino’s Sona. What she plundered should be recovered. Would she be jailed for her crimes? Aquino’s speech did not include making (Arroyo) accountable,” said Bayan’s Reyes.
For Foreign and Local Big Businesses, None for the People and the Poor
Progressive groups participated in Sona protest along Commonwealth. Aquino’s Sona, many of their leaders said, leaves much to be desired. (Photo by Angelica de Lara / bulatlat.com)
Leaders of cause-oriented groups agreed with Aquino that the administration of former president Arroyo has emptied the public coffers. But from there, their views and that of Aquino began to diverge on most basic grounds.
“We do not agree with what he said that aside from the remaining P100 billion ($2.168 billion), there is nothing left for spending,” Reyes said, adding that it would be “more just if we stopped paying for onerous foreign loans and prioritize social services instead.”