Philippine President Benigno Aquino gave his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday night, and made the South China Sea and anti-corruption efforts the centre points of the speech.
Aquino announced that the Philippines would purchase more arms to defend the Spratly Islands from rival claimants, although he did not mention China by name in the speech.
“We do not wish to increase tensions with anyone, but we must let the world know that we are ready to protect what is ours," he said.
Last month, the President’s office officially renamed the South China Sea the “West Philippines Sea.” The country has also purchased new naval vessels from the United States, in order to patrol the seas and safeguard its interests.
Aquino reiterated plans to bring the Spratly disputes before the UN International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, in order to ensure that “all involved nations approach the dispute with calm and forbearance.” China, on the other hand, wants to negotiate bilaterally.
Report & Analysis: Philippines to buy more arms to defend Spratlys, says Aquino [Today Online, 26 Jul 2011]
In addition to the South China Sea disputes, Aquino announced the appointment of a new anti-graft prosecutor and redoubled his commitment to fight corrupt officials and those who aid them. Former Supreme Court justice Conchita Carpio-Morales will serve as the country’s next Ombudsman.
The appointment comes following the resignation of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who was faced with an impeachment trial for alleged betrayal of public trust. Philippine lawmakers have warned the newly-appointed Carpio-Morales to remain independent, or risk the same fate as her predecessor.
Report & Analysis: Solons to new Ombudsman: We’re watching you closely [GMA News, 26 Jul 2011]
Aquino is currently under intense pressure to prosecute his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for corruption and plunder. Arroyo has denied any wrongdoing, and has criticized Aquino’s job as president so far.
During the speech, 6500 largely left-wing protestors rallied outside of Congress to demand Arroyo's prosecution, in addition to higher wages.
Report & Analysis: Aquino to China: Filipinos will defend territory [AP, 25 Jul 2011]
Arroyo is currently in a Philippines hospital waiting to undergo risky spine surgery. The morning after Aquino’s SONA speech, Akbayan party-list spokesperson Risa Hontiveros, former Brigadier General Danilo Lim and activist Jimmy Regalario filed another plunder complaint against the former president, alleging that she has violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by misappropriating lottery funds during her time as President.
Report & Analysis: 5th plunder rap filed as GMA prepares for “risky” surgery [Philippine Star, 26 Jul 2011]
Against this backdrop, the latest survey by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in the Philippines gave the Aquino administration a 62% “good” net satisfaction rating. It is the highest rating achieved by any Filipino president since 1986, and was bolstered by positive public perception of Aquino’s efforts to help migrant Filipinos and pursue tax evaders. The only issue on which Aquino received negative marks was his handling of the Maguindanao massacre last year.
Report & Analysis: SWS: Noy rating steady at 62% [The Philippine Star, 26 Jul 2011]