The SONA, 48 hours Later

July 28 2010

The SONA has had 48 hours to breathe. It continues to be highly drinkable but not as.

The speech retains the aroma of probity and high -mindedness that characterized it when first opened.

Yet, in the light of day, it is also starting to lose some of its fullness. Either we are more sober or its range is not quite as advertised.

As expected, the Gloria Administration has come out guns blazing to counter the allegations of corruption.

Arthur Yap, the former Sec. of Agriculture, figures in hand, has  attacked the claim that he over imported rice and left it to rot. He was not frothing at the mouth which helped his case. Banayo, the current NFA head, said there is insufficient evidence to prosecute anybody but he is working on it.

The ex-head of PMS has indicated that while the Calamity Funds may appear disbursed, they are intact in different bank accounts in Government. That should be easy enough to trace. It may be a case of wanting to defraud but not getting around to it.

The assumption by the Government of the NAPOCOR obligations was disclosed at the time. The crime was not in the financial restructuring- it was needed if Government was to keep faith with its creditors- but in everything else that led to the restructuring. This story spans several Administrations.

The rape of the MWSS  by its officials is possibly criminal. Yet, however despicable, their actions do not meet the standard for “shock and awe”.

The allegations on the Road Users Tax have legs. Just look at the lifestyle of its former Chairman.

The President, in deciding to be the bearer on national television of the anomalies, was presumably told the claims were bulletproof. This hypothesis, if the counter arguments of the Gloria people are to be believed, may be in question. And that is not good.

For if the Gloria boys can prove even a fraction of their case in the court of public opinion, that the accusations against them are scurilous and designed to shock rather than inform; then the credibility and judgment of the Noy Admistration, not to speak of the President himself, will have suffered.

The President will be criticized for unduly politicizing the atmosphere even as he calls for national unity.

From its texture, the SONA appears to have been crafted by the President’s political advisers rather than his technocrats. This explains the relative lack of content. It also explains why the speech connected with the people. It was not a business plan, it was a campaign rally.

Noy’s political strategists wanted to keep selling the President even when he was already sold. In this sense they may have been overenthusiastic in making claims that were not fully vetted. Hey, guys, Noy already won. It is now time to govern.

The President must counter possible allegations  that his is a witch hunt, a reservoir for future failings. He should, however, not take this on himself. Enough that his advisers trotted him out to make claims that were possibly not fully formed. He should leave his subalterns to clean up after him.

At the same time, the President has to act. Having personally signed off on the revelations of corruption, having put equity in the game, he has to move in on the offenders.

The nation knows there were huge anomalies in the previous Administration and wants the perpetrators punished. But the Government must be sure of its case before announcing charges. Otherwise the culprits may escape on technicalities.

The President has intimated he is helpless because of lack of funds and legal constraints. The nation does not want to hear this, not after giving him an 88% favorable rating. With that number even I could walk on water.

So if there is no money, enact a Supplemental Budget (and explain to your creditors that you will make it upto them). If the MWSS officials cannot be removed because of tenure, check their tax returns.

Some say the Administration is more interested in scoring points than in delivering the goods. In truth we don’t get the sense of a mean machine at work in Malacanang. What the President needs is a Chief Operating Officer that will crack the whip, set the focus, unify the message.

This is the job of the Executive Secretary but Ochoa does not appear to be a taskmaster nor apparently does he want the role. Whoever, the President needs a ring leader.

The SONA theme was “ We can now start to dream it”. If you don’t mind, Mr. President, can we move that up a notch?  Can we say instead “ The Philippines,we can now start to do it”.

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About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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