Joseph Goebbels, the chief of the Nazi propaganda machine, must be a role model for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her spin doctors.  If people remember, Hitler’s right-hand man, said that if one repeats a lie often enough, it gets accepted as truth.  In her eight State of the Nation address, Arroyo piled on top of one another half truths, factoids taken out of context, irrelevant detail, distortions, and outright lies to paint a picture of a government laboring to serve the people under conditions of tremendous stress.  The more than one hundred times the pro-administration crowd applauded on cue was part of the scenario building.

Agriculture’s Savior

Agriculture was the centerpiece of the speech.  This was not surprising given the administration’s poor record in preparing the country for the skyrocketing food prices of the last four months.  Factoids were interspersed with outright lies such as the Arroyo’s claim that the 1.5 million hectares of cultivated land that her administration has supposedly brought under irrigation was a "historic high." Fact: the Marcos regime achieved this figure over 20 years ago.  The president made it seem like she’s had all along a plan to increase food production and food self sufficiency.  The truth is that the food crisis is so severe precisely because there has been so little planning in agriculture except to buy rice abroad to make up for production shortfalls.  The truth is this government gave up on achieving rice self sufficiency long ago, something Arroyo came close to admitting when she derided our being able to export rice in the period 1978 to 1981 as a fluke and blamed nature--the Philippines being on the "path of typhoons"--to excuse her administration’s addiction to rice imports.  The fact is agriculture has been deprived of much needed investment, with the country’s financial resources going instead to repaying the massive foreign debt.

Rewriting Economic History

Arroyo’s greatest lie was her painting the economy as in great shape prior to 2008: "Just a few months ago, we ended 2007 with the strongest economic growth in a generation.  Inflation was low, the peso strong and a million jobs were created."  The truth is that the economy, under the management of Arroyo, was already in severe distress before the spectacular rice and oil price increases that began in the first quarter of 2008.  The 7.3 per cent growth in gross domestic product that the president boasted of --"the “trongest in a generation"----was a statistical illusion to which the main arithmetic contribution was a 5.4 per cent decrease in imports.  This was not a sign of health, the World Bank noted.

The Bank further pointed to an increase in poverty incidence between 2003 and 2006, with the level of poverty in 2006 very closely approximating the 2000 level. In 2006, 27.6 million out of 84 million Filipinos fell below the poverty line--more than at any other time in this country’s history.

The president went on to claim that while we may be suffering today, other countries are in worse shape.  In fact, in the last 15 years, the record of the Philippines in terms of economic growth has been the worst in Southeast Asia.  Second-tier ASEAN states such as Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar have fared much better with average GDP per capita growth rates ranging from 3.8 to 6.6 %. Compare that with the measly 1.6% for the Philippines.

The Anti-Corruption Crusader

The most astonishing part of the president’s speech, however, came when she portrayed herself as an indefatigable fighter against corruption.  When she boasted of her administration’s successful prosecution of "dozens of corrupt officials," the  people at the sari-sari store I stopped at to get a drink had had enough of almost 45 minutes of non-stop distortion: they shouted angrily. "E yung asawa mo?" (What about your husband?)

When, during their electoral debate several years ago, President Jimmy Carter laid out statistic after statistic to prove that his administration was successfully dealing with stagflation that gripped the US during his term, Ronald Reagan interrupted him and asked the audience if they felt they were better off then than they were four years before, when Carter took office.  Reagan successfully cut to the chase and won the presidency.  Similarly, let us cut through the crap.  We dare this government to ask citizens a similar simple question: do they feel they are better off today than they felt in 2001?

*President of Freedom from Debt Coalition

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