A GOVERNANCE PERSPECTIVE ON DU30’s SONA 2019
Updated: Mar 17
From the Chairman Emeritus of ICD, Jesus P. Estanslao.
There are many ways of reading the 2019 SONA of President Duterte. To contribute to our need for deeper national reflection on the substantive homework we need to do in order to build our DREAM PH, I am sharing with you this Note I composed after reading the text of SONA 2019. It is an attempt to focus our discussion on national priorities, using the Governance-Competitiveness-Development framework I have adopted.
You may have other ways of reading SONA 2019. Please share them with the ICD community so we can start a substantive conversation on strategic priorities for our beloved country.
1. The State of the Nation Address (SONA) is set to be delivered on the 4th Monday of July of each year. President Duterte dutifully delivered his fourth SONA on July 22, 2019 before a joint session of Congress and other dignitaries from the Executive and Judicial branches of our government. The diplomatic corps was also in attendance.
2. Given the importance of the SONA, there is need for further reflection and possibly deeper understanding of what the President actually said. Beyond the usual attention on who were actually in the Batasang Pambansa, who accompanied them, what they and their companions wore, and what messages a few of the attendants at the SONA were trying to deliver by the outfit they wore, there is need to connect the dots of the many statements included in the SONA so as to decipher the “state of the nation” as portrayed and reported by the President himself.
3. In this regard, a broad governance framework can be of great use. After all, this is the CEO of our country---the President----delivering a report on the state of our national, public affairs. The SONA is a report to our people from the strategic heights of the Presidency: it necessarily re-articulates a commitment to a few core values; it puts forward a dream and aspiration for our people, indeed a vision of what we shall try to realize in the few years ahead; and it specifies a number of strategic priorities that we absolutely need to pursue as we go about the task of trying to realize that vision. In the process of rendering such a “report”, the President necessarily has to mention a number of accomplishments that have already been made in the immediate past. Under this light, a governance framework is particularly useful to connect the dots and to relate several of the statements in the SONA so as to present the true state of our nation, as the President sees it.
Re-articulation of a Core Value and Putting Forward a Vision
4. The President used the occasion of the SONA to remind everyone of a core value we need to adhere to, in words and in deeds, on solemn occasions and in the course of everyday life and work. That core value is “maka-bayan”, the love of country we all should have, so it gets reflected in our life and work, 24/7, in all sectors and at all levels, and on the part of every Filipino, no matter how high or how low the station we occupy in society and the community. The President made a stirring call for love of country, and for rising above narrow personal interests. Below is what he said:
“It is a sad commentary that we cannot distinguish our need from our greed, our principles from our prejudices, the real from the fake, and the truth from a lie. The reason is: (for) many of us, what matters above all is the “self”. It is selfishness at its worst (since it has) no purposes other than personal aggrandizement”.
“To borrow the language of F. Sionil Jose, we have not risen above and beyond parochial interests. Our warped loyalty to family, friends and tribal kin continue to exact a heavy toll on our programs designed to uplift the poor and reassure our investors---both local and foreign---and the business sector in this country”.
5. Love of country that gets us to rise above self and away from the claws of selfishness is the one core value that the President re-articulated and strongly emphasized in his 2019 SONA. He then follows it up with putting forward a grand dream and a more concrete vision that he wants to see realized within the short time horizon that is left of his Administration.
His grand dream: “I dream of glowing days ahead for every Filipino. I dream of a Philippines better than the one I grew up with”.
His more concrete vision: “Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, (for) all Filipinos.”
“A better Philippines” than the Philippines of the 1940s into which the President and his generation were born is an all-encompassing broad ideal. But the President then added that in the next three years, i.e. by 2022, he and his Administration will be working very hard to deliver “a comfortable life for everybody”.
In putting forward such a goal for the next three years, the vision that he is committed to realize, the President makes a solemn pledge and a deep resolve, signifying how seriously committed he is to delivering such an outcome. The pledge he made is as follows:
“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future. I will push harder in the pursuit of programs that we have started, but always within the parameters of the law. I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration. I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then and only then shall I call it a day”.
Anti-Corruption as the First Strategic Priority
6. Having made such a solemn pledge to deliver an outcome, as specified in the Vision (a comfortable life for all Filipinos) he put forward, the President comes down to brass tacks. He wastes no time and minces no words. Corruption is the very first dragon that must be slayed. It keeps spewing its fire that enables the illegal drug problem to fester and inflict damage on society. This is what the President said:
“After 3 years in office, we have not solved all the problems we wished to face.
“The illegal drug problem persists. Corruption continues and emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives”.
“I am aware that we still have a long way to go in our fight against (this) social menace…..” The drug problem will not be crushed unless we continue to eliminate corruption that allows this social monster to survive”.
7. The President calls attention to the deeper malaise in society, and it is corruption that lies at the root of the illegal drug problem. He is straightforward in declaring corruption as the enemy no. 1 that has brought about so many of our social and national ills.
“I have identified the enemy, who dumped us into this quagmire we are in. I have met the enemy face to face, and sadly, that enemy is “us”: we are our own tormentors; we are our own demons; we are rapacious predators preying on the helpless, the weak and the voiceless. We find corruption everywhere in government, with every malefactor watching his cohort’s back in blatant disregard of his oath when he assumed pubic office. No amount of euphemism can trivialize or normalize betrayal of public trust or any other criminal offense. It is an injury laced with insult: it is both a national embarrassment and a national shame”.
8. Having pinpointed the main stain that has brought about an utterly dark spot on our social fabric, the President issues a call for purification, a process of self-cleansing that would bring about a spiritual renewal and final release from the evil clutches of corruption. He states:
“Catharsis is what we---individually and collectively---need to have today. Self-purgation, followed by the resolve to do what is right and proper, is good for the nation’s health”.
“Corruption exasperates. It frustrates. It is also exasperating that there are times when I think that perhaps it is blood that we need (in order) to cleanse and rinse away the dirt and the muck that stick to the flesh like leaches”.
The reference to blood and to the imperative of individual and collective resolve to get back on the road of what is “right and proper”, can be taken to mean a spiritual renewal. He does not say so outright, but he makes an allusion to it.
Good Governance as a Second Strategic Priority
9. Anti-corruption is one side of the same coin that has another side, that of good governance. Indeed, the pathway to over-all national self-renewal and development starts with anti-corruption as the first important milestone. It is immediately followed by the other milestone, that of good governance.
Good governance demands reforms, radical changes in the way institutions operate and deliver results. Thus, as they cleanse themselves up and reduce corrupt practices, they then should function better and are able to deliver positively helpful results. The President makes allusions to this by saying very clearly and giving a very concrete example, the Bureau of Customs:
“Institutions that are the stewards of our resources and agents of development have long been a major source of public frustration”. (However), drastic reforms within these agencies have yielded positive results. Our GOCCs have started to shape up. (Our) Bureau of Customs, though corrupt-ridden, managed to collect PHP585 billion in 2018. Imagine how much more could have been collected had the BOC been clean and less corrupt”.
10. The reform that good governance demands would require a shift in mind set: from slow, inefficient delivery of public services to much faster and simpler processes, which enable them to render those public services much more efficiently and in a service-oriented manner. This is the very loud call to action, to “positive and prioritized action” that the President issued to government agencies, both national and local. The call:
“We in government talk too much, act too little, and (act) too slow. I implore those who occupy positions of power and authority to let your deeds and accomplishments do the talking. Lead by example. Words ring hollow when not followed by positive and prioritized action”.
“…much has to be done in ensuring our responsiveness to the people’s needs. Based on complaints received by the Contact Center ng Bayan in my office, the LTO, SSS, BIR, LRA and PAGIBIG are the top five agencies that need to drastically improve their service.”
“…my directive to the government and (its) instrumentalities, including the LGUs and government corporations: ‘Simplify’!. Indeed, simplify and make your services responsive to (the people). (Be) client-friendly.”
11. In undertaking the reforms that good governance demands, it is indeed essential to have a change in mind set towards a “client-friendly”, caring, efficient, and fast rendering of public services. This has to be accompanied by a “strong political will” and therefore by a deep resolve to enforce laws and regulations with courage and determination. He cites the example of the clean-up of Boracay. He then enjoins government officials to “enforce our laws and protect our environment”. The President said:
“Equipped with political will, the government ordered the closure of Boracay Island for six months to prevent its further deterioration. We cleaned (up) and rehabilitated the island, and I allowed it to heal naturally. I am proud to say that it has been restored close to its original pristine state.”
“Boracay is just the beginning….On January 27, 2019, we officially started the Manila Bay rehabilitation. Though we have a long way to go, we are encouraged by the test results of the waters near Padre Faura. We will relocate informal settlers along the waterways, and shut down establishments that continue to pollute and poison our waters.”
“I am giving due notice to the LGUs and other stakeholders…of tourist destinations…to take extra steps in the enforcement of our laws and the protection of our environment”.
12. As important as the protection of our natural resource is, at least equal importance needs to be given to our human resource. People are the nation’s greatest assets. They have to be educated and provided with the opportunities by which they learn, equip themselves, and develop themselves personally. In this regard, the President touted the accomplishment of his Administration in providing education to millions of our young people in both formal and informal programs of instruction and learning.
“I am proud to say that this year more Filipino learners are receiving basic education, with over 27 million enrollees from Kinder to Senior High School…..”More than 823,000 out-of-school youth and adult learners were able to access non-formal education through the Alternative Learning System”.
13. “Learning and personal growth” is a basic governance perspective that needs to be complemented by the process perspective: this enables our people to function, work, earn a living, and become economically productive. All this will have to be served by the provision of peace and security all throughout our islands. On this priority area, the President had this to say:
“…Developmental gains will not be felt by our people in the countryside if we cannot maintain law and order. Peace and security! We need to enforce the law”.
“After almost two decades of peace negotiation, the Bangsamoro Organic Law was finally passed and ratified. It is my hope that the Bangsamoro Transition will fast-track the establishment of (a) regional government that will secure a comfortable life for our Muslim brothers and sisters, and for all indigenous communities in the Bangsamoro Regions.”
14. Beyond the provision of peace and order, the development process perspective demands that our archipelago with its many islands should be better connected and communicated with each other through a nation-wide grid of roads, ports, and harbors that enable economic hubs---particularly those outside Metro Manila---to be linked and connected with its many pokes.In this way, our national economy can be made to function, grow and develop as one closely integrated system. The President had this to say on this point:
“Through the “build, build, build” program, economic hubs are emerging outside Metro Manila. This will swiftly gain ground. We are hard at work in the inter-connection of our islands and cities by air, land, and sea.”
15. To help economic enterprises, particularly those in most need of help---i.e. the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs)---take advantage of the newer and bigger opportunities being provided by the infrastructure for transport and communication being put in place, nation-wide, active support will have to be provided. In the past few years, the President is happy to report positive development in this regard:
“Almost 86,000 micro, small and medium enterprises (or MSMEs) have received over PHP3 billion worth of loans since 2017”.
The President then urged Congress to pass the “comprehensive tax reform package” (that) will energize our MSMEs and encourage them to expand their business and hopefully generate 1.4 million jobs in the coming years. The MSMEs hold the promise of raising the lot of Filipinos”.
The President then pins his hopes on MSMEs that will be vital to “the dispersion of economic and business activities to Visayas and Mindanao. (This) is not just a campaign promise. It is an economic imperative and a key to our country’s sustainable and equitable development. We will encourage investments that would develop the rural areas, and Metro Manila, and other mega urban areas”.
16. Closely tied up with the process perspective of governance is the perspective with focus on the constituency that must benefit from services rendered or opportunities expanded. In his 2019 SONA, the President focused on a number of specific constituencies.
The first constituency: those who need to obtain clearances and permits, generally from the LGUs, which in various instances impose the requirement of obtaining the Mayor’s approval. The President gave this directive:
“I am directing the DILG (Secretary Ano of the local government department) to see to it that this (one-hour clearance and issuance of permits, unless there is need of an ocular inspection) is honored. (Indeed), all clearances, (and) permits emanating from the office of the Mayor and therefore in need also of the approval of the Mayor “must be out at the very least within three days”
The second constituency: those in Metropolitan areas that suffer from traffic congestion and from loss of time due to being enmeshed in intolerably messy and chaotic traffic jams. This directive from the President:
“I reiterate my directive to the MMDA and all concerned local officials in Metro Manila, and all other cities, to undertake immediate action to ensure the speedy and smooth flow of vehicular traffic. Reclaim all public roads that are being used for private ends.”
The third constituency: small farmers and fisher folk, and of particular interest, the coconut farmers. Again, the President:
“We shall continue to invest in the countryside through agricultural programs that will increase the productivity and income of our small farmers and fisher folk. We shall continue the full implementation of the Rice Tariffication Law, including the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund. This will safeguard the livelihood of small farmers through the provision of modern farm equipment and machineries, seed and credit and extension services.”
“I once again urge both Houses of Congress to pass a more responsive version of the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund to ensure the accelerated utilization of coco levy funds for the well-being and empowerment of the coconut farmers”.
17. On the fourth governance perspective of the macro-economy and finance, the President made a pitch for two specific items: passage of Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program; and the development of alternative energy sources to lessen the economy’s dependence on coal. This is what he said with respect to these two issues:
On Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program: “We have pursued tax reforms to fund our poverty reduction program. I implore Congress to immediately pass Package 2 of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program, or the TRABAHO Bill, which shall gradually reduce the income---corporate income---tax, and rationalize as well as improve fiscal incentives.”
On alternative energy sources: “We recognize the urgent need to ensure the sustainability and availability of resources and the development of alternative (sources of energy)”. We shall fast-track the development of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on the traditional energy sources such as coal.”
18. On the broader governance perspective, which covers internal security and external geo-political relations, the President was overly candid about the realities we have to contend with.
On internal security, the President stated: “Sustaining our gains entails a national security posture capable of defending the country from external and internal security threats.” We expect support for legislative initiatives aimed at strengthening defense-related systems such as the proposed National Defense Act, the Unified Military and Uniformed Personnel Separation, Retirement and Pension Bill, and the revival of the mandatory ROTC in Grades 11 and 12”.
On external relations, with specific reference to the West Philippine Sea issue with China, he stated the following: “The West Philippine Sea is ours. The national honor and territorial integrity shall not (be compromised). There (are) no ifs and buts. It is ours. We have been acting along that legal truth and line. But we have to temper (this) with the times and the realities that we face today”.
After making such a forthright assertion of our claims on what had been internationally adjudicated as “ours”, he appeals for realism and prudence. Such an appeal comes out of a fundamental idea of avoidance of conflict that can only devastate us. He said: “On the matter of the West Philippine Sea: the avoidance of conflict compels us to perform a delicate balancing act. A shooting war (brings) grief and multiplies misery. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake. I am not ready or inclined to accept the occurrence of more destruction, (to have) more widows and orphans (as a result of) war breaking out, even on a limited scale….Our national pride and territorial integrity are at stake! But we need to obtain “more and better results in a peaceful way, in the privacy of a conference room, and not by a squabble in public”.
He articulated his call for a principled stand mixed with prudent realism in this manner: “There are those who say that we should stand up and stop those who fish in our economic zone. Of course, we will do (this) in due time”. (But) if I send the marines to drive away the Chinese fishermen, I guarantee you, not one of them will come home alive”.
19. The last and most important governance perspective is that which refers to the over-all socio-economic impact of everything that had been said and done. On this score, the President is direct with his two-fold message: so much has been done; and yet so much has yet to be accomplished.
On the first, about what has been done: “Poverty incidence fell from 27.6 percent in the first half of 2015 to 21 percent in the first half of 2018.”
Then, on the second point, which he feels very strongly about: “(However), the most important number is the six million Filipinos (whom) we (still) need to pull out from poverty. Kindly help me on this.”
The Pathway to National Development
20. Using a governance framework, it is possible to pull together the major statements the President made in his SONA 2019 into a cohesive and meaningful story line. In fact, it outlines a clear pathway to our long-term development as a people, the building up of our Dream Philippines. And that story line is as follows:
a) Corruption is the multi-headed hydra that has sucked away so much of the positive lifeblood for our people’s genuine progress. It has spawned the illegal drug program and so much other malaise that has held us down. Indeed, corruption is public enemy number one; moreover, it is systemic, and involves all of us, who are wrapped up with selfishness and lack of concern for the common good of our country. Anti-corruption has to be the first milestone of our pathway towards national development.
b) Corruption is one (negative) side of the same coin, of which good governance is the positive side. It is therefore absolutely necessary that instead of waging only the anti-corruption war, we should be simultaneously and constructively engaged in a good governance program that leads to transformation and brings about game-changing strategically important outcomes. Good governance has to be the complementary initial milestone in our national development pathway.
c) Good governance, however, is very demanding. It demands a change not only in mind set but also in the exercise of political will. It asks for deep, radical reforms. It asks for serious self-cleansing and therefore for genuine transformation that involves sweat, blood and tears. It asks for a service-orientation that involves speedy, efficient, effective, and client-friendly delivery of services through a fundamental overhaul and transformation of the delivery system. Transformation, then, has to be the next immediate milestone on that pathway.
d) Transformation necessarily leaves in its wake this one essential outcome (among the other positive outcomes it delivers), and it is: productivity and competitiveness. Economic agents, in particular the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) need to be multiplied; their access to technology, finance, and systems of inter-connection and communication need to be provided and facilitated. Mutual support mechanisms need to be put in place such that clusters of such enterprises can positively tap into the opportunities that competitive markets provide. For such clusters to be fully and positively operative, a system of hubs and spokes that connect the peripheries with a set of central regional hubs will have to be promoted as an alternative to---and as a complement of---Metro Manila. Competitiveness then, especially at the reginal level, and through an economically meaningful clustering of immediately adjacent regions, has to be the next immediate milestone of our national development pathway.
e) Competitiveness and ever-rising levels of productivity, in each of the regions of the country, facilitated and promoted by solidarity and greater collaboration between neighboring regions outside of Metro Manila would highlight this fundamental feature of development: it is essentially built from the ground up. Brick by brick, the structure of national development is built up: Individuals---selfless, competent, tech-savvy, and ever mindful of the common good---aim to become the ultimate governance assets of the enterprises they work in and of the nation as a whole. Working teams in various enterprises both in the private and public sectors---oriented to render the internal value chain of which they are an integral part efficient and effective---aim to become the ultimate performance delivery units of economically viable and competitive as well as socially responsible enterprises. Finally, enterprises in various areas and regions, in different industries and sectors---through their collaborative outreach towards their external stakeholders for the purpose of making their external value chain operationally frictionless and smooth---thereby aim to become the ultimate development agents of the economy and society. Under this light, development is the final milestone of the pathway, marked by anti-corruption, good governance, transformation, and (regional) competitiveness.
21. Beyond the usual concerns of who came to the SONA, who came with whom, who designed which outfit, how many ovations erupted during the President’s delivery of his address, there is a basic underlying message that can be woven together from the many statements the President included in his SONA 2019. Framing the President’s various statements against an over-all governance structure, the substantive message indicated in #20 above comes through clearly. Moreover, the true state of the nation is revealed: we have reduced poverty incidence reasonably and respectably; but the challenge we face is still considerable, indeed.
Manila, July 29, 2019