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Noy bids goodbye in two-hour SONA

PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III bid farewell and thanked all his Cabinet members Monday in a two-hour State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) that will be his last before he leaves office in June 2016.

Despite saying that he was under the weather, Aquino spent two hours and nine minutes on an address that again attacked his predecessor, highlighted the gains of his reform program and gave thanks to 86 people—including his Cabinet secretaries, the Palace staff and even his maid.

While he acknowledged the presence of opposition Vice President Jejomar Binay at the start of his speech, he did not credit him for the work he did as a housing czar and presidential adviser on overseas workers until he broke with the administration in June.

The Batasang Pambansa, Aquino interrupts his speech (inset) at the House of Representatives with
a bout of coughing. MANNY PALMERO/LINO SANTOS
The President made no mention of his close friend, former national police chief Alan Purisima or the botched Mamasapaono operation in which 44 police commandos were killed and which eventually forced him from office.

Critics on the Internet observed that Aquino had to stop seven times because of coughing fits—and said these were the most honest part of the President’s speech. The Palace said the President was unwell, which was why he skipped the usual processional entry into the plenary hall of the Batasang Pambansa.

As in all his previous SONAs, Aquino again hit former President Gloria Arroyo, who has been detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center since 2011 on plunder charges.

Aquino expressed gratitude to former members of the Dabinet ---- former Energy secretary Jericho Petilla and the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo.

He also thanked other members of the Malacañang family, including his staff, members of the Presidential Security Group, his family members and his maid.

Aquino, however, saved his most profuse thanks for Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II, who is the presumptive Liberal Party candidate for president in 2016.

Scenes from the SONA. Anti-government protesters set fire to a giant effigy of
 President Benigno Aquino III along Commonwealth Avenue to signify their opposition
to his government on the occasion of his last State-of-the-Nation Address.
Aquino praised Roxas, whom he is expected to endorse this week, for his competence and dedication to the government.

“To Secretary Mar, whether you are with the government or not, attackers of Daang Matudwid [the straight path] have not stopped their attacks against you,” Aquino said.

“Since you have the capability, they continue to put you down. Because they cannot raise themselves up, they want to put you down,” he added.

Aquino said the attacks against Roxas were proof that his political opponents were afraid of his integrity and competence.

Stopping short of endorsing Roxas for president, he encouraged the Interior secretary to have faith in the public’s ability to discern.

“You can’t put a good man down. Just like the trust of my mother and father, have faith that the people know who would put the interest of the nation before themselves,” Aquino told Roxas.

During his speech, Aquino reported that 4.4 million households were now beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a straight dole to the poor.

Aquino said that number represented a significant increase from the 786,523 household beneficiaries when he assumed the presidency five years ago.

Dismay. Members of the Makabayan block in the House of Representative
show their dismay over President Benigno Aquino III’s last State-of-the-Nation
Address in the House of Representatives on Monday. DANNY PATA
The 4Ps provides cash grants to the beneficiary families on the condition that their children attend school, and that mothers visit health centers.

The President said proof of the benefits of the 4Ps was the graduation of  333,673 beneficiary children from high school in March.

“They were the first batch of high school graduates (under the 4Ps). A total of 13,469 of them have received honors and different recognitions,” the President said.

He also said that two of the graduates even passed the entrance examinations at the University of the Philippines  and are now enrolled in civil engineering courses.

Aquino said the government would recoup its investments in the poor students once they begin working and paying taxes.

The President also cited gains in the modernization of the Philippine National Police—but did not say a word about the Mamasapano debacle or the corruption scandals that caused widespread demoralization among the police.

Aquino said that for the PNP, the government rolled out 302 patrol jeeps, part of the total of 2,523 units to be distributed; 179 units of utility vehicles, out of 577 ; and 12,399 handheld radios.

He added that the government was set to procure 30,136 long firearms, 3,328 investigate kits and 16,877 radios.

“Together with new equipment, we increased the combat pay of our soldiers, and subsistence allowance of uniformed services,” Aquino said. With PNA

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