Number of classrooms made available, increased access to public healthcare, performance-based bonus incentives for government employees, mosquito traps to curb the spread of dengue, Sin Tax bills, jobs at BPOs, new airports in Bohol, a passenger terminal in Caticlan, properly paved roads… Yadda yadda yadda is what kicked off and sustained the 2012 State of the Nation Address (SONA) of Philippine President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III. Citing disembodied statistics out of context and stringing them together into a litany of little “wins” to tell a story of “achievement” is a good way to distract the attention-deficited mind of the Filipino from where the substance should have been.
Indeed, by mouthing what is no more than an unstructured list of purported “achievements”, President BS Aquino came across more as a bricklayer reporting the laying of each new brick rather than an architect describing how the overall edifice is taking shape. Instead of a report befitting a true chief executive, the President delivers to his people an address befitting a mere administrator.
National treasure Nick Joaquin points out eloquently in his seminal essay A Heritage of Smallness how large quantities of small things do not necessarily translate to power; rather truly powerful colossi possess inner structures that are coherent…
We could bring in here the nursery diota about the little drops of water that make the mighty ocean, or the peso that’s not a peso if it lacks a centavo; but creative labor, alas, has sterner standards, a stricter hierarchy of values. Many little efforts, however perfect each in itself, still cannot equal one single epic creation. A galleryful of even the most charming statuettes is bound to look scant beside a Pieta or Moses by Michelangelo; and you could stack up the best short stories you can think of and still not have enough to outweigh a mountain like War and Peace.
President BS Aquino’s litany of little achievements perhaps stands tall like a pile of sand that crumbles when taken to the task of bearing a load. Compare that pile of sand to an engineered structure of trusses of equal height — perhaps one tenth the mass of said sand pile, but 100 times more stable.
Nevertheless, for good measure, President BS Aquino cited that May 2012 article from Bloomberg Businessweek that attempted a rather lame talk-up of the Philippine economy which, really, was no more than a re-gifting of hollowed-out truisms about the Philippines’ “emerging” economy…
The BusinessWeek report is all positive spin, but ends up inadvertently highlighting pretty much all of what makes the Philippine economy a hollow shell — a bubble even — citing as signs of good times ahead, the fact that Manila “sports the third largest mall on the planet: SM City North EDSA, with 1,100 shops, 400 of which include places to eat”, and the attractiveness of the country as a site for multinationals’ call-centre operations, a trend that simply points to the fact that there is nothing in the domestic economy and its capital base that promises much else for the exploding supply of Filipino job seekers. In the same manner, the report paints a peachy picture of what is really the quintessential weakness of the Philippine economy — its dependence on foreign employment…
Suffice to say the President, and perhaps the vast army of cheerleaders who surround him, failed to grasp the irony in his deference to a foreign news journal to substantiate his claim that all is going swimmingly in the Philippines while issuing a poignant appeal to the local media: “I only wish that the optimism of foreign media would be shared by their local counterparts more often.”
President BS Aquino’s SONA need not have been the hour-and-a-half pabasa that it was had he focused on a small handful of key measures that, by themselves, would have sent across a far more powerful message of achievement if the numbers were right. He only needed to highlight how three simple indices changed since he assumed office as President of this sad republic:
(1) Corruption: CPI of 2.4 at end of year 2010
(2) Human Development: HDI of 0.64 at end of year 2010
(3) OFW remittances: 12% of GDP for 2008
The challenge for any government that presumes to preside over real change is really quite simple: (a) come up with target figures for each of the above metrics (say, aim to increase the first two points and reduce the third one), and (b) grow the cojones to measure and evaluate itself along these lines.
As expected, the 2012 SONA of President BS Aquino failed to describe a consistent application of the most fundamental principle of accountability — to set measurable targets and evaluate one’s performance on the basis of clear results.
[NB: The English translation of the President's 2012 SONA published on the Official Gazette of the Republic of the Philippines was used as reference for this article.]