JULY 28, 2009 (STAR) By Delon Porcalla - Speaker Prospero Nograles, a known ally of President Arroyo, said the SONA of the chief executive was “tough but accurate and full of substance.”

“It is the best evidence that despite vile criticisms and low ratings, her administration has performed exceedingly well in delivering her commitments.

“The President’s SONA is tough in refuting her critics but it is also solidly based on real and factual achievements.

“Her SONA is an undeniable proof that of all the Presidents that have come and gone, her administration is probably the most accomplished in the actual delivery of all her commitments in each of her SONA in the past nine years,” he said.

Mrs. Arroyo’s eldest son, Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, chairman of the House committee on energy, told reporters his mother is “not a lame-duck President” as branded by detractors.

“She’s not a lame-duck... she’s a working president. For the first time, she stood up and defended herself. This country is much better than it was in 2001,” the presidential son said.

“As proven by statistics, she’s doing a good job. That means the executive must be doing something right. Because it is her last SONA, so she took the chance (of fighting back),” the young Arroyo added.

Chief Justice Reynato Puno said: “GMA accomplished a lot. There was an increase in the appropriation for the judiciary. I will not make a political judgment,” he told reporters in a chance interview.

First Gentleman Jose Miguel Arroyo, whose name has always been associated with corruption in the President’s administration, said “she did very well.”

“That’s why I’m very proud of her. Of course, it’s very clear that she’s stepping down after her term,” he said.

Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, whom Mrs. Arroyo appointed as consultant in the Department of Justice, said he is “proud of her achievements.”

As for Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, a presidential aspirant who will be undergoing selection process in the Lakas-Kampi-CMD, nobody could blame the Chief Executive for the way she defended herself from harsh criticisms.

Meantime, US embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson said the President’s SONA was “significant.”

Thompson also said that US Ambassador Kristie Kenney was glad that Mrs. Arroyo began with a moment to pray for former President Corazon Aquino who is battling stage 4 colon cancer.

Kenney said “to me it sounded like a final SONA.”

Disappointed opposition

House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora was “disappointed because I was expecting GMA would declare categorically she would be stepping down in 2010.”

“It was a fighting SONA with GMA taking shots at Mar and Erap,” he said.

Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos II was “wondering where all these wonderful numbers are coming from.”

“They don’t reflect the other statistics we’ve seen and life at ground level,” he said.

Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño, one of those who boycotted the SONA, watched the event after all, observing – sarcastically – that the May 2010 elections have already started, and that the SONA was part of the campaign period.

Opposition Sen. Francis Escudero said the allegations of corruption against the President “may very well be the darkest legacy of the Arroyo administration’s nine years in power. –With Pia Lee-Brago, Charlie Lagasca

Senators: SONA contradicts reality Updated July 28, 2009 12:00 AM

[PHOTO AT LEFT Anti-government rallyists dance in the rain near the Batasan complex in Quezon City, where President Arroyo delivered her final SONA yesterday. ERNIE PEÑAREDONDO MANILA, Philippines]

Senators criticized President Arroyo yesterday for delivering a State of the Nation Address (SONA) that painted a picture of a prosperous Philippines, which they said was far from reality.

They said her speech contradicted the reality that corruption under the administration cost the country up to trillions in lost funds, millions of Filipinos were still going hungry and that people were still leaving in droves to seek better opportunities abroad.

Sen. Loren Legarda said while the President’s SONA had less gimmickry compared with the previous years, “it continued to be a hit-and-miss affair.”

“She talked about inflation of 1.5 percent being the lowest since 1966, but glossed over the fact that prices of commodities go down when people, due to poverty, are unable to buy goods or to avail themselves of services,” Legarda said.

Sen. Francis Escudero said studies showed that revenues lost annually to corruption in the Bureau of Internal Revenue was over P200 billion, while around P100 billion was diverted by grafters at the Bureau of Customs.

“Multiply it by nine years and we get P2.7 trillion in funds lost to corruption in these two bureaus alone, which is about twice our national budget for this year. All these diverted funds, even half of it, could have been used to create more jobs, build more classrooms, and turn around the impoverished lives of many of our people,” he said.

Sen. Francis Pangilinan said as expected, Mrs. Arroyo trumpeted her administration’s supposed successes yet the painful truth was that data showed poverty levels had not been reduced and have in fact increased under her watch, pervasive corruption had not been addressed and our people in the thousands continue to leave the country daily having lost hope for a better future in the country.

Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano said Mrs. Arroyo “deserves the best actress award for portraying a good, honest and productive president.”

Meanwhile, former President Fidel Ramos described the SONA as a tough speech but he refused to say if she had succeeded or failed in leading the country, saying instead that the people should judge her performance for the past eight years.

“Let the people judge her, let the people be the jury,” Ramos said during a television interview after Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA.

He described her speech as “masyadong matapang.”

“The President’s SONA is tough in refuting her critics, but it is also solidly based on real and factual achievements. Her SONA is proof that of all the administrations that have come and gone, hers is probably the most accomplished in the actual delivery of all her commitments in the past nine years,” he said.

In her address, Mrs. Arroyo took potshots at Ramos, former President Joseph Estrada, Sen. Mar Roxas, and Pangasinan Rep. Jose de Venecia Jr. who was her principal ally in Congress when he was still Speaker of the House of Representatives.

She said the cost of electricity remains high due to the power contracts negotiated during Ramos’ watch.

She has promised to bring down electricity cost but has so far failed to do so.

Mrs. Arroyo’s allies hailed her SONA, with Speaker Prospero Nograles describing it as “tough but accurate and full of substance.”

Palawan Rep. Antonio Alvarez said the presidential address “was a fighting, feel-good, factual speech, which, best of all, was rendered mostly in Filipino to better rally us to have more faith in ourselves.”

Rep. Teodoro Casiño of Bayan Muna said the President’s last SONA sounded like a campaign speech.

He said Mrs. Arroyo “bashed her critics and presented herself and her administration as the best things that ever happened in our country.”

However, Casiño said the President “failed to categorically state her plans for 2010, even making a bad job about stepping down from the podium but not from the presidency.”

Like Casiño, Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz of Abakada-Guro said Mrs. Arroyo was unclear about her preparations for stepping down next year.

“She told the nation she has one year to go but did not specify what she intends to do within that year. She has to tell us what her exit plans are,” he said.

Erap, Roxas hit SONA

The tirades by Arroyo against former President Estrada are aimed at stifling the freedom of speech and expression in the country, Estrada’s camp said.

In a statement, the office of Estrada’s spokesperson was particularly peeved by part of Arroyo’s SONA, which read: “Those who live in glasshouses should cast no stone. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there.”

“We take this as a direct hit against former President Estrada and as a threat from the president to cease from criticizing her administration. This is an indicator of the cruelty and dictatorship that the current administration is capable of and another attempt by the administration to stifle our freedom of speech and of expression. President Arroyo seems to be forgetting that at the end of the day she is still a public servant, that her duty is to serve the Filipino and not to dictate her whims. Therefore the people will continue to speak against her for all her sins against the people, and that voice will include President Estrada’s,” the statement of Estrada’s camp read.

Mrs. Arroyo, who said she would not allow politics to hamper her work until 2010, hit those who were eyeing the presidency, particularly Sen. Roxas, whom she did not give credit for the Cheaper Medicine Law and for saying bad words in public.

“I no longer pay attention to those kinds of tirade. What I focus on are the grievances of the people. All I wanted was for the prices of medicine to become affordable. She should just do her work in bringing down prices of medicine,” Roxas said.

Roxas said Mrs. Arroyo had the nerve to assail him when she had not in fact signed the executive order that would compel pharmaceutical companies to bring down the prices of medicine and instead let the drug firms voluntarily do it.

“I refused to transact with her. She should just do her job, why hasn’t she signed the EO? Why blame me? Why didn’t she veto the bill that we passed? How many SONAs has she boasted about cheaper medicine? Why doesn’t she like to assume the power of having to cut down the prices of medicine? Why does she keep on talking to pharmaceutical companies?” Roxas asked.

Roxas did not attend the SONA and instead participated in a rally and directed traffic along Commonwealth Avenue where the President delivered her address. He is expected to deliver the counter-SONA at the Senate today.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay said Arroyo plans to stay in power beyond 2010.

“Mrs. Arroyo did not categorically say that she will step down voluntarily in 2010. This means she plans to be around beyond 2010. Mrs. Arroyo did not tell her allies to abandon Charter change through constituent assembly. This means con-ass is still on,” Binay said.

Binay said Arroyo spent a better part of her SONA diverting the issues against her administration – misuse of government resources, failure of governance, scandals and corruption.

Various sectors join anti-Arroyo protest

Militant party-list representatives led critics of President Arroyo, claiming yesterday that her SONA was “full of lies.”

“Arroyo is an inveterate liar, SONA accomplishments have no value for the people,” said Anakpawis Rep. Joel Maglunsod, one of the lawmakers who decided to boycott the yearly event attended members of Congress, government and military officials.

The other party-list representatives who snubbed the President’s speech include Rep. Rafael Mariano also of Anakpawis, Reps. Satur Ocampo, Teddy Casiño and Neri Colmenares of Bayan Muna, Raymond Palatino of Kabataan, Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of Gabriela, Reps. Risa Hontiveros and Walden Bello of Akbayan.

At least 10,000 anti-Arroyo demonstrators continued the rally despite heavy rains along Commonwealth Ave near the Batasan Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

Thousands of workers nationwide also staged demonstrations to dramatize their opposition to the planned Charter change (Cha-cha) that allies of Mrs. Arroyo are proposing.

Members of the Alliance of Progressive Labor (APL) said Cha-cha was never meant to be the solution to the issues plaguing the nation.

APL spokesman Edwin Bustillos said Cha-cha is a pretext to extend the term of Mrs. Arroyo.

Rallyists against the SONA and Cha-cha staged protests in Legazpi City and other parts of Bicol.

The demonstrators compared the Arroyo administration to the restive Mayon Volcano in Albay, which is about to erupt anytime.

Anti-Arroyo demonstrators carried placards, streamers and effigies at the Ninoy Aquino Park in Daraga town then proceeded to Peñaranda Park where they continued the mass actions.

The Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) in a statement said the administration is no longer fit to rule because it is afflicted by a condition that is both chronic and systemic. “It is not fit to rule and should not be perpetuated by Charter change, martial rule, or any other means.”

HEAD added the group came up with the diagnosis after finding that the president had cardiac disease, causing her to be “apathetic to the plight of Filipino patients.”

Meanwhile, detained former Scout Ranger chief Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim said the people are now wise and cannot be forced to believe Mrs. Arroyo’s SONA.

“This fateful day is now upon us, a day when we should all stand together to thwart, once again, another effort of this evil administration to trample upon our rights and perpetuate itself in power,” said Lim.

Lim and 27 other officers from the Philippine Marines headed by retired Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda are facing charges before the civilian and military courts for reportedly plotting to overthrow Arroyo in February 2006. With Delon Porcalla, Mayen Jaymalin, Cet Dematera, Sheila Crisostomo, Jaime Laude, Aurea Calica, Jose Rodel Clapano

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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