It is the first time I watched a SONA in my entire life. I usually read the transcript. My command of Filipino has been compromised by secondary and college education. I have no choice but to discuss the SONA in the first language I use in my head.
Some upsides of the SONA:
- Delivering it in Filipino again: Hopefully, Filipinos interpret this as a gesture of goodwill rather than pandering.
- Repeating the idea that the SONA is the people’s SONA rather than the president’s SONA: This is a rhetorical move that I wish would be effective in convincing Filipinos to join in the straight path of righteousness, community and progress.
- Acknowledging the help of government workers and the people (big or small): Another rhetorical move which I hope is sincere and is not merely lip service.
- A lot of numbers and graphs presenting the administration’s successful efforts to show that what was wrong before is now better: An extremely large reduction in dengue cases reported through building of traps (it would be nice to see the dataset and perform a statistical analysis); seats for students in classrooms from confiscated wood from illegal loggers and built by a community which was taught carpentry (nice linkages)
- Convincing people to reduce negativity and help in spreading the good news of the possibility of progress
- Some funny jokes like the Energizer bunny
Some downsides of the SONA:
- The inability of the president to distinguish between negativity and criticism: It is natural that people would be skeptical of accomplished goals. But negative comments in terms of the administration’s efforts are to be expected. The president seems to think that being negative about the country’s prospects is equivalent to not being along the path to progress.
- A lot of numbers and graphs presenting the administration’s successful efforts to show that what was wrong before is now better: If only growing numbers are a good sign! Most of the numbers are about quantity but not about value and not about quality. Sure there are more roads, but are they better? A lot of coco water was exported but were they worth the cost of exporting?
- Could the administration really claim credit for the short term benefits of their actions? Are there any unforeseen long term consequences? Will having a 1:1 student to textbook ratio be good in terms of achieving targets but what if the textbooks are shitty? Let me turn the tables. I could look into the eyes of a child and say, “You’re not getting a good education.” It is not enough that a child will have an education. It must be good enough so that the child will have enough curiosity to pursue it independently and in fields that are of vital importance to the country. It is not enough that people get training (it is a useful first step). But it has to be complemented by a decent education capable of supproting innovative and entrepreneurial activity. Or else bigger numbers presented are just useless.
- A lot of talk about spending to provide: How much of this spending is supported by tax revenues? There was a glaring omission about tax collections and future implications of current spending patterns. If there would be an investment boom int he near future, perhaps the spending could be sustained (but we are uncertain of this). How about the social security system? Why increase the benefits tenfold? Of course, the young are going to complain! How many retirees and pensioners (whether alive, dead, ghoulish, nonexistent or mummified) are still around? I am not sure why social security has not been privatized at all. If it is privatized, a very contentious matter of how to divide the pie will no longer be the responsibility of government. What is supposed to be a private decision to save is fully in the hands of the person making the decision.
- A lot of talk about targets and performance incentives: This opens a classic problem faced by companies–the principal-agent problem. When you ask someone else to do a task for you and you cannot observe them completely, there is a tendency to shirk. Now by using rough measures of performances, one can reduce the likelihood of shirking but a lot of it depends on the quality of the measure! If it is about numerical targets, why not cook the books? There is a lesson to be learned from the Arthur Andersen scandal. Not all incentives are good. They may have unforeseen consequences. By rewarding good performance through achieving numerical targets, we run into the risk of people colluding and then dividing the spoils.
- Some lame jokes: The grenade joke and the remedial math joke. Does not mean that the larger the number, the better. Size matters only if you know how to use it, as they say.
There is a lot to look forward to with respect to the path of the Philippines. It is benefiting from the crisis in Europe. It is not clear if the progress in the Philippines is a result of the effects of the crisis or a result of the administration’s efforts. For now, it is too early to tell but it is worth seeing what will happen next. A lot of it would depend on the ability of the Filipinos to transcend traditional human failings and to find strength in building community.