PRESIDENT Aquino’s revelations of alleged anomalies committed by the Arroyo administration did not strike some civil servants as a “shock and awe” State of the Nation Address. His exposes, however, left them feeling a bit shortchanged.

Like the rest of the nation, employees of a government agency yesterday watched and listened in to Aquino’s debut SONA. They are, after all, the workforce that is expected to deliver on most of Aquino’s SONA promises.

Hindi naman talaga shocking kasi expected nang sasabihin nya ang mga inabutang problema,” says Rorie, a researcher in a government agency based in Quezon City.

While Aquino was delivering the SONA, Rorie’s colleagues were even joking, “Mali pala ang agency na napasukan natin,” referring to the fat bonuses that Aquino disclosed officials and employees of the Metroplitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) had awarded themselves. A government-owned and controlled corporation, the MWSS was one of several agencies that got special mention in Aquino’s SONA, albeit in a bad light for supposed overspending and misspending.

To most employees of the government research agency, there was hardly anything new in Aquino’s revelations, says Chester, a researcher of seven years.

Chester and Rorie are part of a group of young civil servants in their mid-20s to early 30s who revealed their thoughts on the SONA to PCIJ on condition of anonymity.

A third employee, Anne, said she thought Aquino’s SONA was not only lacking in proposed solutions to the problems he cited but also offered nothing substantially new to what he had discussed in his inaugural speech last June 30.

Pero wala pa naman kasing one month mula nang naupo sya sa pwesto (Of course, he has not been one month in office),” Anne says.

Sergio, also a researcher, notes that if anything, Aquino’s SONA was admirable for being “fearless” yet also “swift and short.”

His colleagues agree.

While Aquino may not be “as intellectually eloquent” as his contemporaries in politics with gift of gab, the researchers say the President succeeded in delivering his SONA in a manner that spoke “even to kanto boys” (street thugs).

In his speech, Aquino repeatedly used the term ‘pakikilahok’ (participation), indicating that he puts a premium on people’s participation and the need for cooperation from all sectors to make change possible.

This statement, as well as his earlier pronouncement that the people are his ‘boss,’ points at Aquino’s ability to rekindle the sense of nationalism and cooperation among Filipinos, according to Anne.

Aquino has a knack for swaying people to his side, Anne says, adding that she wonders though if the President’s positive trait could be “translated into action.”

“Where will he get the money to fund his programs?” Rorie asks, citing that Aquino had earlier claimed that the Arroyo administration had precisely spent in its last six months more than half of the 2010 budget.

This matter is, to Sergio, a serious cause for alarm: “Kung one percent per month na lang ang natitira sa budget, paano na tayo? Paano ‘pag nagka-Ondoy ulit?” (If all that’s left of the budget is one percent per month, what would happen to us? What if there’s another Ondoy?)

Despite his extended rendering of the alleged anomalies in the past regime, the researchers find it uncanny that Aquino’s SONA skipped discussion of a number of equally vital issues, such as the Maguindanao massacre.

Sergio says, even as Aquino said he had solved half of the cases of “extra-legal killings” committed since he took office, the President kept mum about agrarian reform, including the pending case of the distribution of Hacienda Luisita,

Additionally, they cite that other big issues like the NBN-ZTE scandal, Charter change, pork barrel, and the Truth Commission were not discussed in Aquino’s first SONA.

On top of it all, however, the one issue that the group had hoped the President would address was the “rationalization plan for the executive.” It is the issue that hits home among civil servants as it deals with the unfinished task of “streamlining” the bureaucracy.

Lahat ng casuals na-lay off na sa office namin. Sana nabanggit kung anong options ang pwedeng i-offer sa mga na-lay-off,” Chester says.

(All the casual employees in our office were already laid off. I was hoping that the possible options that could be offered to those who were laid off would be mentioned.)

Despite the oversight, Chester and his colleagues remain optimistic that the new President would deliver positive change. It is, however, an optimism that is tempered with their experience of working for the government for so many years.

“I’m optimistic that the government will indeed be clean,” says Chester, “but it seems hard to believe that everything Aquino promised to do would be accomplished in six years.”

“It’s a tall order,” Sergio agrees.

Yet, of the litany of allegations and promises Aquino made in his SONA, a single phrase struck a chord with Chester: “Pwede na muling mangarap.” (One can start dreaming again.)

Says Chester: “‘Pag sa gobyerno ka kasi nagtatrabaho, parang hopeless, ‘di ba? Wala kang patutunguhan. Pero sa administrasyon na ito, parang pwede na uli kaming mangarap.”

(If you are working in government, it often seems a hopeless situation. You’re getting nowhere. But with this administration, yes, it seems like we can start dreaming again.) – PCIJ, July 2010

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