On July 27, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will deliver her ninth (and hopefully last) State of the Nation Address.
The 9th SONA should be an occasion for Mrs. Arroyo to give an honest assessment of how the Philippines is working to achieve the Millennium Development Goals in curbing hunger and poverty and delivering social services to the poor.
But no. She will not give an assessment, much less an honest one. She may not even mention the MDGs and the poverty alleviation program in which her administration failed miserably.
The Philippines is not only lagging behind the goals, but is, in fact, far worse than before Mrs. Arroyo assumed power. Despite government pronouncements of strong economic fundamentals and steady growth, facts and figures viz the MDGs would belie Arroyo’s bragging.
As of first quarter of 2009, the Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that 47 percent or 8.7 million Filipino families consider themselves poor. During the same period, SWS said that 34.2 percent of the labor force is unemployed. The current financial crisis is expected to cause rise in joblessness and increase in food prices, thus driving more people to hunger and poverty.
Infant mortality in the Philippines is among the highest in Southeast Asia, next only to Indonesia. The same is true with maternal mortality. There is not enough professional health workers to assist in childbirth and in giving basic treatment for the sickly poor.
But even in times when the Philippine economy peaked (2004 and 2007, both election years), the Arroyo administration failed to deliver on social development. Not only is the government trying to keep a balanced budget to the detriment of delivery of basic services by impounding funds for health, education and other social services. Mrs. Arroyo, for instance, has not released over P500 million for health expenditures appropriated by Congress last year which could have been used to arrest tuberculosis and other infectious diseases. This being her last SONA, she should commit to release the budget allocations for social development and poverty alleviation which she impounded. Like any accountable government official, she should clear her budget backlog and all other accountabilities.
But Mrs. Arroyo will paint a rosy picture of the Philippines, an image that exists only in the walls and garden of Malacañang. She will make promises she is wont to break. And her minions will the number of times she will be applauded.
But outside of what is supposed to the august hall of Congress is the real state of the nation – the faces of mothers dying from childbirth; children who cannot afford to go to school even for primary education; graduates in need of a job; workers laid off from their jobs; the urban poor clamoring for their right to the city; the landless farmers; families orphaned by their activist kin felled by authorities; millions who are hungry and homeless.
There is another chance for Mrs. Arroyo to make a good speech. If she will categorically state there will be presidential elections in 2010 and that Congress will not convene as a Constituent Assembly , she will be giving her best SONA ever.
Otherwise, it will just be another set of lies. And we have had enough!
Prof LEONOR MAGTOLIS BRIONES JOEL SARACHO
Lead Convenor National Coordinator
Social Watch Philippines GCAP-Philippines