The musician, satirist, and poet Lourd de Veyra is on the bull’s eye when he said that media coverage of the state of the nation address (SONA) will focus on the gowns that the Mesdames will wear in the event. Or on how many rounds of applause interrupt the President’s speech. I like Lourd de Veyra for his sharp wit, and I wish he would compose a SONA song.
I digress. Lourd de Veyra’s middle name is Hanopol, thus reminding me of another great songwriter from another generation, Mike Hanopol, whose Balong Malalim is classic Pinoy rock.
I do not have the humor of Lourd de Veyra, and I cannot lend color to the SONA spectacle. I will be groping for the imagery to describe what Kris Aquino, Sharon Cuneta, Lucy Gomez, and Miriam Santiago will wear. I will be searching for words to lampoon the sycophants who will be the first to clap every time the President pauses while delivering his speech.
So I will stick to writing about the ordinary—what PNoy will probably deliver in his address.
From various news accounts, we can expect that PNoy will tell the nation and Congress to pass at the soonest the measures on sin tax reforms and the amendment to the Anti-Money Laundering Act (AMLA). Budget Secretary Butch Abad also mentions the rationalization of fiscal incentives as an immediate measure. These are absolutely necessary measures. They are reforms that will have short-term and long-term benefits.
For the short term, they will bring about a credit rating upgrade, making the Philippines worthy of joining the prestigious club of investment-worthy middle-income countries.
In addition, specifically with regard to the sin tax reforms, substantial additional revenues will be generated that will finance universal health care, which in turn will spur a virtuous cycle—healthier people, productivity gains, more income for the labor force, higher consumption, increased employment, etc. And apart from the revenue gains, the sin tax reforms—primarily a health measure—will significantly reduce the economic burden arising from the diseases associated with diseases related to smoking and excessive drinking of liquor.
For the long term, the said reforms will strengthen our economic and political institutions—the most essential factor for sustained development.
We expect Congress to act on these measures. But here’s the rub: some of the influential legislators, despite their statements that they are supportive of the President’s priority, might simply be going through the motions of passing the AMLA or the sin tax reforms. The substance or content of the measures is the most important consideration.
Take again the issue of sin tax reforms. Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile said that the sin tax bill passed by the Lower House is a “poorly crafted” piece of legislation and that the battle in the Senate for its passage will be “bloody.” But the sin tax bill that the Lower House passed already contains the essential reform features that the President wants.
We are thus hoping that the Senate President will subsume his personal view to the President’s priority, which more importantly is a matter of public interest. In this manner, too, can the Senate President consolidate his legacy of being a statesman.
Other advocates of the public interest will be keen in hearing the President deliver a statement on other important measures. The President has recommended, among others, the bills on freedom of information and responsible parenthood, but not as emphatically as, say, the sin tax reforms or the AMLA. Here, the slant and the interpretation matter.
For instance, the Inquirer headline news on 22 July 2012 said that “an increase in the government’s share in the billions of pesos in revenues from mining and the passage of the sin tax bill are among the laws President Aquino will ask Congress to pass….”
On the other hand, the slant of Rappler.com (updated 19 July 2012) was: “Aquino’s priority sin tax not mining law.”
But reading the Rappler report, I note the quoted statement from the President: “It (mining reform bill) can wait a little while because there are the two that are more important than this one, at this point in time.” Does that mean that the mining reform bill is not a priority? It is still a priority, and the President is merely describing the sequencing of the priority reforms. So I hope my friends advocating the reform of the mining law will not despair; what they have to emphasize is the fact that the reform of the law is still the President’s priority measure although its passage will come after the other priority bills that have taken a “mature form.”
I will also suggest to the advocates of freedom of information and “responsible parenthood” (also known as reproductive health) to stress the fact that the President is supporting their bills, notwithstanding the concern that “it would be difficult to pass these proposals because of their controversial provisions (as reported by the Inquirer, 22 July 2012). The advocates can understandably express their dismay, if their bills are not mentioned in the President’s speech. But being sophisticated and sensible activists, they are expected to come out with nuanced, critical yet constructive positions to advance their campaigns.
Of course, not everyone will take favorably what the President will say in his SONA. The likes of Tiglao, Doronila, Locsin, the radicals from the Left and the Right will predictably slam the SONA. In this case though, the issue might not lie in what the President will say but in their mindsets. My earlier digression about Hanopol’s Balong Malalim might be good listening for them:
Sige pa nang sige
Kahit na dumudumi
Ang isipan ng tao
O dito sa mundong ito
Wala na bang remedyo
Ang ating mga ulo?