Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror, June 28, 2006 edition, p. A6.
Five years ago, Gloria Arroyo delivered her first State of the Nation Address (SONA). She outlined her presidency’s guiding vision by telling the story of three little paper boats she retrieved from the Pasig River.
She said, “Kamakailan, may sumulat sa aking tatlong batang taga-Payatas, sina Jayson, Jomar at Erwin. Ginawa nilang paper boats ang liham at pinalutang sa Pasig River patungo sa Malacañang.
Ito ang sinulat ng sampung taong gulang na si Jomar Pabalan: ‘Sana po ay mabigyan ng permanenteng trabaho ang tatay ko para hindi siya mahirapan.’
Sabi naman ni Jason vann Banogan, sampung taong gulang: ‘Sana po matulungan ninyo ako na makatapos sa pag-aaral ko hanggang kolehiyo, kasi po ang nag-papaaral sa akin ay ang lola ko lamang.’
At ang tanging nais ni Erwin Dolera, walong taong gulang: Ipasara ang Payatas dumpsite, at bigyan ng lupa ang kanyang pamilya.
Napakalinaw, napakasimple ang hiling ng mga anak ng Payatas: Trabaho. Edukasyon. Sariling tahanan. Idagdag na rin: Pagkain sa bawat mesa. Ito ang mithiin ng masa. And this, in common sense and plain talk, is the core of my vision.”
Five years after that SONA, the unemployment situation remains unimproved. Only the definition of unemployment has changed. Repeatedly. It has undergone so many refinements, one quip goes, “Next time around, breathing will be counted as work.”
In addition, the unemployed have had to endure insults. Arroyo’s Trade Secretary, Peter Favila, told people desperately looking for work that they were too picky about jobs, and that’s why they were jobless. And erstwhile Labor Secretary Patricia Sto. Tomas dutifully sprinkled statistics to add salt to Favila’s insult.
Jomar Pabalan’s father may have received a permanent job from Malaca?ang. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that in Jomar’s neighborhood many fathers are gainfully employed in some foreign country. Overseas jobs. That’s about the only relief Arroyo has offered to the jobless.
Meanwhile, Jason vann Bonogan who was 10 years old when he floated his paper boat down the Pasig River is probably looking for paper for his homework. That is, if he is lucky enough to be one of the millions of kids who are being shoe-horned 50 (she wanted 100) to a class in any of the morning, afternoon or evening shifts just so that Mrs. Arroyo can say, with a straight face, that there is no classroom shortage.
And Erwin Dolera, where does he live now? Is his life much better? I don’t know. But Gloria Arroyo still lives in Malaca?ang and her life has gotten a lot better. That’s what she says in her statement of assets and liabilities (SAL).
Her family is also faring well under her rule. Her son, whose movies must have all been blockbusters, now files an enviable SAL. And so does her brother-in law who, once upon a time, declared assets and taxable income that left him looking like he was just a few thousand pesos away from becoming a Payatas paperboat-maker himself.
Last week, an investigative TV program reported the alarming rate of malnutrition among children all over the country. It cited a finding that said malnutrition among Filipino children was 27 percent, just two percentage points less than sub-Saharan Africa. The program showed images of half-starved children who, had their skin been a shade darker and their hair kinkier, would have passed for sub-Saharan Africans. Will Mike Defensor now claim those images were digitally altered and enhanced?
“Trabaho. Edukasyon. Sariling tahanan. Idagdag na rin: Pagkain sa bawat mesa. Ito ang mithiin ng masa. And this, in common sense and plain talk, is the core of my vision.”
And so Mrs. Arroyo announced she would spend one billion pesos to eliminate the opposition in what she cleverly disguised as a total war on the NPA (New People’s Army). She said another billion would be spent on her mock war on corruption. How much more does she intend to spend for anti-impeachment and cha-cha?
Can the hundreds of millions stolen in the Fertilizer Fund scam be totally unrelated to the malnutrition we see now? How about the billions earmarked for agrarian reform? Can the billions in road tax wasted last election be connected to poor infrastructure— hence poor investments and lack of jobs? How much government money was spent for Arroyo’s campaign, cheating operations and cover-up?
All that money should have gone to fulfilling Arroyo’s vision. But her vision is gone, her eyes blinded by political survival. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Mrs. Arroyo insists that all our problems stem from Senate investigations and the opposition. All those who fight against her corruption and mismanagement of resources are to blame. Not her.
There was so much hope riding on Arroyo’s vision of 2001 but the core of that vision has been cored. There is nothing left of it except greed and lust for power. And acute infectious diarrhea.