Monday, July 27, 2009

BEAT THE ODDS : Fact Check - Part 2

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President before Congress allows political pundits, presidential critics and allies, and the general public to look back, reflect, and try to extract accountability from the occupant of Malacanang.

As the 2009 SONA represents (hopefully) the last report of the President, critics and allies have been girding for a showdown over the past two weeks on television, radio and the print media.

The battle shifted to a higher gear this weekend when the administration bought media space on all major newspapers to trumpet its SONA achievements since 2001. In an almost full-page advertisement entitled "SONA Targets Delivered" the administration trumpeted its achievements on its Ten-Point Program, amply called "BEAT THE ODDS".

How much of these claims are FACT and how much is FICTION?

Let me continue the fact-check.



P62.93 billion remitted by the PCGG to the Bureau of Treasury for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.

National Unity and Reconciliation led to the granting of absolute pardon to former President Joseph Estrada.

Fact Check:

Funds for the CARP - Yes, FACT.

I have never believed that granting pardon to ERAP was an act of reconciliation or that it healed the wounds of EDSA. It in fact made a mockery of the judicial system because a convicted plunderer was pardoned too early and too fast.

The bigger problem is not the wounds of EDSA but the wounds that were created after EDSA. Hello Garci, JocJoc Bolante and the fertilizer scam, NBN-ZTE, Romy Neri and executive privilege, and E.O. 464 and the destruction of executive-legislative checks and balances are festering wounds that will challenge the next President.



41,079 or 97.85% of barangays have been energized. 70% of waterless municipalities outside of Metro Manila and 75% of waterless communities within Metro Manila have potable water.

Fact Check:

Significant gains on electrification. Questionable success in providing access to water.

Access to potable water has improved but what "level"? First level (hand pumps, shallow wells, collected rainwater)?; Second Level (Piped water with a communal water point such as a spring system)?; Third Level (Piped water supply inside a house)?

The government's claims are difficult to validate given the sketchy and sometimes contradicting statistics on water access. A WHO-UNICEF report in 2006 stated that only 44% of urban households and 12% of rural households have water piped into their residence. The World Bank Report on Pro-Poor Services (2001) reported that only 64% of respondents had access to formal service providers.

What is clear is that we currently don't trust the quality of water from our faucets and the poor suffer more than the rich when water is inaccessible or of questionable quality. Poorer households now spend a big part of their household income on bottled water.

Access to potable water? Probably FICTION more than FACT.



12 million jobs created from 2004-2009.

For a healthy and productive workforce, the Cheaper Medicine Act will provide more affordable medicine.

Fact Check:

"Unemployment" is defined by the government as those "without work", "currently available for work" and "actively seeking work".

So how would you call those who have been looking for work, failed to find one, and simply gave up and now spend their time playing tong-its and drinking on the street? They are not included in the unemployment rate.

Conditional cash transfers that put money in the hands of the poor so they can spend and make the economy move is good as a stop-gap measure. But will this now become a continuing policy of government?

Employment figures are difficult to judge given the definition, type and quality of government-generated jobs in a period of economic crisis. Plus there is no mention of job losses, especially in a period of economic recession. Both a FACT and FICTION.

Cheaper medicine law for a healthy and productive workforce - correlation is not clear, definitely FICTION.



The PNR system from Tutuban to Buendia is now operational. On going construction of the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 2, MRT/LRT Loop, C5-NLEX-SLEX link, and the Northrail-Southrail Link Phase 1 will further decongest Metro Manila.

Fact Check:

On-going constructions - Can not be judged until completed.

Do these decongest Metro Manila? Yes and No. The creation of rural areas with Metro Manila-like amenities is the only way to decongest Metro Manila short of restricting migration. Partially FACT, partially FICTION.



Infrastructure development projects such as the SCTEX boosted the competitiveness advantage of Clark and Subic as prime investment areas. The Diosdado Macapagal International Airport posted a 21% increase in international passenger volume in the first five months of 2009 amid the global economic crisis.

Fact Check:

SCTEX - Definitely FACT. But has this boosted competitiveness? Then why did FedEx leave the country? The sight of boarded-up stores that used to house duty-free outlets in my last visit in Clark was truly depressing. Maybe competitiveness and increased investments is a FICTION?

You be the judge.

BEAT THE ODDS : Fact Check - Part 1

by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

The annual State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the President before Congress allows political pundits, presidential critics and allies, and the general public to look back, reflect, and try to extract accountability from the occupant of Malacanang.

As the 2009 SONA represents (hopefully) the last report of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, critics and allies have been girding for a showdown over the past two weeks on television, radio and the print media.

The battle shifted to a higher gear this weekend when the administration bought media space on all major newspapers to trumpet its SONA achievements since 2001. In an almost full-page advertisement entitled "SONA Targets Delivered" the administration trumpeted its achievements on its Ten-Point Program, amply called "BEAT THE ODDS".

How much of these claims are FACT and how much is FICTION? Let me check.



Thirty three (33) quarters of uninterrupted economic growth amid global crisis shows a resilient economy that is better than most countries. Our stability is affirmed by international ratings agencies like Moody's.


A "balance budget", by definition, is a budget either submitted by the President to Congress (executive budget) at the opening of Congress, or approved by Congress (and the President) at the end of the year, where expenditures (the allocation of public funds) is equal to revenues (public funds collected). In short, government achieves a balanced budget when its income is equal to its expenditures.

Now how is "33 quarters of uninterrupted economic growth" connected with a balanced budget? I have no idea. In fact, I have always wondered by GMA's economic advisers included a balanced budget in its Ten Point Program given the fact that this is an impossible task given our economic growth pattern. Even the US has not had a balanced budget since 1957!!




68,888 classrooms built from 2004 to June 2009
41,781 of 42,000 barangays have elementary schools
1,494 of 1,495 municipalities have high schools
1:1 book-to-pupil ratio in 18 of 20 subjects
10.86 million beneficiaries of scholarships and educational assistance


Impressive numbers but the achievements are in relation to what? For example, 68,888 classrooms have been built but what is the over-all classroom shortage? And how fast is the government catching up with the classroom lack?

And what about participation and cohort survival rates of students at the elementary and high school levels which we have committed to increase as part of the MDGs?

And what about those who fall out of the school system? How many Filipino children are "out of school youth" and what has the government done to address this problem?

If "Education for All" is claimed, then educational indicators must go beyond infrastructure data.

Fact Check - Claims are difficult to assess given the numbers. Lack of data on participation, cohort survival rates, and OSY - FAILED OR FICTION.



All systems go for automated elections in 2010 with the recent signing of the contract with SMARTMATIC-TIM.


GMA administration can really claim this. Thank god for the intervention of COMELEC!

Fact Check - Strong potential for FACT but no passing grade until the 2010 elections is finally completed.



The Strong Republic Nautical Highway with 30 operational RORO ports link the archipelago making travel and transport of goods faster and cheaper, stimulating business and tourism.

The country's digital infrastructure boosted tourism, commerce, and the BPO-IT industry.

Fact Check:

Nautical Highway - FACT. This is one of the real legacies of GMA.

But what about all the infrastructure projects enumerated in previous SONA's? Read this:

Digital Infrastructure - Interconnecting the country via NBN-ZTE deal? hmmmm...obvious FAIL/FICTION.



549 former rebels have been integrated into mainstream society through the social integration program.

The suspension of the offensive military operations (SOMO) against the MILF aims to provide a stable environment for the resumption of peace talks between the Government of the Republic (GRP) and the MILF.

Fact Check:

SOMO is good but is this supposed to mean that hostilities are "terminated"? MOA-AD has been rejected.

Peace talks with NDF has stalled.

Definitely FAIL/FICTION.

Making a Historic SONA

As we analyze and reflect on what hopefully would be the last State of the Nation Address of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, let me re-post a column that I wrote for Business World in 2005 at the height of the Hello Garci scandal.

I wonder what will make her 2009 SONA historic?

Making a Historic SONA
by Dr. Prospero E. de Vera

It is this time of the year when Congress hosts the President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) for her yearly State of the Nation Address (SONA). Unlike in the United States (US) where citizens eagerly anticipate the State of the Union Address delivered with solemnity, tradition, and pageantry, most Filipinos do not pay attention to the SONA, much less understand its purpose and history.

But this year’s SONA will definitely be different. The usual pomp and pageantry will be overshadowed by the nightmare of “GMA Resign” groups massing outside the Batasan, the threat of a boycott by the opposition, and the public’s impatience to hear what the President will say about the Gloriagate tapes.

What exactly is the State of the Nation Address all about, and what should we expect when the President speaks before the joint houses of Congress this week?

American Colonial Tradition

The SONA is part and parcel of the institutions and processes that we inherited from the Americans during our colonial past. As such, it is important to understand its historical beginnings in order to analyze the practice of various presidents in delivering a SONA and to know what to expect in a SONA.

In the US, the first “State of the Union” speech was delivered by George Washington in 1790 as part of the constitutional requirement that the President shall “from time to time give to the Congress information of the state of the union and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient” (Article II, Sec. 3 of the US Constitution).

As originally conceived, the Address was supposed to be a conversation between the President and Congress and should contain legislative measures that require immediate action. The Address was also used to present the chief executive’s goals and agenda through broad ideas or specific detail.

Since Washington’s first speech to Congress, US Presidents have “from time to time” given Congress an assessment of the condition of the union. Giving a “State of the Union” speech was discretionary on the part of the President, and for more than 100 years (1801–1913) US Presidents did not find it necessary to talk to Congress about the State of the Union.

With the advent of radio and television (Calvin Coolidge's 1923 speech was the first to be broadcast on radio while Harry Truman’s 1947 address was the first to be broadcast on television), the President’s annual message became not only a conversation between him and Congress but also an opportunity to communicate with the American people. The content, delivery, and objectives of the Address therefore changed because the President was now speaking to two audiences—Congress and the people. It was used to report on the achievements of the administration and rally public opinion to the side of the President.

Philippine SONAs

Unlike in the US where the presidential address is discretionary, the Philippine Constitution requires the President to address Congress at the opening of its regular session (Article VII, Sec. 23). Much like the tenor of Washington’s initial Address that rallied congressional support for the federal union, the first State of the Nation Address delivered by President Manuel Roxas rallied Congress and the people to unite for independence and post-war reconstruction.

Succeeding Presidents used the SONA to deliver historic announcements and cement their place in history. The SONA was used to promote the Filipino First Policy (C. Garcia), decontrol and free trade (D. Macapagal), the New Society (F. Marcos), and Philippines 2000 (F. Ramos). In GMA’s first SONA, she highlighted indicators to measure government performance on the war against poverty.

GMA’s 2005 SONA

What then should we expect when GMA delivers her 2005 SONA and how should we measure her performance?

In order to determine accountability for executive and legislative performance after the SONA, the key question to ask is “who is the President speaking to in her SONA?”

If she is speaking to Congress, we should expect a workable legislative agenda that requires congressional action and then monitor whether the legislature enacts these bills into law within a year. If her SONA is directed at the Filipino people, then she must make an accounting of her past actions and respond to issues that Filipinos want addressed.

But what legislative action will GMA ask given that Congress has already passed the excise tax on sin products and value-added tax (VAT) laws? Political reforms, particularly charter change, appear to be her legislative agenda for this year. Can she call for a shift to parliamentary government and federalism in a situation where her own allies (M. Santiago and R. Gordon) and critics (A. Pimentel, F. Drilon, and M. Roxas) are united in opposing charter change? For Drilon, such a change would not solve the country’s economic and political woes. For Roxas, it would make the situation more turbulent. For Pimentel, it is better initiated by the next President.

And can she get cooperation from Congress when both the opposition (Pimentel, S. Osmena, F. Escudero, I. Marcos) and her former allies (Drilon, F. Pangilinan, and R. Golez) are leading the call for her resignation?

Then maybe she should call on Congress to expedite her impeachment!

If she decides to talk directly to the Filipino people to rally support for her administration, then she must go beyond admitting a “lapse in judgment” and answer the serious questions on the Gloriagate tapes—the poll rigging, abduction of witnesses, and military involvement in the elections.

If she is serious about going beyond her “lapse in judgment” statement, she should lead the hunt for Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Commissioner V. Garcillano, who is at the center of the wiretap controversy and who appears to be the main culprit in the alleged electoral fraud. She should take the initiative to revamp the COMELEC and ensure that all officials whose names were mentioned in the tape are brought to justice.

She should also talk about how she intends to stop jueteng and her family’s alleged receipt of jueteng payola.

And how about graft and corruption?

If what we have seen and heard from GMA and MalacaƱang in recent weeks is any indication of what the SONA will address, then we can expect a defensive, politically and personally driven theme. The President seems to have used every available resource in her image-rebuilding campaign in an effort to dodge the bullet and ensure her stay in power.

Being forthright and accountable, however, will be the only way for President Arroyo to make the people start believing in her. Anything less only prolongs the political and economic agony besetting this nation. GMA would have then squandered her State of the Nation Address.

Better yet, the President can use the occasion to heed the call of the majority of Filipinos: Resign from public office and spare the Filipino people from further suffering. Indeed this would make the 2005 SONA the most historic of all SONAs and firmly cement her place in history.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Presidential Race: the View from Abroad

Dr. Prospero E. de Vera III

New Jersey, USA. The celebration of Philippine Independence Day in all the major Filipino communities in North America provided ample opportunity for Philippine presidential and vice presidential candidates to “press the flesh” and introduce themselves to Filipino migrants and overseas workers through the annual parades, gala dinners, and regional/ethnic get-togethers.

As my wife Charito and I drove from Mississauga, Ontario to Bergenfield, New Jersey through the interstate highway system in our annual summer trek, I grabbed as many Filipino newspapers and talked with Filipino-Canadians and Filipino-Americans to check their political pulse and ask who in their mind is leading the presidential race for 2010.

Amazingly, everyone I met had very strong opinion, and many have in fact passed judgment about the current presidential and vice presidential aspirants.

The most visible and energetic candidate was definitely Senator Kiko Pangilinan who zigzagged through Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Toronto, Houston, and Boston meeting fraternity brods and migrant Pinoys while accompanying Sharon Cuneta in her series of concerts in these key American and Canadian cities. His Team Kiko led by Jojo Digao in fact also covered the New Jersey and New York states. . A visibly sleep deprived Jojo told me over a cup of coffee at a Starbucks in Toronto that Pangilinan was even able to fly back to the Philippines to attend the last days of the session during this whole travel episode. Surprisingly, he missed the Independence Day Celebration Ball in Toronto organized by the two biggest Filipino-Canadian groups – Kalayaan Cultural Community Centre of Mississauga and the Philippine Independence Day Council of Toronto.

While Pangilinan was the most traveled, it was Senator Manny Villar who got the best press coverage in the New York-New Jersey Filipino newspapers. The Filipino Times & Asian Review in New Jersey had “Destined to Lead: Manny Villar” as its banner story in its June 6-13, 2009 issue and extensively projected his participation in the June 7 Independence Day Parade attended by many Filipinos in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area in its June 13-20 edition. The Asian Journal also featured Villar in its cover in an article titled “Sen. Villar Ready for 2010 Campaign, Elections” and described him as a “self-made real estate mogul who rose from the slums of Tondo” to become “The Brown Taipan”. Both newspapers also gave broad coverage for Villar’s gracing the Manaog Feast Day event in New York and his interaction with the Filipino community leaders in the area.

Vice-President Noli de Castro got press coverage for marching with Villar, Ambassador Davide, and various Filipino groups at the Independence Day Parade in New York. However his “No Way” response to the media when asked if he would slide to the vice presidency during a cocktail reception organized by the Philippine Consulate and his statement that “I am not campaigning. I am not a candidate yet” (therefore no position on issues) may have limited his media exposure as he was not prominently featured in any of the opinion columns in the tri-state area.

News stories on four other presidential hopefuls appeared in the local papers. Senator Ping Lacson’s decision to quit the 2010 race and the arrival of Mancao in the country (Newstar Philippines), Bayani Fernando’s decision to seek the presidency (Newstar Philippines), Gilbert Teodoro’s decision to join LAKAS-KAMPI-CMD (Filipino Times), and GMA’s political hacks calling Mar Roxas “Boy Bawang” (Newstar Philippines). Strangely, there was no newspaper pick up on Senator Chiz Escudero.

My conversations with many Fil-Canadians and Fil-Americans in the East Coast (framed perhaps not just by local papers but by The Filipino Channel, GMA Pinoy TV and community tsismis) gave me a long list of peculiar perceptions and views about the presidential hopefuls.

There seems to be a widespread belief that while qualified and eloquent, Chiz Escudero is too young to become president and should wait his time.

While everyone I talked to believed that he was very qualified, many were not titillated, some even said it was awfully corny for the fifty-something Mar Roxas to be filming and broadcasting every step of his engagement plans in contrast to young movie stars Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo who tried their best to keep their
marriage ceremony a very private affair.

Bayani Fernando had many fans for his decisive guts to clear the streets of vendors but his fans find him too stiff and ineffective when explaining himself in the media.

The most critical comments were directed at Noli de Castro not for his lack of competence and performance but for his decision to go in the ring when Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton at the hugely televised mega fight Everyone I spoke to at the cook-out cum-political press conference hosted by an enthusiastic group of Kapampangans in New Jersey believed that de Castro’s actions demeaned the office of the Vice-President, and worse, disgraced Filipino leaders before the world stage.

Consistent with the newspaper projection, many of the Filipino migrants I met had kind words for Manny Villar – understandably so -- Pinoys can relate with his story of perseverance, thrift and hard work combine to bring oneself up the social ladder and enjoy the ultimate North American dream.

The election is months away. But if elections were held today and if the presidency would be decided by Filipino migrants Manny Villar would be the winner. But many things can happen between now and the next few months. If Villar’s rising star keeps soaring, he is the man to beat. Some other bets are chalking up points up the ratings, but the question is: Are these enough to catch up with the leader. There are surprises – man-made or otherwise. You should know Philippine-style elections. You will never know.