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House minority counters Aquino SONA point by point

Opposition lawmakers on Tuesday described as defective and deficient President Benigno Aquino III’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA), which exposed alleged anomalies under the nine-year rule of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman, who delivered the counter-SONA in the House of Representatives, said Aquino based his accusations on false information fed to him by his allies.
“With all of the inordinate inaccuracies in the facts and figures cited to in the SONA, it is obvious that the President was fed wrong information by assistants and some members of the Cabinet," Lagman said. (Click here for complete transcript of Lagman's counter-SONA.)Nakuryente ang Presidente (He got victimized by wrong information) despite the fact that his SONA was not electrifying," he added. The lawmaker from Bicol also scored Aquino for asking the members of the Commission on Appointments to go easy on his appointees. “Not realizing that he was given wrong data, false statistics and flawed analyses, he still appealed to Congress that these errant appointees should breeze through the Commission on Appointments. This is shockingly aggravating," he said. He said Aquino’s SONA, instead of being a blueprint for development and policy direction, was a “partisan press release" that was loaded with “a compendium of motherhood statements."
Senate minority to deliver counter-SONA too
Senate Minority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano may deliver a speech on Wednesday in response to President Benigno Aquino III's first State of the Nation Address (SONA). But Cayetano said that his "Kontra SONA" won't necessarily contradict Aquino's speech. “Hindi ito kontra for the sake of kontra (I won't do an anti-SONA speech just for the sake of it being called such)," he told reporters in an interview on Tuesday. He said his speech would even offer help to Aquino in implementing the promises he made in his SONA. "Sasabihin ko kung paano matutulungan ang pangulo, kung paano niya magagampanan ang mga pinangako niya (I'm going to talk about how the President can fulfill his promises)," he said. During his 36-minute SONA, Aquino revealed the alleged misuse of funds by the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and the National Food Authority (NFA). MWSS officials allegedly received P211.5 million in salaries and additional allowances and benefits alone, while their retired employees have yet to receive compensation. The NFA also purportedly allowed millions-worth of overbought imported rice to rot in a warehouse in 2008. Because of this, Cayetano said he plans to ask all government-owned and controlled corporations like the MWSS to submit a list of its trustees and the benefits, salaries, and other bonuses that they receive. "Is this (MWSS) an isolated case or an exemption to the rule?" he said. The senator said he is working on the speech himself but that he might also ask the help of Senators Pia Cayetano and Joker Arroyo, who are with him in the Senate minority. He said that if he will not be able to finish his speech before Wednesday, he will just deliver it on Monday next week. - Kimberly Jane Tan/KBK/GMANews.TV
Expected Malacañang, on the other hand, shrugged off the counter-SONA, saying it was just natural for the opposition to criticize Aquino’s first speech before members of the two houses of Congress. “Those are expected naman na hindi nila magugustuhan yung ibang sinabi ni Pangulong Aquino. May mga puna, natural iyun," said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda at a press briefing Tuesday. (We expected that counter-SONA. It’s natural for them to criticize the SONA. Nothing new there.) He said Aquino is bent on doing everything he said in his SONA. Charge them Lagman challenged Aquino to charge before the court the officials of the previous administration whom he accused of violating the law. “Their cases must be pursued, filed and submitted to the independent assessment and fair adjudication of the proper prosecutorial and judicial fora. The rule of law, not the role of interference, must be strictly observed and judiciously upheld," he said. He also said the yet to be established Truth Commission — the body that will investigate anomalies under the Arroyo administration — may suffer from constitutional infirmities. Don’t blame us Regarding the country’s P196.7-billion budget deficit, Lagman said the past administration should not be faulted for this. He quoted unnamed “impartial economists" as saying that the deficit is still “manageable." “Not having a fiscal deficit or attaining a reduced deficit is not sacrosanct. Even the more advanced and progressive nations have deficits of their own at varying high levels," he said. He added the prioritization of public expenditures and pump priming programs should be the economic mantra, instead of aspiring to have no or reduced deficit that he said results in an anemic or regressive growth. Wrong figures He added Aquino was grossly misinformed when he said that what remains of the P1.540-trillion national budget for 2010 is only P100 billion or 6.5 percent. Citing records from the Bureau of the Treasury, Lagman said national government expenditures as of June 30, 2010 amounted to P788, 833, 000, 000. “In other words, 751 billion 767 million pesos or 48.78% of the budget remains unspent," he said. He said the problem in the President’s accounting must have been caused by a lack of understanding of the difference between “allocation" as covered by a Special Allotment Release Order (SARO), and actual disbursement to pay accrued or matured obligations. “This is also compounded by failing to appreciate the import of the three general items of expenditures on personal services, maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) and capital outlay vis-à-vis release of funds," the lawmaker said. He further said the lament of President Aquino that the remaining appropriation is only P100 billion is inaccurate and misleading. He said the Aquino administration must have been looking only at the capital outlay where the exact balance as of May 31, 2010 is P105, 155, 678, 000 or 47.18 percent of the total appropriation. Calamity fund, MWSS, rice Lagman also defended the alleged excessive release of calamity fund in Pampanga, Arroyo’s home province, saying it was only a small percentage of the fund and the allocation was barely disbursed as the projects are still in the process of implementation. “These misleading statements are aggravated by a lack of understanding of the utilization of the Calamity Fund. The President is of the impression that the fund is limited to current year calamities. It is not," he said. He said calamity fund also covers rehabilitation projects necessitated by prior years’ calamities and pre-calamity preparations. The range covers past, present, and future calamities pursuant to the General Appropriations Act. Lagman also denied the alleged anomalous fund utilization of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), saying the rates in the salary adjustments of officials and rank and file employees were in compliance with the Collective Bargaining Agreements way back to the 1950s, and that all bonuses have legal basis like the Salary Standardization III. He said the alleged excessive importation of rice by the National Food Authority (NFA) and the alleged subsequent spoilage of the excess was a premature denunciation since the NFA, as earlier admitted by its officials, has not even started the requisite audit and investigation. Missing from SONA Among the issues Aquino failed to tackle in his first SONA according to Lagman were:
  • How the new administration will pursue and achieve sustainable human development and how it would improve and enhance the principal human development indicators like health, education, food security, employment, mass housing and the environment;
  • The incontrovertible linkage between population and sustainable human development, which significant nexus is adequately addressed in the Reproductive Health bill;
  • The agrarian reform program that was the centerpiece program of Aquino’s mother, the late President Corazon Aquino.
  • Promotion of human rights and protection of civil liberties, except a passing mention of six extrajudicial killings very early in the Aquino administration which are claimed to being addressed;
  • Aquino administration’s policy on enhancing the condition of the workingman, here and abroad, or his labor agenda;
  • The agenda on climate change mitigation and adaptation;
  • The Freedom of Information bill, which should be revisited, debated, refined and amended;
  • Debt service reduction policy and how the administration will address the issue on fraudulent loans;
  • The development of Mindanao and other chronically depressed areas; and
  • The new administration’s thrust on foreign relations in the context of a global community. Lagman, however, applauded the adoption and continuation of the programs of the previous administration, such as the public-private partnerships on capital expenditure projects; program on conditional cash transfer with possible increased funding support; the national household index project being undertaken by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) to accurately document poor families in order to prioritize and rationalize financial assistance; and universal coverage under the Philhealth social insurance. Lagman said the minority bloc criticized the SONA “as a way of telling the President to validate the information given to him by his subalterns and to use the SONA as an instrument to advocate reform and development, and not as a weapon to vilify and destroy." - Amita O. Legaspi/KBK, GMANews.TV