ULY 15, 2013 (STANDARD) By Manila Standard Today - A WEEK from today, President Benigno Aquino III will address both houses of Congress and the Filipino people, reporting to them on the state of the nation and telling them what they can expect in the last half of his six-year term.

Presidents have always used the yearly State-of-the-Nation Address to put their best foot forward and to shine a light on their administration’s achievements.

If Mr. Aquino stays true to form and sticks to the Palace script that all is well in the republic, it will be a feat worthy of the great Houdini, making the country’s most serious problems disappear with the wave of his hand.

Over the weekend, negotiators from his administration and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front worked late into the evening to hammer out an agreement on how both sides will share the wealth of a political entity they hope to create from the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, a sticking point in a peace pact to end the decades-old Muslim insurgency in the country’s poorest region.

It is telling that the top negotiators on the side of the government speak these days of closing the deal before the President’s speech – as if being able to boast about it during the address were a legitimate milestone in the peace process rather than political window dressing.

In truth, the efficacy of any accord the government now signs with the MILF will be suspect because a splinter group calling itself the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters has vowed to fight on, a fact that the administration has chosen to dismiss by painting the breakaway faction as mere “bandits” and “criminals.”

The nonchalance seems to ignore the fact that both the MILF and the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group both began as splinter groups of the Moro National Liberation Front, with which the government signed a peace agreement in 1976.

If history is any indication, the peace agreement that the administration is rushing to sign this year will be no more successful than the Tripoli Agreement of 1976 in bringing peace to the war-torn region, no matter what Mr. Aquino will say in his address next week.

Other feats of sleight of hand are likely.

In his first State-of-the-Nation Address in 2010, Mr. Aquino made a great to-do about stopping the bloated bonuses given to executives and employees of the state-owned Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System, a wasteful and corrupt practice that he said cost taxpayers P211.5 million a year.

Yet the same President has remained silent on the unjust practice of two private water concessionaires to charge their income tax payments to their customers, bilking them of P15 billion in the last five years, or P3 billion a year.

Will Mr. Aquino break his silence during his address next week and speak out on behalf of the helpless consumers? Most likely he will not and choose simply to duck the issue by passing it on as well.

After all, despite the public outrage over the pass-on charges, the official Palace stand is to not comment and wait for the MWSS to decide on even higher water rates that the two private concessionaires want to impose.

Mr. Aquino, too, has been known to question official statistics when they do not fit his message. This was certainly the case after the National Statistical Coordination Board reported that the income of the rich was growing at a much faster rate than the earnings of the middle class or the poor in 2012. Ignoring inconvenient truths is tried and tested method of making problems go away.

But perhaps Filipinos are not as gullible as Mr. Aquino imagines.

Despite his anti-graft rhetoric and his persecution of officials of the previous administration over the last three years, 64 percent of Filipinos believe that corruption in the public sector is still a “serious problem” and believe that public servants and officials are corrupt, the latest survey by Transparency International shows.

This suggests that Mr. Aquino’s bluster is failing the reality check that more and more Filipinos are applying to an administration that has delivered mostly talk and very little action over the last three years.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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