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Six days from now, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will deliver her grandest and hopefully her last State of the Nation Address (SONA). This will be her sort of valedictory speech, her final accomplishment report, her definitive moment that will conclude her vision of a “better Philippines.”

But what conclusion could we arrive at from her almost one decade rule? Certainly, we expect Mrs. Arroyo to say that we’ve finally arrived, that the country is on the road to development, that the economy is resilient more than ever even to the challenge of the global economic crisis, and of course, that her government has finally beaten the odds.

But the question is, has she?

Truth be told, it is tempting to just dismiss all these claims of development and progress as untruths. For what could Mrs. Arroyo possibly say this time that will convince us and the Filipino people that we are in fact on the road to economic bliss? However, in the spirit of fair play, we will play along one last time.

So, what has this decade-old government really achieved?

On the Philippine Debt

Still largest payer, biggest borrower of debts

Mrs. Arroyo is still the biggest borrower and largest payer of debts among all post-Marcos governments. As of 2007 using 1985 prices, Arroyo already paid a total of P126.9 billion and borrowed P118.3 billion. This has such tremendous impact on social spending and resource mobilization for projects and programs badly needed by the people. Proof of this, from 2001-2007, the health budget deflated to 1985 prices has not even exceeded P100 per Filipino. In fact, in 2007 alone, health budget per capita was only a measly P50.

No audit, automatic debt servicing still here

In her almost ten-year rule, Mrs. Arroyo failed to address this growing problem on three major accounts. One, despite having a majority control of Congress, she failed to lead legislators in repealing a Marcosian law mandating the automatic servicing of the debt as provided by the revised Administrative Code of 1987. Second, she failed to put her weight in persuading Congress to pass a resolution calling for an official audit of all public debts on two occasions: during the height of the fiscal crisis in 2004 and in present day, amid the backdrop of a global economic meltdown. It seems Mrs. Arroyo would rather lead and/or pressure Congress to squash one impeachment case after the other or pass an illegal and immoral resolution to convene congress into a constituent assembly instead of providing people relief from burdensome debts.

Legitimizing illegitimate debts

Thirdly, Arroyo instead of using her long reign to effect change in the country’s debt problem has in fact become a major obstruction. Proof of this, in the 2009 national government budget, Congress suspended debt interest payments to 24 identified illegitimate loan agreements amounting to P4.29 billion. However and quite expectedly, Arroyo vetoed the said initiative citing the non-violation of the automatic debt servicing provision and protection of the country’s credit rating as bases.

Rise of bonds

As a result, as of March 2009, the national government debt is P4.229 trillion. Worse, public sector debt’s nominal value rose from P 3.62 trillion in 2000 to 5.13 trillion in 2008 or an increase of P 1.51 trillion. However, what’s glaring are the mounting debts from bonds. As of 2007, 18.56 of the country’s total external debt are bonds compared to bilateral debts which is 13.7 % and multilateral debts which is only 7.7 %

On the National Government Budget

Arroyo has two proclivities when it comes to the national government budget. One is her desire to “balance” the budget and second is her deceitful and unconstitutional practice of abusing the presidential line-veto power over the budget.

In its effort to balance the budget, the Arroyo government resorted to reducing non-debt expenditure as debt payments are automatically paid, by increasing “easy revenues”—the easiest of which is via the R-VAT law which was passed on 2004, and by increasing “privatization proceeds” by selling more government assets.

“Balancing” the budget

Due to non-debt underspending, actual expenditures were lower than was programmed. This year, actual spending (P355.0 billion) for the first quarter is P6.8 billion lower than the programmed (P361.9 billion). Consequently, average consolidated per capita health spending dropped from Estrada’s P201 to Arroyo’s P184. Per pupil spending dropped from Estrada’s P2,865 (2000) to P 2,526 (2004).

Furthermore, reliance on VAT resulted in reduced household income as new tax measures were disproportionately carried by poorer households. On the other hand, increased privatization only surrendered strategic and revenue-generating assets and public utilities to the private sector such as the 120-hectare Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) in Taguig City, about P15 billion, Philippine Telecommunications Investment Corp. (P25.2 billion), the 20% stake in PNOC-EDC (P16.6 billion), the stakes in San Miguel (P50 billion) and MERALCO (P10 billion), the 54-hectare old Iloilo Airport property valued at P1.2 billion.

Unconstitutional budget practice

Not satisfied with this, Mrs. Arroyo has bastardized the budget process by abusing her presidential power of line-veto over the budget. Her mishmash practice of re-enacting the budget for the first quarter of the year, her use of the item veto on the effectivity date of the General Appropriations Act and its corresponding alteration has provided her government more money beyond what was provided by the annual government budget. Such mechanisms have once again provided Mrs. Arroyo the chance to rob the people of their much-needed resources while blatantly violating the Constitution as well as long-accepted rulings of the Supreme Court.

Robbing the next generation: Gloria’s legacy of debts, balanced budget dream and unconstitutional budget practices  

As such, six days from now, Mrs. Arroyo will deliver perhaps her last SONA. If Arroyo is looking for a lasting legacy, these could probably be the worst and lasting of all: a legacy of huge debts, a balanced budget pipedream which provoked under spending, increased regressive taxes and privatization and lastly, a heritage of stealing through unconstitutional practices lorded over the people’s resources.

While there are certainly other dreadful things Gloria will pass on the people, the previously mentioned issues will without doubt mark the next generation to a life of forced indebtedness, less social services, more taxes and increased poverty. This is robbery done not once or twice but rather in hundred folds at the expense of our resources, our lives and our future.  

Hence, Gloria’s SONA must not be simply seen as her last while wishing she would just fade way to oblivion. Rather, we, the debt-burdened Filipino people must see this as the beginning of our long desire to exact justice and reckoning from Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her cohorts. -30-

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