Benigno Aquino delivered his first State of the Nation Address on Monday as president of the Philippines, reciting a litany of wrongdoings allegedly committed by the previous administration. He promised that his government would follow a straighter path – but gave few specifics on how he plans to clean up government and balance the books.
Mr. Aquino took office at the end of June, having campaigned on the legacy of his beloved politician-parents. He ran on the slogan: “If there’s no corruption, there’s no poverty.”
He replaced Gloria Arroyo, who had reached her term limit and whose administration had been beset by allegations of corruption. Despite steady but slow economic growth under Ms. Arroyo, a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day and the government suffers from chronic budget deficits.
Aquino had warned that his speech today would shock Filipinos. Addressing the combined membership of the Senate and House of Representatives, he alleged various wrongdoings by the Arroyo administration, saying: “For a long time, our country lost its way on the crooked path.” He said he would give the order this week for the creation of a “truth commission” to look into irregularities in the Arroyo administration.
Arroyo, who is now a member of the House of Representatives, was not in the audience. She was in Hong Kong with her husband, who was reportedly there for a medical examination.
Aquino’s address concentrated on the government’s financial plight, complaining that of the 2010 budget of 1.54 trillion pesos ($33.06 billion), only 100 billion pesos, or 6.5 percent, remains in the coffers for the last six months of the year. He listed examples of how the Arroyo administration had “squandered” money meant for disaster relief, electricity, water, new infrastructure, and ensuring the supply of rice, the country’s staple.
“We have so many needs: from education, infrastructure, health, military, police, and more. Our funds will not be enough to meet them,” Aquino said.
The president, who promised during the election campaign not to raise taxes, was less specific about how he would solve these problems, political commentators said. “This is not a speech, this is an indictment,” journalist and former congressman Teodoro Locsin says. “No vision, just facts.”
Aquino said one solution could be partnerships between the public and private sectors. “Although no contract has been signed yet, I can say that ongoing talks with interested investors will yield fruitful outcomes,” he said.
The president called on Congress to pass a “fiscal responsibility bill” to prevent new government spending when revenue is not available.
Raising political support
Aquino said on-again, off-again peace talks with Muslim separatist guerrillas in the south of this predominantly Christian country would resume soon. And he offered a ceasefire with communist guerrillas if they showed they were earnest about a negotiated end to their 43-year-old insurgency.
Although his speech was punctuated by applause several times, the response of Congress remains to be seen. Aquino’s Liberal Party has no majority in either chamber of Congress.
However, his administration can expect the support of senators and representatives from other parties, who customarily ally themselves with the sitting president because he is the main source of political patronage.