SONA COSTS P3 MILLION; AQUINO SPENT A WEEK REHEARSING SPEECH

[PHOTO -Finishing touches. Members of a militant group Alliance of Peoples Organization put the finishing touches on a giant effigy of President Aquino who will deliver his state of the nation address on Monday. (Photo by Manny Palmero)]

MANILA, JULY 23, 2012 (STANDARD) By Maricel Cruz - President Benigno Aquino III spent the whole Saturday rehearsing his latest draft of his State of the Nation Address that he will deliver on Monday.

Amid all the preparations, including the P3-million allocation for hosting the constitutional obligation, Mr. Aquino’s spokesmen said they would not know until he is fully satisfied with his final SONA.

“I can safely say that he will be working on the speech today [Saturday] and he will hopefully have the time to rest tomorrow [Sunday] for Monday’s state of the nation” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.

In a separate interview, Presidential Communication secretary Ramon Carandang said he and his teammates have been up all night almost all week working with the President regularly for the consolidation of Aquino’s speech.

Aquino, who will wear a Barong Tagalog, will deliver his speech in Filipino, Carandang said.

Asked about the accomplishments of Aquino since he assumed office, Carandang said: “I think what we have done is we have turned the corner from what is a very dark page in our history and the Philippines is becoming what the president has promised could be on his term. A country where we have economic growth that is felt not by just a few people but by a broad segment, a country that is able to stand up for itself and defend its territory, a country that encourages business to drive here so that people can create jobs and investors can profit, and a country where its government has a greatest sense of accountability, and the people who have a greater sense of pride on themselves and have greater faith in their own ability to get things done”.

Aquino’s forthcoming address will be the 73rd since 1936 and the 26th since the restoration of democratic rule under the Fifth Republic in 1987.

The SONA delivered by the President is a yearly tradition wherein the chief executive reports on the status of the country, unveils the government’s agenda for the coming year, and may also propose to Congress certain legislative measures.

The SONA is a constitutional obligation, as written in Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution: “[t]he President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.” Moreover, Article VI, Section 15 prescribes that the Congress “shall convene once every year on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session.”

The President of the Philippines appears before Congress upon its invitation, for which purpose a joint session is held in the Session Hall of the House of Representatives.

Congress issues tickets, and all preparations are undertaken with Congress as the official host.

On Monday morning, both the House of Representatives and the Senate hold their respective sessions in their respective chambers and elect their officials.

For this year’s SONA, at least P3 million has been earmarked by Congress as the official host, on top of the funds set aside to spruce up the Batasan Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

A few days before the SONA, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. lead the blessing of the North Wing extension, which entailed P57 million.

The North Wing extension now houses a lounge on 2nd floor and meeting rooms on the 3rd floor.

The extension building was not only built in symmetry with the entire Batasan structure but also allowed bigger functions.

“I have been guests of some parliaments and activities were always within the parliament building. I would like to follow the same pattern to give prestige to the people,” Belmonte said. With Sara Fabunan

FROM THE TRIBUNE

No surprise seen in ‘routine’ Sona Written by Fernan J. Angeles and Angie M. Rosales Monday, 23 July 2012 00:00

GROUPS, SOLONS DEMAND NOY SHOW DIRECTION IN ADDRESS

The Palace described the State of the Nation Address (Sona) today of President Aquino as “truthful, inspiring and defining” but the general expectation is that its contents would not be different from the formula of past two Sonas that focused on the sins of the past and Aquino’s claim of achievement while lacking in substance such as a clear direction on his economic policies with Sen. Joker Arroyo describing the speech as a “traditional ritual.”

The nationalist economic group Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) dared Aquino to define in the Sona its economic governance approach of “inclusive growth” in that nobody will be left behind as the economy grows.

“Without the anti-corruption drive, the economic governance approach of Aquino, or as some quarters call it “Aquinomics,” is no different from the 10-year reign of “Arroyonomics,” according to FDC.

Aquino will deliver the address, which had to be revised nine times, in front of a Joint Session of Congress at the Batasan Pambansa and is expected to start around 3 p.m.

[PHOTO - SEN. JOKER ARROYO (NO RELATIONS TO GLORIA ARROYO)

The Senate and the House of Representatives would be convening separately in the morning before heading for the joint session which would formally pave the way for the event which costs the government P2.7 million just for the food of the guests.

Arroyo added that he did not expect Aquino to deliver an astounding third Sona, saying the address would likely follow what he described as “traditional ritual” and would contain his administration’s accomplishments and plans for the coming years.

“It’s a routine. All presidents say: this is what I have done and this is what I will do. It is a ritual,” Arroyo said.
Not one president has ever admitted any failures in his Sona, Arroyo pointed out. But what he could give credit to Aquino for is the fact that he has managed to instill fear among higher-level public officials with his tough stance against corruption.

Yet, lower-level officials from the bureau director down have apparently not heeded the President’s warning that wrongdoing would be punished severely, he said.

“That straight-path mantra of Aquino is effective at the highest level of government so he should be congratulated,” Arroyo said.

But he added that “at the bureaus, going down to the provincial, local and municipal levels, it’s the same thing; corruption continues.”

The senator added that “big businesses are benefiting from the top-level anti-corruption drive, but the small ones still have to deal with crooked ways at the lower levels. If Aquino cures that, he will be successful. He has four more years to do it.”

The FDC, however, said that just like Arroyo, Aquino was still following the economic framework of neo-liberalism and its policies of liberalization, privatization and deregulation which, it said, were “the very same reasons the (local) agricultural and manufacturing industries could not compete with those of other countries; that prices of electricity, water, oil and other basic necessities have been skyrocketing and regular and decent jobs locally for most Filipinos are lacking.

“As President Aquino prepares for his third Sona, we ask him to prove to the Filipino people that his economic governance approach of inclusive growth is not a fraud,” it said.

Sen. Edgardo Angara (photo) said gains achieved by Aquino in the past year must be followed through with greater investments in quality education, healthcare, agricultural productivity and business efficiency.

“The country is eager to know where we are on the ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path), he said,” Angara said.

“First-quarter growth was strong. We are just one notch below attaining investment grade for the first time ever. The unemployment rate also dropped to 6.9 percent in April,” noted Angara, vice-chairman of the Senate committee on finance, said.

“These indicators seem to be reflected in the sentiment of our people. Based on various surveys conducted by the (Social Weather Station), total self-rated hunger and self-rated poverty have declined while net economic optimism is high,” he added.

The Philippines was also one of the top gainers in the 2011-2012 World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index, jumping from 85th spot to 75th, he added.

“Admittedly, a lot more needs to be done. These are important gains, nonetheless, and we want to know how the President plans to sustain them and use them as the foundation for more reforms,” Angara said.

“For instance, we want to know the administration’s viable long-term plan on education, both primary and higher education,” he said.

“This is not the first time that the country is in a position of promising economic takeoff. Unfortunately, we have always been unable to make growth sustainable. I hope we will not again let pass the opportunity to fulfill our economic potential,” he added.

Aquino, who as of press time was reportedly still rehearsing his speech, would likely be able to fill the entire Batasan session hall with 2,000 plenary guests including foreign dignitaries invited to listen to the President’s report delivered in Tagalog translated into English by Communications Undersecretary Manuel Quezon III.

Likewise bracing and claiming to be all set for the event seen to formally open regular sessions of both the Senate and the House of Representatives are some 6,000 organic and “unarmed” Philippine National Police personnel, who have been reported to be deployed in the vicinity of the Old Batasang Pambansa Complex in Quezon City.

An estimated 10,000 activists from various militant groups are also eagerly waiting Monday dawn when they start the traditional protest march to the Batasan to publicly demonstrate what they described as the general sentiment of the Filipino nation.

The 23-member Senate and the 285 legislators of the House of Representatives would occupy the session floor area as they usually do, while guests would occupy the bleacher seats surrounding the plenary hall.

Unlike in regular session days, only guests with official invitations would be allowed to enter the Batasan complex.
A designated place in the bleacher area has also been reserved for invited diplomats and Cabinet secretaries.

Except for several hints by Palace spokesmen Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte (photos), Malacanang had declined to give any specific details on what Aquino’s Sona would all be about.

“Basically (it’s) what I’ve said yesterday and previously, it’s a look back and a look forward. The speech would reflect the real state of the nation. The President is going to lay out what he has accomplished during the past year and would also expound on looking forward in his Sona,” averred Lacierda in an interview heard over the government owned radio station.

“The President as well as his speech are all wrapped up and ready for Monday, so he’s good to go,” added Lacierda who likewise urged Palace reporters not to preempt the President.

[PHOTO -PRESIDENT BENIGNO AQUINO III, Malacanang photo]

The President has declined to make any appointment since Friday for what the Presidential Communications Operations Office claimed as a time that he would like to spend entirely in rehearsing his Sona speech.

Visual aids, which the President wanted to utilize to complement his speech, are expected to be set up Sunday night at the Batasan Plenary Hall.

While the President, as of press time, was reportedly still busy rehearsing for his Monday Sona, the militant protesters were likewise rehearsing for a political spoof on what they claimed as Aquino’s handling of issues they deemed extremely contrary to his 2010 electoral campaign promises.

Various militant groups said this year’s anti-Sona rallies would be very much different from what have been seen in the past, even as they claimed that not even the heavy rains would be able to drive them away.

“We’re ready as the President claims he is. Not even the rains will make us run because this year, we’re coming more than prepared. In fact, we have required each individual on our side either to wear raincoats or bring umbrellas just in case it rains,” said Jimmy Dollaga of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines.

Protesters, who would only be allowed to go as far as the Gotesco Commonwealth Mall, have been converging in several strategic points leading to the Batasan area.

The activists will also do the traditional burning of the President’s effigy to cap their program, which would feature several militant leaders defining the real state of the nation as seen by their respective sectors and groups.

The PNP has been on full alert 48 hours before the Sona.

At least 6,000 “unarmed” cops have already been deployed to secure the Batasan Complex. Other than the PNP, all seven civil disturbance units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Bureau of Fire Protection have likewise been directed to assist the PNP in crowd control management.

Traffic rerouting by the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority is also in place.

Sen. Loren Legarda outlined the core issues the President must address and remarked on the important role of Congress in achieving progress in these areas.

“National security is the unifying theme in everything the government does and should be among core considerations he must address. It straddles governance, delivery of basic services, consistent and honest pursuit of sustainable development, and ensuring security not just in the national defense realm, but security for every Filipino inside and outside of his home,” Legarda explained.

On the President’s Tuwid na Daan strategy, she commented that while anti-corruption was a central theme and vital element for the administration, “Filipinos need to see how these efforts translate to food on the table, education and health services for all, access to clean energy and a healthy and secure environment in order for Filipinos to grow and prosper as a nation.”

“Governance policies, while important, need to be translated into services and programs whose benefits can be felt by the ordinary Filipino. At the end of the day, this government will be judged by the number of people it will lift out of poverty and by the sense of security that our people will enjoy facing the future,” she said.

Legarda also highlighted the importance of foreign policy to protect our national interest in the global arena.

“We have more than eight million Filipinos, nearly 10 percent of our population, who need to remain in our radar screen as their contributions in various ways have kept our economy afloat over the past decades. We need to ensure that their safety and well-being form part of our definition of national interest,” she explained.


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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