PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III makes his final State-of-the Nation Address (SONA) today with his political clout fading and struggling to choose a successor for next year’s elections that would continue with his agenda, analysts said over the weekend.
A peace treaty with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), aimed at ending decades of fighting that has claimed 120,000 lives, is in peril a draft law granting self-rule to the Muslim minority is stalled in Congress.
Economic growth slowed to a three-year low of 5.2 percent in the first quarter.
“He is entering his lame-duck phase and he’s losing influence by the day,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
“He should use his remaining political capital and tell Congress to pass the BBL,” Casiple said, referring to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law that would create the autonomous Muslim region in the south and is the centerpiece of the peace plan.
The measure has languished in Congress due to outrage over the deaths of 44 police commandos in an encounter with Islamic rebels, including gunmen from the MILF, in January.
Aquino is indeed expected to urge Congress on Monday to quickly pass the law, the main barrier to implementing the peace pact, according to his advisers.
If Aquino does succeed in finalizing peace with the MILF, it would be one of the most important legacies of his presidency, Casiple and other analysts said.
A stronger economy is the potential major legacy for Aquino, although it is more tenuous as it will be dependent on whether his successor will push his anti-corruption program, which critics say has been carried out only on the President’s political opponents.
“It’s a fragile legacy, in the sense that it takes longer than a six-year term for anti-corruption measures to stick,” said Jonathan Ravelas, chief market strategist at BDO Unibank.
One of the big themes of Aquino’s address to Congress is expected to be a call to the nation to choose the right successor to press on with his anti-graft campaign.
“In less than a year, the Filipino will again be at a crossroads,” Aquino said in a speech last week, while inspecting a new dam project, that he is expected to echo on Monday.
“My only advice: pick a leader who will be true to his promise, not someone with empty promises, not someone who will take advantage of you or steal from you.”
But with 10 months before the election, Aquino cannot yet even choose himself.
Aquino’s preferred choice has long been seen as Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, his longtime ally, family friend and Liberal Party stalwart.
But Roxas is languishing in surveys and there is a strong chance he would be easily beaten by the opposition’s charismatic leader, Jejomar Binay.
At the 2010 elections, Binay crushed Roxas in their contest for the vice presidency.
Another potential presidential candidate is first-term Senator Grace Poe, who owes her immense popularity to being the daughter of famed, deceased movie star Fernando Poe Jr.
Her father lost the 2004 presidential elections in controversial circumstances, with his camp insisting Gloria Arroyo stole 1 million votes that cost him victory.
But while popular and widely regarded for her personal honesty, Poe has relatively little political experience and has ruled out joining Aquino’s Liberal Party.
Liberal Party officials said Aquino would prefer Poe to be Roxas’ vice president, a move the neophyte senator seems reluctant to do. Instead, the independent senator may choose to run for president with her close friend, Senator Francis Escudero, as her vice president, a move that could steal votes away from the administration candidate.
“If I had my way, I (would have) announced my choice yesterday,” an exasperated Aquino said last week when asked about who he wanted to succeed him.
Capitalizing on the uncertainty is Binay, a former Aquino ally who has in recent years faced a barrage of corruption allegations that have raised concerns about the nation’s path under his helm.
Either way, Aquino faces a gamble, according to Ateneo de Manila University political science professor Benito Lim.
“If Aquino endorses a loser, everything he worked for will go to waste,” Lim said.
As the nation prepared for Aquino’s last SONA, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto said two documents submitted to Congress after the SONA—the Technical Report to the SONA and the proposed national budget for next year—would speak louder than the words the President delivers in his speech today.
“SONA is poetry. But if you want to read the prose of where we are, it is in these two documents. I call them ‘day after’ documents but they are very important,” Recto said in a statement.
Recto said the SONA is a “looking back—looking forward” speech, while the source material of the “looking back” part is the Technical Report to the SONA, and “the main basis of the looking forward is the national budget for next year.”
The Technical Report to the SONA is a report card of what has been done since the last SONA, Recto said, while the budget looks ahead.
“A budget is a book of intentions. You may promise many things but the proof that you will do it is in the budget,” he said.
“In governance, funds proposed in the budget speak louder than words in a SONA,” he added.
Next year’s expenditure program is pegged at P3 trillion, up 15 percent from this year’s P2.6 trillion. Like in the previous four years, it is expected to be formally presented to congressional leaders a day after the SONA.
The SONA should be adjudged together with what the two documents contain, Recto said.
Senator Loren Legarda on Sunday said that among the issues she hopes Aquino will mention in his last SONA is the country’s commitment to combat climate change.
“President Aquino’s last year in the presidency is crucial as it will define the benchmark for his successor. Climate change is a defining political issue because it means livelihood, jobs, homes, and our very survival. Our vulnerability to climate and disaster risks should make us even more committed to work towards addressing these challenges. I hope the President would explain how the government is working towards an economy that is climate-adaptive, disaster-resilient, environment-friendly, sustainable and inclusive,” said Legarda, who chairs the Senate committees on Environment and Natural Resources, and Climate Change.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, on the other hand, said Aquino should spell out not only his achievements but also the failures of his administration during the last five years.
While the Aquino administration has many shortcomings and has committed many blunders, Trillanes said he believed the President’s biggest accomplishment was to regain the public trust.
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