Thousands protest in Manila during State of Nation address
Aquino defends record but speech is branded as 'lies'
A street protester kicks out at a satirical image of President Aquino during the demonstrations in Manila. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Thousands joined protest rallies in the streets of Manila as President Benigno Aquino extolled the "achievements" of his four-year old administration during his fifth State of the Nation Address on Monday.
The protesters, who burned a 10-foot effigy of the president, clashed with hundreds of police officers who blocked an attempt to enter the House of Representatives where the president delivered his address.
Protesters, including activists, social justice and church groups, labor and youth organizations, lambasted what they described as "Aquino's litany of lies" in his address.
The president defended his record in a 90-minute speech, boasting how he was able to change the lives of thousands of people through scholarships and development projects.
Aquino said his critics are not only against him, but against the people who benefited from his platform of good governance.
"They are against you … they are against reforms," he said.
Aquino highlighted the country's improved investment rating from international agencies like Moody's, Fitch, and Standard & Poor’s. He said tax collection increased by 50 percent last year due to improved revenue collection efforts.
He said foreign investors were taking note of the government's reforms, including the payment of 40 billion pesos in debt. The president said the government had doubled its budget for infrastructure from P200 billion in 2011 to P404.3 billion this year.
Political analyst Ana Tabunda, a pollster for Pulse Asia, said the president has had the "longest honeymoon" with the public.
Referring to his popularity ratings, Tabunda sais: "What's interesting about this incumbent president is for a long while, he stayed in the upper 60's, lower 70's for four years. That in itself is remarkable."
Government critics, including Church leaders, however, said the Aquino's "straight path" slogan is "full of potholes”.
"I am not happy that he really campaigned for the Reproductive Health Bill," said Bishop Gabriel Reyes of Antipolo.
Aquino implemented the law which promotes the use of artificial contraceptives in 2013, despite opposition from Church groups.
"We expect more from him and his administration," said Bishop Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches.
The National Council of Churches in the Philippines, an organization of Protestant churches, also expressed dissatisfaction over Aquino's performance.
"We have seen a president who claimed a commitment to human rights and the rule of law, yet still extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances continue and the culture of impunity persists," said council chairman Rev. Ephraim Fajutagana in a statement.
The council said genuine agrarian reform and peace remained "elusive" under the Aquino government.
Meanwhile, a coalition of nongovernment organizations on Monday gave the Aquino administration a grade of 6.11 in his fourth year in office or "lower than expected."
The Movement for Good Governance said Aquino's grade fell short of the 7.5 minimum score that is deemed "on track" to achieve targets.
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