Philippine President's State of the Nation Address met with protests

While the President of the Philippines delivered his State of Nation Address (SONA), thousands of protesters gathered in the highway leading to the SONA venue, the House of Representatives. They held their own program to belie the President's claim of economic progress under his administration. Progress, according to them, is only felt by a few at the expense of many. After the SONA, the protesters attempted to symbolically topple the barricade set up by the police to prevent them to go near the venue, but they were greeted with water cannons.

THWA partners in the Philippines joined thousands of demonstrators last July 28 to protest the continued failure of the government to address the basic problems of the people such as in health, the worsening poverty and unemployment and flagrant corruption in the government as President Benigno Aquino III delivered his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA).


Almost 25,000 people from various sectors including farmers, workers, government employees, health workers, students, church people, urban poor communities, indigenous people and civil society groups, including TWHA partners (Gabriela, Council for Health and Development, Advocates for Community Health and Ibon Foundation) braved the heavy rains and more than ten thousand policemen and truckloads of soldiers deployed near the House of Representatives, where the President delivered his speech, to express their indignation over the continued neglect of the government to put up reforms that will improve the economic conditions of the majority of the population.


Government security forces cordoned off the road leading to the House of Representatives with concrete fences, razor wires, fire trucks and columns of policemen armed with truncheons and shields.


While the President was enumerating his achievements which focused on justifying and enumerating the benefits of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), the demonstrators held a program to stress the real state of the ordinary people who bear the brunt of the government's continued neglect of providing basic health services, uncontrollable increase in the prices of basic goods and services and the worsening problem of unemployment. They also wanted to hold the President accountable over the controversial DAP which was recently declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.


DAP according to the government is a stimulus package under the Aquino administration designed to fast-track public spending and push economic growth. But many have viewed it as discretionary fund of President Aquino who used some of it allegedly to pay off senators who voted for the conviction of the ousted Supreme Court Justice Renato Corona, a midnight appointee of former President Gloria Arroyo who herself is now under hospital arrest for plunder charges. Justices of the Supreme Court unanimously voted against DAP citing that certain acts and practices under DAP such as "allowing the transfer of savings outside the executive branch, the funding of government projects not covered by the General Appropriations Act and the renaming of unreleased allotments and appropriations supposedly for agencies to "savings" violated certain provisions of the Constitution.


In its statement, Ibon Foundation said that "Pres. Aquino insisted on defending the undemocratic Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP). Yet this controversial scheme of presidential pork barrel makes claims of budget reforms hollow with the false assertion that the president can subvert institutional mechanisms because he has good intentions. The president's SONA did not and could not refute how the administration intentionally makes billions of pesos in the national budget available for political and patronage purposes rather than rational economic uses."


It belied the President's claim of economic gains by saying that the progress is felt merely by a few at the expense of many and that the content of SONA only affirmed the government's "reliance on short-term measures to boost growth for the illusion of economic progress – primarily public infrastructure spending – and its avoidance of addressing the structural bottlenecks that cause underdevelopment. There are mainly three inter-related bottlenecks: low agricultural production and productivity, stunted domestic industry, and record joblessness and wide poverty".


Health care, especially among the poor, remains to be one of the most neglected social services in the country. Six out of ten sick Filipinos die without seeing a doctor. Seventy two government hospitals are now up for privatization citing lack of funds although the Aquino administration claims that it has significantly raised its allocation on health budget. At the same time, the government encourages health workers and professionals to work abroad to increase overseas remittances which the national economy is heavily relying on.#