MANILA, Philippines – As President Benigno S. Aquino III delivered his first State of the Nation Address Monday, around 7,000 people from different NGOs and people’s organizations proved that they can be active audience even if they were not inside the halls of Congress.

Led by the Freedom from Debt Coalition and Kampanya para sa Makataong Pamumuhay (KAMP or Dignified Life for All Campaign), the “madlang pipol” showed their placards bearing labels such as “Yehey,” “OK,” “Ayos,” and “Aprub” to show their approval of the President’s policy declarations in his speech.

“This is a real-time reaction from the people who are not allowed to be physically present inside the Batasang Pambansa. We want the President to know how we feel and think about the status of the nation and his policy declarations,” said FDC secretary-general Milo Tanchuling.

The demonstrators displayed these placards when the President said that "we will stop the wasteful use of government funds. We will eradicate projects that are wrong." He was referring to the anomalies his official family found in its three weeks in office.

These anomalies include the remaining national government budget left, the allocation of calamity fund favoring only one district in Pampanga, the over-compensation of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage (MWSS) employees and officials, the funds for infrastructures or "projects that make no sense," the debt of National Power Corporation, the purchase of MRT by the LandBank and Development Bank of the Philippines, and the excessive importation of rice that ended up rotting.

On the other hand, they jeered and displayed “Boo,” “No Way,” “Yuck,” and “Ngek” placards to show disapproval on some policies, particularly when he announced that his solution to the ballooning budget deficit – the public-private partnership or privatization.

"We are bothered that Pres. Aquino has proposed a policy which the civil society has long opposed, particularly the Public-Private Partnership as a palliative to the deficit problem, considering that he promised to be open to inputs and one of the inputs of FDC was to stop these debt-creating Build-Operate-Transfer projects,” said Tanchuling.

"PPP or privatization has been the main reason why we now have the 2nd highest power rate in Asia, a continuing power crisis, and a water crisis because of private sector's lack of action on Non-Revenue Water or leaks. On this particular point, we in FDC are extemely disappointed that Aquino has decided to continue his predecessors' failed economic policies. It's high time that he seriously considered alternative economic governance frameworks. The lives of millions of poor depend on it," stressed Tanchuling.

Aquino’s SONA, according to FDC, is in the context of a looming fiscal crisis due to the record-breaking deficit and empty public coffers left by the Arroyo administration, electricity prices soaring past major Asian cities save Tokyo, a water crisis that is pushing Filipinos to desperate extremes, and a looming La Niña that might bring us another devastating Ondoy.

‘Strong developmental state’

Tanchuling urged the new administration to bring the economy to “the right path” and “abandon the obsolete, laissez-faire economy that brought the country to the backwaters, while throwing millions of Filipinos to poverty and misery.” In economics, laissez-faire means allowing industry to be free from state intervention, especially restrictions in the form of tariffs and government monopolies.

“The Aquino administration must seriously consider a new economic policy that must be built around the concept of a ‘Strong Developmental State’,” Tanchuling said, adding that this alternative uses regulatory and procurement powers in order to discipline the market and harness the economic factors towards prosperity.

“If Arroyo has her ‘Strong Republic’ which only served to provide business opportunities for the elite via infrastructure spending, a ‘Strong Developmental State’ exists to provide genuine welfare to the citizens via high spending social services,” Tanchuling said.

Tanchuling warned that failure to “radically change” the current economic status “will brand Aquino as the President who failed the high hopes of the masses.”

“Aquino should not squander his political capital. He should use it to facilitate the process towards a sustainable and modernized Filipino economy,” Tanchuling said.

A recent Social Weather Station study showed President Aquino of having an extremely high trust rating of 88 percent – higher than any of the post-dictatorship presidents.

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