The true state of the nation

The true state of the nation
By Fernando Fajardo
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 04:17pm (Mla time) 07/25/2007

On her seventh SONA, I expected PGMA to start with a clear statement of the actual condition of our people, as seen from the vantage point of one sitting in the highest position of the land for more than six years already. Is the situation good or bad? Is the nation strong or weak? Where are we strong? Where are we weak? What opportunities can we seize to make us stronger? What pitfalls must we avoid?


Having thus shown the state of the nation, only then would I expect the President to report on her past accomplishments and what she intends to do more to improve our life in the future. But in reporting, she must not only list the projects that she completed or intends to complete in the future but also show to what extent the actual condition of our people had been improved or will be improved by what she did before or intend to do in the future.


What we got from last Monday was far from this. Without even looking at the seriousness of the depravation of our people, she wants to lead us into First World status in 20 years.


Even at an enhanced rate of 6 to 7 percent GDP growth yearly, that is impossible to achieve. This is especially true with our uncontrolled rapid population growth and low savings and investment rates. Even then, joining the First World is far from the minds of our people, whose only desire is to get a descent job and be lifted out of their poverty. That is what PGMA failed to do in her first six years. How could the next three years be different?


Thinking perhaps that she had mesmerized us with her “super projects,” PGMA then concluded: “The state of the nation is strong.”


The nation, my dear, is as strong only as the weakest of its members, no matter what the occupant in Malacañang desires. Make not mistake about this. The true state of the nation is weak, not strong. In what sense is the nation weak? It is in the sense that up to now more than a third of our people are still in poverty, unemployed, underemployed, or disguisedly employed, and that in most of the areas outside NCR and its adjacent areas, Calabarzon and the Subic-Clark corridor, very little output is produced to contribute to the GDP.


To be specific, in 2000, the bottom 30 percent of our people only got less than 8 percent of the total income of the nation while the upper 10 percent cornered close to 40 percent. In the same year, about half of the GDP was accounted for only by the NCR and its two adjacent regions. What is it now or after six years of PGMA? Can she claim that she now has changed these figures in favor of our poor people and depressed regions? If she did, it would have been written in bold letters in her SONA. It was not there, and instead we heard promises, plenty of them.


Look at this also. By changing the definition of the unemployed, PGMA literally succeeded in bringing down the unemployment rate from 10 to 11 percent to 7 or 8 percent of the labor force. But this did not erase the fact that the other 3 or 4 percent remained jobless or had stopped looking for work out of frustration. Add to this our OFWs, who reportedly account for about 10 percent of our work force, and you can see how dismally we performed in our effort to provide the very first thing that everyone needs in order to move out of poverty – a decent and secure job.


After successfully passing the expanded value added tax, PGMA in her SONA last year, exclaimed, “We have money!” She then went on to give the first list of her super projects, as if the lack of them was the only thing that is keeping us from developing. No sooner had the first half of the year ended, however, when PGMA realized that her collection target had not been met as planned. Her solution was to fire the BIR Commissioner while some of her subalterns now talk of passing more tax laws.


What PGMA did not do was find the truth about our poor tax collection rate, which in the country is caused more not by the lack of tax laws or the color of the BIR commissioner’s face, but by the failure of her whole government machinery to catch and jail many of the big-time smugglers, tax evaders, and cheats among her tax collectors and the private sector, many of whom she cannot also afford to hurt for their contribution to her continued stay in office.


What has the President also done about graft and corruption and the ineptness of her subaltern’s execution of her various projects? The decorative lampposts installed in Cebu for the Asean Summit was priced many times over its true cost. The same goes for the liquid fertilizer distributed to the farmers during the 2004 election. So how many times are her super projects being overpriced over their true cost? Who gets most of the kickbacks?


Finally, despite countless repeated promises to open it, NAIA Terminal 3 remained closed until now. In her SONA last Monday, PGMA says it suffers from structural defects. After many years of idleness, why say this only now? Are the super projects not going to suffer the same fate?


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