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One Angry SONA

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Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (in a fuschia-colored terno designed by Inno Sotto) delivering a rancorous SONA.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (in a fuschia-colored terno designed by Inno Sotto) delivering a rancorous SONA.

“The state of our nation is a strong economy. Good news for our people, bad news for our critics.”

Arguably that was the strongest line from yesterday’s hour-long State of the Nation Address (SONA) which was delivered by Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

As a trained economist, Arroyo has always strived to be known as an economic workhorse. And so she peppered her 9th (and supposedly last) SONA with fabulous figures of economic growth that, many will say, are too good to be true. Therefore, the SONA was applauded 124 times this year (as against last year’s 104 and 2007′s 103 — in itself a feat!).

Her SONA, however, wasn’t all talk about development and a “strong economy.” Since it comes but once a year, she made it an opportunity to fireback at her political foes and critics.

While a strong downpour outside the Batasang Pambansâ disappointed thousands of anti-Arroyo protesters, she made sour slights and indirect hints against those who have been heavily criticizing her presidency. But the unfortunate unnamed receivers of Arroyo’s rancorous remarks were pretty obvious.

In one instance, Arroyo declared:

Our efforts prodded the pharmaceutical companies to come up with low-cost generics and brands like RiteMed. I supported the tough version of the House of the Cheaper Medicine law over the weak version of my critics. The result: the drug companies volunteered to bring down drug prices, slashing by half the prices of 16 drugs. Thank you, Congressmen Cúa, Álvarez, Birón and Locsín.

Pursuant to law, we are placing other drugs under a maximum retail price. To those who want to be President, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it. Do it hard, do it well. Don’t pussyfoot. Don’t pander. And don’t say bad words in public.

It is widely known that Arroyo has been at odds against Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas over the issue of cheaper medicines. Whatever their disagreement over the said issue, they certainly didn’t jive because last December, an angry Mar Roxas unleashed perhaps the most unparliamentary remark –a foul language at that– ever heard in the history of the Philippine Senate as a negative reaction towards Arroyo’s stance on cheaper medicines. And so on her SONA, Arroyo retaliated quite hilariously with a funny-sounding Brit verb that is rarely used nowadays: pussyfoot

What in the world does pussyfoot mean? The following definition is fromhttp://dictionary.reference.com:

puss-y-foot [poo s-ee-foot] verb, noun, plural -foots.
–verb (used without object)

1. to go or move in a stealthy or cautious manner.
2. to act cautiously or timidly, as if afraid to commit oneself on a point at issue

Arroyo even thanked Congressmen Junie Cúa, Antonio Álvarez, Ferjenel Birón and Teodoro “Teddy Boy” Locsín, Jr., without acknowledging Roxas who was, in the first place the staunchest advocate of passing a cheaper medicines law.

The next victim of Arroyo’s seething anger was friend-turned-nemesis, former House Speaker José de Venecia, Jr.:

The noisiest critics of constitutional reform tirelessly and shamelessly attempted Cha-Cha when they thought they could take advantage of a shift in the form of government. Now that they feel they cannot benefit from it, they oppose it.

It’s interesting to note that in previous SONAs, Joe de V have had his palms all red due to numerous applauses he gave to his ex-friend.

Finally, Arroyo left no kind words unannounced for her bitter rival, President Joseph “Erap” Estrada:

I am falsely accused, without proof, of using my position for personal profit. Many who accuse me have lifestyles and spending habits that make them walking proofs of that crime.

We can read their frustrations. They had the chance to serve this good country and they blew it by serving themselves.

Those who live in glass houses should cast no stones. Those who should be in jail should not threaten it, especially if they have been there.

Arroyo was all smiles all throughout the controversial SONA. And those smiles weren’t just because she was declaring good news to her constituents, but because finally she was able to garner some payback time against those who have been attacking her left and right these previous months.

Yesterday’s weather and Arroyo. Both were on the same mood.

Regrettably, this angry SONA of hers began with a solemn prayer (for former President Corazón Aquino who is currently battling colon cancer). It’s quite ironic to begin an event with a prayer and then follow it up with a barrage of attacks against critics and rivals, not to mention questionable claims of economic progress.

Questionable. Because, you see — have all these proud declarations of development trickled down to a massive hungry populace?

Sic Transit Gloria: Arroyo’s 9th State of the Nation Address

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Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo

As of this writing, thousands of anti-Arroyo rallyists have already converged along Commonwealth Avenue in Quezon City to listen to her ninth (and supposedly final) State of the Nation Address (S0NA) which will commence moments from now.

It was also reported that at least eight senators (all from the opposition) and other militant lawmakers are planning to boycott the said event. This could mark the first time in the history of Philippine politics that numerous lawmakers will skip the president’s SONA.

All this may no longer negatively affect Arroyo’s mindset. Since grabbing the presidency in 2001, she’s certainly become accustomed to collective ad hominems and massive rallies against her. With all types of allegations being hurled against her person and her government through the years, she’s been through hell and back (what with all those countless protest rallies and coup d’états she had experienced). But what could certainly be troubling her mind all this time is a scathing editorial from the influential US daily The Washington Times. And this editorial was released at a most inopportune time: yesterday (Manila time), on the eve of her SONA.

The editorial criticizes US President Barack Obama’s decision to welcome Arroyo to The White House this coming Friday (Thursday, Washington time). It will be his young presidency’s first visit by a Southeast Asian leader. But this doesn’t sit well with the newspaper’s team of opinion generators.

The newspaper did its homework quite well because it cited Arroyo’s current standing in public approval polls (a ghastly 26 percent), the growing discontent of the masses (“Street demonstrations against her are routine and growing in size.”), not to mention her questionable victory during the 2004 polls (which many believe should have been won by local film legend and Filipino idol Fernando Poe, Jr.) and the bribe and extortion scandals. Furthermore…

The Philippines has become less free during Mrs. Arroyo’s 10-year presidency. According to Freedom House, “Corruption is extensive throughout the Philippine state apparatus, from the lowest to the highest levels. Bribes and extortion seem to be a regular element of the complex connections among bureaucrats, politicians, businessmen, the press and the public.” In Transparency International’s 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index, the Philippines ranked 141st out of 180 nations on a list in which No. 1 is the least corrupt. The level of Philippine corruption is tied with Iran and Yemen and worse than in dodgy places such as Libya and Nigeria.

The corruption problem is affecting Manila’s relationship with other allies. A senior Philippine official told The Washington Times that German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent Mrs. Arroyo an ultimatum last month that Berlin-Manila ties are at risk if the Philippines doesn’t pay $60 million owed to the German government for Manila’s new international airport. The Philippine government seized the airport and refused to pay a German company — which is partly owned by the German state — for its construction after revelations that the contract allegedly was laden with millions in bribes and kickbacks.

There are also serious human-rights abuses in the archipelago. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, “The Philippines ranks sixth worldwide among countries that fail to prosecute cases of journalists killed for their work.” Between 1992 and 2008, at least 34 journalists were murdered in the Philippines; there were convictions in only three of these cases. Four more members of the press were killed this June alone. Opposition voices regularly disappear as well.

Surprisingly, it is apparent that the editorial shares the sentiments of many Filipinos, and in much precise fashion. For some political pundits and analysts, it remains to be seen if Arroyo’s spin doctors and speechmakers did hasty overnight revisions to her SONA just to counter the editorial. Or perhaps Arroyo will simply ignore it.

Whether or not Arroyo ignores the editorial content of The Washington Times in her SONA, the fact of the matter is that it has already disturbed her enough. She nor her spokesperson doesn’t have to admit this. Any major leader of a nation who has been loyal to the most powerful country in the world must win not only the attention of the American president but the American press as well. For as in most countries, the media still guide the flow of a body politic’s opinion.

Obama is still young. And such political youthfulness carries the innate wisdom to listen to the wise discernment of the Fourth Estate.

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