Editorial & Opinion

Aquino’s SONA: Lies, deceptions and silly boasts

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How can you respect a President who, in a speech that should discuss where we are as a nation, instead brags about his purported accomplishments by barraging us with claims which turn out to be downright false, deceptive, arguable as to its veracity, or puerile boasts?

 

Given this newspaper’s deadline for column submissions, what follows is a preliminary list of such atrocious claims made by President Aquino in his 1.7-hour State of the Nation Address the other day.

RICE IMPORTS.

Aquino (translated from Pilipino) said in his SONA: “According to the NFA, in 2010, the country imported more than 2 million metric tons of rice. In 2011, this fell to 855,000 metric tons. In 2012: 500,000 metric tons. And now in 2013: the maximum we will import, including the private sector, will be the minimum access volume of 350,000 metric tons. “

Did Aquino think we forgot about the reports of massive rice smuggling that the National Food Authority obviously can’t report? What follows is the report from www.oryza.com, the recognized global grains industry news site, quoting separate reports of the US Department of Agriculture, which is known to rely for its data even on CIA intelligence:

“The USDA estimates that rice imports by the Philippines in MY2012-13 (May to April) are likely to reach around 1.5 million tons, while rice imports in 2013-14 are forecast at around 1.2 million tons. These figures are significantly higher than government figures of 500,000 tons of rice imports in 2012 and the targeted . . . rice imports in 2013.

The USDA says that the continued entry of undocumented rice (estimated at around 400,000 to 600,000 tons in MY 2012-13) into the country is a serious challenge to the Philippine rice industry. It says that smuggled rice into the country increased in 2012 and hurt the profits of local rice producers and traders.” (Emphasis mine.)

THE CONDITIONAL CASH TRANSFER PROGRAM.

The rationale of the program—to prevent it from becoming merely a give-away—is that poor families receiving the funds are required to keep their children in school. Thus, the argument goes, the cycle of poverty will be broken as educated or merely literate workers have higher wages.

Aquino in effect claimed that the conditional cash transfer program is such a success in its major aim of getting children of poor people finish elementary that he would extend the program to include “families with children up to 18 years old …so that their children will be able to finish high school.”

However, a comprehensive assessment by the World Bank (“Philippines Conditional Cash Transfer Program Impact Evaluation 2012) released this year had the following main conclusion:

“The findings suggest that the program has not had a significant impact on increasing enrollment among older children aged 12-17 years old. . . . However, the program was unable to even improve enrollment of children 12- 14 years of age, who are currently covered under Pantawid Pamilya.”

Why would Aquino extend coverage to families with children up to 18 years old, when the program is failing in getting poor families’ children finish even elementary school, which is the minimum requirement for them to crawl out of the poverty quagmire?

COCONUT INDUSTRY.

Aquino thought he had hit on a brilliant idea by claiming that if coconut farmers just intercrop their farms with coffee (or bananas and cacao), they will be rich, earning more than P150,000 a year. Wow!

But somebody should tell Aquino that’s been tried even before the last world war in almost all coconut-producing countries in the world.

The Philippine Coconut Authority during Marcos time (using the controversial coco levy) even made heroic efforts to introduce intercropping. Such programs were mostly failures, and proven to be unworkable, unless billions of pesos in funds support them. Small, poor coconut farmers (which dominate the industry) can’t afford the seedlings and fertilizers for the new crops, markets for the new crops (like cacao) are too far, and risks for incurring loans for these new ventures are too high. If they fail they’ll be losing their lands.

Aquino bragged: “We were able to use 5,500 hectares of land for intercropping in 90 different locations throughout the country.” Didn’t someone tell him that there are 3.9 million hectares of land planted to coconuts? Isn’t it so silly that Aquino thinks it is such a big accomplishment to report to the nation in his SONA that after three years he succeeded in introducing intercropping in 0.1 percent of the Philippine coconut hectarage?

A LIE SO HE COULD BOAST.

Aquino said in his speech: “Let us take the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) as an example. In the thirteen years prior to our term, from 1996 to 2009, the dividends of the PRA amounted to a sum total of P676.8 million. Along the straight path: in 2012 alone, their dividends: P1 billion pesos. Is this not a complete transformation?”

Audited statements of the PRA show that its dividends from 2007 to 2009 amounted to P2.1 billion. If you include those for 2010, the total would be P2.6 billion. Aquino clearly lied on reporting the P678 million figures.

There’s more. PRA’s income for 2012 has grown allowing it to remit P1 billion to the National Treasury thanks to you commuters, at least those regularly commuting from Cavite and Manila, who pay about P64 to use the R-1 Extension of the Manila-Cavite Expressway (Cavitex), which opened in 2011. That stretch of Cavitex is owned and operated by the PEA Tollways Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of the PRA. And who shepherded this project, which involved massive funding from Malaysian companies? Presidents Ramos and Arroyo.

Aquino claims its P1 billion is due to the PRA’s “complete transformation” under his administration. Of course Aquino didn’t mention that PRA’s president and chief executive officer is Peter Anthony Abaya, who had been one of Arroyo’s technocrat from 2001 to 2008, first as energy undersecretary, with his last post being CEO of PNOC Alternative Fuels Corp. from which he resigned because of health reasons.

PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP.

Aquino boasted: “(We) are seeing the effects of the honest, transparent, and clear way we have been going about our PPP Projects . . . Apart from the Laguindingan airport, which is already being utilized, we are upgrading and modernizing the Tacloban Airport, the Bicol International Airport, the New Bohol Airport, and the Mactan Airport, all at the same time. The Daang Hari-NLEX link road is the fastest PPP project that has been awarded in any administration, with no shortcuts in the processes.”

The International Monetary Fund assessment of the PPP project, quoted from is Staff Report on its 2012 Article IV consultations:

“The current government initiated a series of PPP projects, but these have been implemented slowly, with contracts for only two projects (road network and classroom construction) awarded so far to the private sector. While the PPP pipeline includes 22 projects across various sectors, the total cost of all projects is still small (less than 2 percent of GDP). “

DPWH AS THE MODEL OF A GRAFT-FREE AGENCY.

Aquino said: “In the space of only three years, we have proven that agencies that were once cesspools of corruption can be transformed into examples of honest and efficient service. (Secretary Singson’s) kind of honest leadership has allowed the DPWH to save P18.4 billion, which has been allotted to other meaningful projects.”

Both Aquino and Singson have been repeating again and again that the DPWH has been saving billions of pesos by reducing graft in its projects. They have, however, not given any details how this has been accomplished, so that they might as well claim P100 billion and we have no way of verifying it.

One case where the project cost significantly went up is the Ternate-Nasugbu road. Ricardo Ramos, head of the NGO InfraWatch that is monitoring the government, reported that the signage for the early 2010 for that project showed that it costs P600 million.

Now the DPWH lists its cost in its reports at P820 million, Ramos said. Ramos, who has been in the construction industry, explained that a significant part of the corruption at the DPWH now involves contracts to repair roads that do not need to be repaired, but only to provide easy projects for DPWH officials’ favored contractors.

The modus operandi Singson would have told contractors: “Incur savings on this project so we’d appear good in media, and I’ll give you easy projects to capture these savings.”

Strangely, there have been no changes at all in the DPWH’s bureaucracy. Nor has there a single charge of graft filed in the Ombudsman under this administration for cases of corruption in the DPWH committed in the past or incumbent administrations. Are we to believe that personnel of the DPWH—in surveys always ranked in the top three most graft-ridden agencies in the past several administrations—have suddenly become saints?

What is also shameless for this president is to claim that infrastructure projects that were“ started 20 years ago” such as the Ternate-Nasugbu road and the Aluling bridge in Ilocos are being constructed only under his term.

As a former congressman and senator, Aquino knows full well the DPWH has master plans looking into decades in the future, renewed almost every year that includes just about any infrastructure project the country needs. These projects, however, actually get started only when Congress approves budgets for these, based on the assessment of their urgent needs.

Why the heck is Aquino so obsessed with TESDA, a minor agency whose main activity—running training programs for blue-collar work—doesn’t require much brains and leadership, just enough funds to pay for trainors?

If we can’t trust Aquino on information he claims in the most important speech he makes every year, why should we trust him at all?

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The Filipino Express

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