MS 30th Anniversary XXX

Ostentatious display of wealth

The yearly State of the Nation Address by the President is supposedly the time for our leader to make an objective report to the nation about the current state of affairs of the country and where he intends to lead it into the future. This includes the trumpeting of the accomplishments of the administration and also its failures. Understandably, the failures are minimized and the achievements maximized. But I think that one hour and 40 minutes is too long for this kind of speech. Ninety interruptions due to clapping reminds me of North Korea when leaders there deliver a speech. The clapping is longer than the speech. The Sona is also an occasion for cause-oriented groups and other marginalized people of our society take to the streets to demonstrate and protest, sometimes violently, against current government policies. In the last Sona, the Police made elaborate preparations to prevent protesters from getting near the Batasan by barricading the north-bound road of Commonwealth Avenue with container vans.  The protesters simply went to the other side of the road. Why the Police did not think of this simply shows the depth of its planning. I hate to think of what it would do in more complicated operations. In recent years, the Sona has also metamorphosed into what could only be described as fashion and display day. For the female legislators, it’s time to wear their most expensive formal gowns and display their jewelry. Other legislators go to the Batasan in their BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, Jaguars and other high end SUVs. I find these practices distasteful and disgusting. When the by-word these days is poverty alleviation, they pick this day of all days to show their affluence. Looking at many of our lawmakers may give one the impression that the country is not poor at all. Yet just outside the Batasan, signs of poverty and hardship abound. Both chambers should come up with a dress code for Sonas. Members of Congress should be dressed simply but in good taste.  They should avoid ostentatious display of wealth that is not in keeping with our economic status as a nation. The speech of the President was average and grading it depends on which side you are on.  If a critic, there will always be fault in whatever he says. If a supporter, PNoy can never go wrong. And this is exactly what I saw as I perused the news after the speech. The truth is that whatever you say about this President, he is riding high. Beginning the second half of his presidency, his approval and trust ratings are still sky-high—an enviable rating for any President or politician anywhere in the world. Not even his mother, the iconic President Cory had that kind of rating. This basically gives Mr. Aquino the license to do whatever he believes is the right thing to do. After all, if the people, his constituents, are giving him a high vote of confidence. Why should he care what his critics say? Part  of  his  strength  is  the  general  perception that he is  not  personally  involved  in  any  anomalous  activity. Whether true or not, people are more willing to grant him slack and overlook his missteps—and there are many. He also lives a simple life style devoid of scandals up to this point. All these do not mean that critics would simply shut up. On the contrary, he should be watched and scrutinized every step of the way because of his inconsistencies and unpredictability. An objective judgment of his presidency however, will perhaps have to wait until he leaves office. Right now, Mr. Aquino seems to be winning the hearts and minds of the people. * * * It is hard to fathom what the President wants to do with the Bureau of Customs or what his intentions are.  After lambasting the bureau in his Sona, he gave Ruffy Biazon his vote of confidence when the guy sent him a text message offering his resignation. It demonstrates once again his inconsistency in the handling of such problems. Who should be blamed for the mess in and failures of the bureau? Based on the actions of the President, it appears to be the middle-level executives and not the upper echelon leaders like Biazon and General Danny Lim. The reason given in the media is that these middle-level bureau officials are being protected by very powerful “padrinos” and they are therefore untouchables. But Biazon and Lim were appointed by the most powerful person of all— the President. So why can’t they do their jobs without fear? After all, they have the backing of the most powerful official in this country. When I was still in government, I worked with the bureau on trying to address some of the problems. I know that the problems there are very complicated but not entirely without solutions. Some steps that could be undertaken to reduce to a large degree personal intervention by officials in the transaction of business with the bureau thereby reducing anomaly. But this needs leadership and determination which Biazon do not seem to have. After two years at the helm, nothing is happening. I do not believe that removing all these collectors will do the trick. Maybe in the short term. I liken this to jueteng. While attention is focused on it, jueteng stops then resumes when media attention is transferred elsewhere. We need a determined leader at the head of the Customs bureau. Biazon has been given yet another chance but if he fails again, then he should do the only decent thing—submit an irrevocable letter of resignation.
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