By BENJIE OLIVEROS
The reactions to President Benigno Aquino III’s third state of the nation address are very varied. Of course, the Aquino government and its allies from the Liberal and Nacionalista parties are expected to praise it to high heavens. But other political figures did so as well. Former president Joseph Estrada called it the best state of the nation address ever and son Sen. Jinggoy Estrada rated it at 9.9 percent. Well, the United Nationalist Alliance – the coalition of the PDP-Laban of Senator Aquilino Pimentel, Vice-president Jejomar Binay, and presidential uncle Jose “Peping Cojuangco and the PMP of Estrada – has positioned itself neither as part of the ruling party coalition nor the opposition. Come to think of, there is no real opposition party, which has positioned itself as critical of the Aquino government, except perhaps the disgraced Lakas-Kampi of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Some groups lament the fact that Aquino let go of missed opportunities to push for significant reforms such as the Freedom of Information bill, the Reproductive Health bill, and the bill granting compensation to victims of the Marcos dictatorship. He is also being criticized by human rights groups Karapatan and the New York-based Human Rights Watch for not declaring a clear position against human rights violations, especially since no perpetrator from the military has been brought before the bar of justice and the abuses continue.
Progressive groups have been more scathing. The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan blamed Aquino for succeeding “in blocking any meaningful wage increase, selling out Philippine patrimony to big mining firms, preventing genuine land reform and privatizing basic social services,” while favoring the interests of big business, foreign and local, at the expense of the rights and welfare of the majority.
Ibon Foundation called Aquino’s Sona as “broken promises, broken record” because of the essentially the same neoliberal economic program of the Aquino government and that of its predecessor the Arroyo administration. It also questioned Aquino’s boast of effectively addressing the unemployment problem by pointing out the further deterioration of the quality of jobs available, with the decrease in full-time work by 1.6 million and the increase in part-time work by 2.5 million, and the increase in the number of the underemployed to 27.7 percent or 11.5 million.
The Aquino government called the assessment of progressive groups on the state of the nation as negativistic, while progressive groups said the administration engaged in half-truths and lies.
So how could one determine the real state of the nation? One could do so by answering the following questions.
Has finding employment with decent pay been made easier today as compared to before? Are education and health services more affordable and accessible now? Are rates of utilities and prices of basic goods and services more affordable? Has the living conditions of ordinary Filipinos improved? Have poverty and hunger been effectively reduced? Has the people’s restlessness because of worsening social inequities been reduced? And therefore, has democracy expanded and are human rights violations a thing of the past? Has impunity been stopped? Has justice been served?