EDITORIAL: Cultivating a state of the nation

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Given the popularity of social media Web sites that allow an internet user to voluntarily post photos and thoughts, or whatever quality and quantity, experts have raised the question: How different are we from the personas we cultivate on the Internet?

 

These personas have pictures taken from the best angles, dish out the wittiest quotes, ponder the most profound questions, dine in the trendiest restaurants and generally lead interesting lives.

But a site like Facebook, for instance, is hardly life.  Life is the mundane as well as the interesting, the silly as well as the smart, and the unflattering as well as the pretty.

The distinction comes to fore as President Benigno Aquino III is set to deliver his fourth State-of-the-Nation Address on Monday.  Theoretically, such an address is a snapshot of the country at any given point, in this case, halfway through the President’s term.

Ideally, too, the SONA will be the President’s report of the progress of his programs and, in the spirit of candor, of the areas in which his administration has fallen short of expectations.

Going by experience, however, we do not expect this kind of speech.

This is, after all, a President who once castigated the media for not being positive enough. Positive, all right, he will be, as he rattles off the supposed gains made during his first three years in power.

Mr. Aquino will likely invoke the much vaunted straight and narrow path in claiming that government corruption has been brought down. A former president is facing plunder charges and a chief justice was ousted for not disclosing all his assets in his mandatory statement.

But is this all? A recent survey by Transparency International shows that a significant number of Filipinos perceive corruption in the country to have remained the same, or even worsened. One of the revenue-generating agencies of government, the Bureau of Customs, has consistently failed to meet its targets and to stem corruption within. The advocacy to stem corruption should go beyond political affiliations—prosecute the corrupt at whatever level regardless of the color of his or her campaign shirt.

The wealth-sharing agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, in pursuit of lasting peace in Mindanao, has also been surprisingly hammered out in these last few days before the SONA. We have no problem with the agreement if it were truly the result of consultations with the numerous stakeholders.  But if it were hammered out just to make the deadline for the President’s SONA, we believe haste makes waste.

Mr. Aquino will also likely claim credit for the better-than-expected GDP growth in the first quarter of the year.  But he is not inclined to mention that hunger and unemployment have worsened, in absolute terms, and that growth in income is skewed, felt more by the higher-income Filipinos than the lower- and middle-income ones. In fact, Palace spokespersons have dismissed the findings of the government’s own statistical agency even as they acknowledged that inclusive growth cannot be achieved overnight.

It’s hardly overnight—it has been three years, and Filipinos are waiting to hear more than fiery, self-righteous rhetoric. If this administration had a social media persona, then that would be it—it’s the epitome of good governance, it can do no wrong, and all the problems being encountered are the fault of its evil predecessor.

Sometimes the penchant of this administration to paint the rosiest picture is amusing—but not so when it comes at the expense of being able to squarely identify the problems that need sober, serious solutions. When we listen to the President’s speech on Monday, let us be discerning: Is this the real state of our nation, based on our own observations, or is this a stage-managed feel-good story that only serves to elicit mindless “likes”? (Manila Standard)