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The Manila Times
Rep. Edcel C. Lagman’s
Weekly Thursday Column

Before President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 26, 2021, it may be appropriate to review the valedictory SONAs of the past presidents after the EDSA people power revolution, except for President Joseph Estrada’s because he did not finish his term.

The delivery of the SONA before the joint session of the House and the Senate at the start of each regular session is the President’s constitutional duty. The first SONA is an overview of the new incumbent's philosophy of governance, legislative priorities, and commitments under which his or her administration's accomplishments would be measured and failures assessed. The valedictory SONA is the outgoing President's final report on the cumulative state of the nation viewed from the presidential prism. It may include the President's assertion of legacy, which is better left to the judgment of the people and history.

President Corazon C. Aquino

She led the transition back to democracy from the repressive regime of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In the words of President Cory Aquino in her final SONA, “we grew from strength to strength – in the enlargement of our democratic space and the strengthening of our democracy … Against our economic gains that are ever hostages to fortune, stands one steadfast, unalloyed achievement: our democracy.”

Agrarian reform was the centerpiece program of President Cory. The historic enactment of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law was unfortunately diluted by the legislative innovation of corporate stock transfer, instead of the physical distribution of land to the tillers of Hacienda Luisita owned by the Cojuangco family.

On our foreign debt, which odiously ballooned during the Marcos regime, President Cory acquiesced to the lords of international finance, instead of using her tremendous worldwide popularity, without being confrontational, to secure condonation and other means to drastically reduce the country’s tainted foreign indebtedness.  

Notwithstanding any missteps, President Cory Aquino remains the unchallenged icon of democracy.

President Fidel V. Ramos

He presided over the continued resurgence of the economy. In his 6th SONA he pointed to his administration’s key growth indicators: increases in gross domestic product (GDP), per capita annual income, foreign investments, and exports, and the fall in inflation rate.

President Ramos supported family planning as a component of national development. He led the vigorous assault on monopolies and opened up the Philippine economy by enforcing deregulation and privatization. He ventured on the unpopular readjustment of the value added tax from 4.0 percent to an international standard of 10 percent. His economic achievements helped the country survive the 1997 Asian financial crisis which crippled national economies across Southeast Asia.

The Ramos administration’s belated charter change initiative, which was generally perceived as lifting of term limits, was popularly rejected. Despite his accomplishments, Ramos had his share of reported scandals, like the Centennial Expo, PEA-Amari and Benpres-North Luzon Expressway, where his direct involvement in any was not proved.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

She anchored the achievements of her nine-year presidency on further strengthening the nation’s economic fundamentals. In her final SONA, she reported that this strong economy enabled the country to survive global crises in fuel, food, and finance. She cited that average inflation was at its “lowest since 1966” at 1.5 percent in June 2009, public debt-to-GDP ratio “declined from 78 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2008”, foreign debt was cut “from 73 percent to 32 percent”, and the economy “posted uninterrupted growth for 33 quarters”.

President Arroyo stressed that “[t]axes should come from alcohol and tobacco, and not from books. Tax hazards to lungs and livers, do not tax minds.” She assured that she also prioritized education and skills training. She signed RA 9346 abolishing the death penalty.

Despite her achievements and her being a workaholic, her critics did not stop demonizing her. In turn, she peppered her last SONA with digs at them. She was also hounded by scams and scandals, like the Jose Pidal and fertilizer fund scams, Hello Garci electoral fraud, overpriced NBN-ZTE scheme, corrupted Northrail and Southrail proposed projects, misuse of millions from the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO), and diversion of the Malampaya fund.

After her term, the Supreme Court dismissed for insufficient evidence the misuse of PCSO funds and the Ombudsman dismissed the diversion of the Malampaya fund against Arroyo.

Benigno Simeon Aquino 3rd

He spearheaded an unflinching crusade against official corruption. In his last SONA, President Aquino reported that the campaign netted, among others, three senators who were detained and a former President who was confined under hospital arrest. Since then, two of the senators had been released on bail and another had been acquitted. Former President Gloria Arroyo was released from almost four years of hospital arrest after the dismissals of the criminal charges against her by the Supreme Court and the Ombudsman.

The import of President Aquino’s unswerving crusade was the reduction of incidence of corruption. It also improved our ranking in the international Corruption Perceptions Index.

President Noynoy’s drive against corruption was marred by the P10-billion Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scandal which exploded in July 2013.

Subsequently, the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the PDAF. Also struck down was the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), a stimulus package approved by President Aquino without legislative authorization cover.

He built on the existing sound economic fundamentals: for the first time the country was accorded investment grade by credit rating agencies; net foreign direct investments reached $6.2 billion, paralleled by impressive domestic investments; more jobs were created, and unemployment rate dropped; and Public-Private Partnership was intensified for infrastructure development.

President Aquino challenged China’s spurious claims over the West Philippine Sea and won a decisive arbitral award. He also approved landmark laws on Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health, Anti-Enforced Disappearance, and Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition, all pro-human rights legislations.

Will President Duterte’s last SONA be contrite or contrived?


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