Aquino's last Sona:
Unpresidential, philistine, bitter
(The Varsitarian (UST) Editorial
"His last Sona should have afforded him the opportunity to defend his record and define his legacy in a manner expected of the foremost leader of a nation. But he chose to be unpresidential, to be mean and petty. He chose to hit his pet peeves with the childish abandon of a PlayStation gamer. Whatever failings he might have made by commission or omission, he chose not only to ignore, but to ascribe to others, such as his sick predecessor, whom he has been pillorying since 2010 when he started office, and that “big university” whose only sin it seems is to have been Dominican and “not Jesuit.”...
"You have not fought the good fight, Mr. President, but sadomasochistically indulged in catfights. Your presidency has been petty and vindictive. You have not grown in grace and maturity in office. You’ve entered the Palace an angry old bachelor and will leave it a bitter old bachelor. Your mother ringed the curtain down on her presidency with dignity and aplomb by delivering a conciliatory valedictory on her last Sona. Too bad you didn’t follow her example. What you delivered was not a report, but a rant, to the nation."
THE THOMASIAN community could have ignored the highly intriguing reference made by President Aquino in his last State of the Nation Address (Sona) to a “big university” (“malaking unibersidad”) that had allegedly refused the plan of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to transform its campus into a catch basin for floodwaters. But trust the President’s men to make matters worse for him by making things clear, blunt, and arrogant: two days later, Malacañang spokesman Edwin Lacierda superciliously told a TV program that the big university the President alluded to “was definitely not Jesuit” and later urged UST to choose public “safety” over a “prized soccer field.”
The jesuitry is typical of the President’s men. Seeking to defend his administration against criticisms of its poor record in infrastructure and civil defense, Aquino basically blamed UST for flooding in Manila and, in the same breadth, made mention of those opposing the construction of an alternative bridge to make way for maintenance work for the Edsa Guadalupe bridge in Makati. The implication is that should Manila flooding worsen and the Makati bridge fall down, the public should blame UST and those opposing public works.
Blood is on UST’s hands, the Council of Trent seems to be saying. (Or should it be more appropriately called the Palace of Pontius Pilate?
But UST has all the right to refuse the DPWH proposal. Unlike the alternative bridge plan, which presumably would be built on public or expropriated land, the anti-flood project would be built on private property, church property to boot. Moreover, UST is a school, parish church, hospital–all in one. How could UST withstand the racket that would ensue if public works construction on such a massive scale were allowed to invade its tranquil and orderly confines?
Lacierda implied that UST was unreasonable and insensitive for valuing its status as a “cultural treasure” over the safety of the public. But as a lawyer and Malacañang spokesman, he should know it wasn’t UST that proclaimed itself as a National Cultural Treasure (NCT), but government. And among the requisites for such a declaration is that the NCT "shall not be relocated, rebuilt, defaced or otherwise changed in a manner, which would destroy the property's dignity and authenticity, except to save such property from destruction due to natural causes."
Among the sites of UST declared as NCT are its “open grounds,” which Lacierda contemptuously called a soccer field. The site has been so declared not because it’s a football field, but because it was where several historic events were held, such as the momentous papal youth rallies with Blessed Paul VI in 1970, St. John Paul II in 1981 and 1995, and of course, last January with Pope Francis, admittedly a football fanatic.
Just the same, by his disdainful remarks, Lacierda revealed the historical ignorance that has led to cultural disasters such as Torre de Manila and Admiral Hotel, all of them taking place during the Aquino administration.
Moreover, the NCT sites of UST, which include the UST Main Building and Arch of the Centuries, along with other recognitions from the Philippine Republic (historical markers by the National Historical Commission for the UST Press and for UST itself, as well as the recent declaration by the National Archives of the ancient “baybayin” scripts kept by the UST Archives as an NCT) make the Pontifical University a heritage zone. And the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), which is under the Office of the President, has forbidden “heavy construction work” in heritage zones because it may weaken the structural integrity of old buildings.
All this should be well-known to Aquino and his men. But what can one expect of a president who broke tradition by not holding a National Artist Award proclamation ceremony during his term? What can one expect of a president who has not attended a single important cultural event at the NCCA and Cultural Center of the Philippines? Indeed, philistinism reigns in high places.
Lacierda exhorted UST to value more public safety, but UST is merely protecting its community in turning down the DPWH. UST is upholding the welfare and protecting the safety of its students and stakeholders, which is only just and expected of it. Can the same be said of the President and his men?
At this point, aping the Sona, perhaps we can make “allusions” to Yolanda, Mamasapano, and Panatag, issues glossed over or totally ignored in the protracted address last July 27. Has the Aquino administration ensured the safety and welfare of the citizens and carried out competently its duty to provide for the civil and external defense of the country?
Adding insult to injury
Malacañang’s cavalier treatment of UST adds insult to injury because the Pontifical University has been the victim of state mismanagement, short-sightedness and graft, the main culprits of the worsening flood situation. Because of state incompetence and corruption, there have been untrammelled commercial development, greedy land speculation, and haphazard public works that have destroyed trees, poured concrete and filling on creeks and open land, and generally wiped out all natural means of flood control.
From the air, only UST remains an open, green space in northwest Manila, not only an oasis for a smog-filled city, but also a quick refuge for people during floods, earthquakes, fires and emergencies. Meanwhile, government has left former public parks and other open spaces to the mercies of DPWH and its pet contractors, grafters and influence peddlers at City Hall, rapacious speculators and profiteers, in and out of government.
For remaining the only open green space in Manila, UST has been penalized by nature: waters during heavy rains find rest on campus because that’s about the only outlet they can find. For observing the rules on land planning and development and for taking care of the environment, UST has ironically become an easy prey for a president looking for anything to blame for his government’s mismanagement of infrastructure, urban planning, and ecology.
Against the myopic and self-serving view of the DPWH and Malacañang, urban experts will tell you that the catchment plan is harebrained and at best a panacea to the perennial problem of flooding in Manila. The problem owes to the slapdash growth of Metro Manila across several decades when towns and cities rose but failed to develop their waterworks and flood-control system, so that during heavy rains, their waters cascade to inundate Manila, which is below sea level. An integrated plan would require among other things a national land use law to provide rhyme and reason for land development and public works. But the historically incompetent Philippine state has not passed one; worse, it has not even introduced a legislative bill to get the ball rolling.
Confusing causes and effects, President Aquino has blamed everyone but his government for the problems of the nation. Blaming the poor and their alleged overpopulation, not corruption and mismanagement, for the country’s poverty and underdevelopment, he showered legislators with pork barrel and political favors for them to pass the population-control law. When the Supreme Court put a stop to the pork barrel, he accused them of being anti-development. Trying to put one over his political enemies, he declared last July 27 that he would certify a bill against political dynasties before a packed hall that included his cousin named Bam whom he had made senator.
His last Sona should have afforded him the opportunity to defend his record and define his legacy in a manner expected of the foremost leader of a nation. But he chose to be unpresidential, to be mean and petty. He chose to hit his pet peeves with the childish abandon of a PlayStation gamer. Whatever failings he might have made by commission or omission, he chose not only to ignore, but to ascribe to others, such as his sick predecessor, whom he has been pillorying since 2010 when he started office, and that “big university” whose only sin it seems is to have been Dominican and “not Jesuit.”
The unpresidential behavior was so unremitting that Aquino even devoted at least 20 minutes of the constitutionally mandated presidential report to the nation to thank his Cabinet men, close aides, and even household help, naming them one by one, a cute gesture of self-congratulation. Vicious cavil and vain self-glory converged that late afternoon at the Batasang Pambansa.
But the final blow came when Aquino invoked the memory of his beloved mother, the late President Corazon Aquino, and her valedictory Sona in 1991, in which she quoted St. Paul’s letter to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the good fight.”
Our pity goes to Cory and the Apostle.
You have not fought the good fight, Mr. President, but sadomasochistically indulged in catfights. Your presidency has been petty and vindictive. You have not grown in grace and maturity in office. You’ve entered the Palace an angry old bachelor and will leave it a bitter old bachelor. Your mother ringed the curtain down on her presidency with dignity and aplomb by delivering a conciliatory valedictory on her last Sona. Too bad you didn’t follow her example. What you delivered was not a report, but a rant, to the nation. - The Varsitarian (UST)