AS EXPECTED, the minority group in the House of Representative criticized the first State of the Nation Address (Sona) of President Benigno Aquino III, dubbing it as defective and deficient on its counter-Sona statement Tuesday.

In his Sona rebuttal speech, House Minority Leader Edcel Lagman (First District, Albay) retorted on the ill allegations of Aquino to the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Updates on President Benigno Aquino III's presidency

"On the whole, President Aquino’s first Sona was both defective in what it said, and deficient in what it failed to say. Its sound now vanished and its fury dissipated," Lagman said.

While referring to the speech of Aquino as a mere complaint sheet, Lagman delivered fiery speech in the House amid advised to go slow in highly-rated President.

"The minority criticizes 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," he added.

Not a defense

The minority group emphasized that it did not intend to defend the former President and her officials but only clarified that Aquino must establish accuracy, in facts and figures, in his discourse.

First, while Aquino apparently promised a fair trial against those culprits of criminal and administrative infractions during the Arroyo government, Lagman said the new President committed judicial interference when he "meddled" in the case of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

He also explained that economists noted that the deficit, about P196.7 billion from January to June 2010, is manageable so that the country's credit rating has been maintained.

"The prioritization of public expenditures and pump priming programs should be the economic mantra, instead of aspiring to have no or reduced deficit which results in an anemic or regressive growth," Lagman added.

"Aquino was also misinformed of the remaining amount in the P1.540 trillion 2010 national budget,” he pointed out.

He cited data from Bureau of the Treasury disclosing that P751,767,000, or 48.78 percent of the total budget, remains unspent. As of June 30, the inauguration of President Aquino, the National Government expenditures only totaled to P788,833,000.

Meanwhile, he also said the controversial release of calamity fund to a single district in Pampanga is barely disbursed and is still intact.

In his Sona, Aquino said the entire province of Pampanga received P108 million in calamity fund, P105 million of the amount went solely to its second district, the congressional district of former President Arroyo.

"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," Lagman emphasized.

The Albay lawmaker also said the salary rates of employees of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) are in compliance with Collective Bargaining Agreements 1950s, and their bonuses were backed by the Salary Standardization III.

"With all of the inordinate inaccuracies in the facts and figures cited to in the Sona, it is obvious that the President was fed with wrong information by assistants and some members of the Cabinet. Nakuryente ang Presidente despite the fact that his Sona was not electrifying," he pointed out.

Meanwhile, he also chided that establishment of the Truth Commission, saying it only duplicated the constitutional mandates of existing government agencies besides becoming a launching pad for conviction by publicity.

"Consequently, it is not established to investigate alleged acts of corruption, the jurisdiction over which is lodged with the existing judicial system," he reiterated.

"Should it be created, it should be consistent with its history, practice and objective which is to hold human rights violators accountable and give justice to the victims and their families," he added.

Speech lacking

He further said Aquino failed to tackle what his administration will do to enhance the human development indicators like health, education, food security, employment, mass housing and the environment.

Lagman, the author of the re-filed Reproductive Health bill, also pointed out that the Chief Executive did not mention the link between the growing population of the country and sustainable human development.

The Freedom of Information bill was also nowhere to be found in Aquino's nearly 30-minute speech, according to the lawmaker.

He also lamented for Aquino's failure to reveal his agenda on labor, climate change adaptation, and the developments of the country's depressed areas.

Although the minority vowed that it will not be obstructionists, Lagman hit the President's failure to explain his priority bills.

Aquino earlier cited the Procurement Law and the National Defense Act should be amended, and mentioned prioritizing the Fiscal Responsibility Bill, Anti-Trust Law, National Land Use Bill, National Defense Act and the Whistleblower’s Bill Witness Protection Program.

Normal and expected

The Palace however shrugged off the counter-Sona prepared by the opposition, citing it is normal and expected.

“May mga puna, natural iyun pero ang maliwanag sa Pangulo ay ito ang aming measures, ito ang aming solutions, gagampanan namin ang pinangako namin sa Sona,” said Edwin Lacierda, Palace spokesman.

He also defended Aquino’s non-inclusion of the Hacienda Luisita issue which some sectors expected, citing that it is now pending before the Supreme Court.

“Maraming bagay na kung isasama mo sa Sona yung Hacienda Luisita, talagang hahaba at hahaba. Pero alam ng Pangulo kung ano ang gagawin at dapat gawin ngayon taong ito,” he added.(Kathrina Alvarez/JMR/Sunnex)