SONAs don’t matter, a waste of everyone’s time

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Since it had been part of my job as a journalist (and for four years as a Malacañang official), I have intently listened to and analyzed, privately or publicly, 30 presidential State of the Nation addresses. And sorry to be a party-pooper, but I have concluded that these don’t matter at all and may even be a waste of everyone’s time. Maybe that’s why such annual addresses to the legislature by the head of government are practiced by only a handful of nations in the world — Russia, Luxembourg, South Africa, and Ghana. For us, it’s really a vestige of our colonial mentality, as we aped it from the American President’s State of the Union Address.

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The SONA is mainly the one occasion of the year for the politico-economic and even cultural elite to get together to hobnob with each other, and for an aspiring political elite to be recognized as such. (I’m not sure this time, and I hope somebody checks, but the oligarchs, especially cronies of past Presidents, were conspicuously absent in President Duterte’s first SONA. Did he tell his people not to invite them?)

Except for Benigno S. Aquino 3rd’s sickening finger-pointing against his predecessor Gloria Arroyo in each of his SONAs, who remembers what any of the past five Presidents said in her or his speeches? Who remembers what they promised they’d do during their terms?

Worse perhaps, many of these SONAs had been performances that had only served to fool the masses. I don’t remember what President Estrada, the first President who delivered his speech entirely in Filipino, said in his first SONA, but only the feeling roused in me, that at last here was a President for the masses. Three SONAs later, the second people-power movement would force this dolt out of power for massive corruption. The yellow papers (see image) were ecstatic over BS Aquino, banner-headlining his preposterous SONA line “We can dream again.” His term turned out to be a nightmare.

Aquino may have been our most incompetent President, but he was a virtuoso in acting like a President in his SONAs, which were all delivered in a deep voice and in Filipino, as though in an attempt to connect with the masses. Yet, he was really a disaster for our nation, and barely a month after he stepped down, he’s been thrown to the dustbin of history, despised and ridiculed by most people.

It turned out to be a nightmare: Banner headline of Aquino’s first SONA

It turned out to be a nightmare: Banner headline of Aquino’s first SONA

A SONA is really a President’s performance in which he tries to project to the nation, and maintain annually, a particular, mostly invented image for himself. The SONA is really a theater in which a President tries as best as he can to act the particular presidential image he has decided to adopt. That is why action movie star Erap and the characterless Aquino were really so good at SONAs.

What made Duterte’s SONA different, though, is that he gave the show away through his adlibs, and by his references to his speech prepared by his staff, parts of which he dismissed as not worth his time reading out to the public. For those familiar with plays, it’s a bit like the great German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s strange, but brilliant, technique in which the actor reminds the audience that he is just acting, and that what they are watching is not reality but only a representation of reality. If that Brechtian technique has the impact of making audiences think critically, and not being lost emotionally in the play, Duterte’s version of it emphasizes his authenticity, that he is not making things up and he means what comes out of his mouth when he sets the script aside.

A spectacle
My old friend, Nelson Navarro, in his Facebook post very well described its impact on him:

“What this spectacle brought to my mind was (actor) James Stewart in (the movie) ‘Mr. Smith goes to Washington,’ the everyman who suddenly became president and got to speak his mind to the nabobs of power, reducing them to utter absurdity but with the lightness of satire that was truly lethal because the accuser did not exactly accuse or play hero. He poked fun at himself and above all, his social and political betters who were clearly villains the people did not deserve and who created the big mess of their lives in the first place.”

Most importantly, it was Duterte’s stepping out of the script, his adlibs that connected with the masses, convincing my friend Navarro to conclude:

“I loved best Duterte’s great heart for the common people, the Muslims, the rebels in the hills, the squatters, all the outsiders of our country who have simply been shut out of the equation but without whom no real country can be built or expected to arise.”

Optimists claim that a really very good SONA would inspire our people to unite as a nation. I don’t think it ever will: Just looking at the main audience of legislators reminds one that a rapacious political elite exploiting the masses blocks our growth as a real nation. Whatever is promised in the SONA is forgotten two days later.

I suspect Duterte, if given the choice, wouldn’t really prefer to do SONAs. Such speech as that he delivered yesterday could be his first and last. After all, SONAs consume a lot of a President’s precious time: the long discussions with his speechwriters and Cabinet members on what to include in the SONA, the back-and-forth process of finalizing the speech, and practicing its delivery.

It’s a myth that SONAs are required by the Constitution. All it requires (Article 7, Section 3) is for the President “to address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”

To save us time, and spare us from boring SONAs, and for the President to instead have the initiative, it would be better for Duterte next year to instead use this “address” as an opportunity to tell these highly paid but mostly useless legislators what laws they have to pass pronto, and what bills they have been focusing on but will be useless for the nation.

* * *

Former President Aquino’s absence in that SONA the other day, when all of the three past living Presidents were there, was so conspicuous. Was it his petty way of protesting that his candidate Manuel Roxas didn’t win? Was he so gutless and deathly afraid to see and maybe even sit beside Arroyo, whom he had detained and whose life he put at risk? Was he so insecure in his mind about the idea that his criminal negligence of the illegal drug plague has now been exposed? Or is it his way of saying, “Wala na akong pakialam sa gobyerno. Bahala na sila sa buhay nila!” He didn’t even bother to explain to the nation why he could not attend what the Republic considers as one of its sacred events.

Four weeks after he stepped down from power, Aquino’s absence from that event the other day tells us a lot about his true and very ugly character.

tiglao.manilatimes@gmail.com

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31 Comments

  1. Personally, I abhor people who takes advantage of peoples emotion to uplift themselves and make them self venerable. At first I didn’t hate PNoy, but when he jumped on the opportunity when the people’s sentiment was anger towards Arroyo, and what really tipped the boat was when he used the sentiment for her mother dying (which I find the most useless individual any country will have, God forbid don’t make her a saint), that’s when I knew this man is worse than Satan.

  2. said by the religious sector: LUCK KNOCKS ONCE so filipinos should grab this opportunity for change. once duterte steps down in 2022, do you think the succedding president will continue duterte’s advocacies?

  3. In Duterte’s SONA, he was not speaking for those in front of him inside the hall and gallery, he himself revealed that by telling his audience that they were not responsible for him being the president of the republic, rather he was speaking to another set of audience those who cannot join nor enter the plenary hall – he was speaking to the Filipino people, it is that pure and simple fact, as to why he has to interrupt his prepared script and offer his own opinion, because he was reaching out to the civilian Filipinos, which for him mattered most than any of those politicians, lobbyist and political financiers.

  4. Leave him alone!!!
    “If we cannot as yet love one another, then in GODS name, let us not hate each other too much”…by Pres. Duterte.

  5. The voters should be blamed for electing Pnoy Aquino as president. He is not fit to be president. We have seen the product of the voters mistake. A simple problem of laglag bala in NAIA cannot be solve. The voters did not check Pnoy record when he was a congressman. He did not make any bill into law. That us his main job as a legislator. Do not blame Pnoy, he is the biggest joke I have ever seen.

    • The reason why the voters voted him because of mass media who promoted him like a mesiah from the heaven, in reality is the fault of mass media with vested interest for thier own not for the love of the country.

    • to the max, many opinion writers were telling readers of who aquino, boy sisi, really was. a few only listened. pedrosa even went to tell her readers about his mental health but was pooh pooed by the yellow media led by inquirer. magaling ang mga u l o l na nagpatakbo ng media bureau ni boy sisi at na brain wash ang mga tao. hangang ngayon meron pa ring naniniwala sa kultong dilaw. you can read their comments in every newspaper

    • Personally, I abhor people who takes advantage of peoples emotion to uplift themselves and make them self venerable. At first I didn’t hate PNoy, but when he jumped on the opportunity when the people’s sentiment was anger towards Arroyo, and what really tipped the boat was when he used the sentiment for her mother dying (which I find the most useless individual any country will have, God forbid don’t make her a saint), that’s when I knew this man is worse than Satan.

    • ernie del rosario on

      Conscripted media was one of Aquino’s evilly powerful shield and deodorant. Maybe it is even the most potent fooling tool he used. And the yellow media shd be crucified for such sin.

  6. So SONA might be an exercise in futility, after all? Not unless promises made are all fulfilled. It’s the essence of the president’s acceptance speech and the laying-out of his platform of governance. It’s the people’s expectations, echoing – never again…never again syndrome of the past presidents – as always.

    Sadly, most of our past presidents SONAS were all replete with brilliant programs with annotated demagogues – kumpleto rekados with abracadabra boom…boom segueing clapping of hands for every finished paragraphs they uttered, as if they hold a magic wand, wanting to prove they can put the world upside down and up and yet after six years of governance, the new president elect would again repeat the same speech and scenario. And the public outcry: never again…never again. Funny and interesting Phil politics this world has created such a vicious cycle.

  7. President Duterte’s SONA was like listening to a music and hoping it would not stop. The cadence of his voice may not like the voice of skilled speaker but what he said has life, meaning and worth listening. I was eagerly waiting for the President to expound more on the subject of federalism which was unfortunately said in passing. I am wondering as to what had happened to the emergency power to alleviate traffic congestion in EDSA, by this time the DOT should have the unsolicited quotation for the additional runway in NIAIA. Thank God the war in drug is making a headway. Let me go back to the two most important subjects; EDSA congestion and addditional runway in NIAIA. I noticed that EDSA is like the main vein where all the secondary veins are connected into it. I also noticed that the traffic from the inner roads are also spilled to EDSA. EDSA is not wide enough to accomodate all the traffics. Elevated highways is one possibility just like other countries were doing in alleviating their traffic problems. Subway is also one solution but flooding is the worst nightmare. I would like to hear more about these problematic situation that Manila is facing.

  8. Dinia Santod on

    Nicely written, sir. For me, I was not disappointed at all with Pres. Duterte’s first SONA. I really waited for this and did not want to miss this for anything. Pres. Duterte may have a thick accent and sometimes I couldn’t understand some words but I did not get bored listening to him because he was engaging and he was funny at times without him knowing it. He talked with passion and selflessness and sincerety that made me feel that he was seriously determined to act on what he says. He knows the ills plaguing the country and he knows the ways to resolve them as well. I can say that the Philippines is very lucky to have him as the President especially at this time when the country seems to be going to perdition. We need somebody like Pres. Duterte, who is bold, decisive, and resolute, to steer the country away from destruction but onward to restoration and progress.
    And as for Pnoy, the good-for-nothing president, he was not missed at all. Anyway, his absence from the SONA of Pres. Duterte was just consistent with his I-couldn’t-care-less attitude. So, what else is new?

    • said by the religious sector: LUCK KNOCKS ONCE so filipinos should grab this opportunity for change. once duterte steps down in 2022, do you think the succedding president will continue duterte’s advocacies?

  9. THE ABSENCE OF ADOLF HITLER PNOY IS GOOD. THE MERE PRESENCE OF ADOLF HITLER PNOY DIVIDE THE COUNTRY. HIS MERE PRESENCE WILL MAKE THE PEOPLE GOT ANGRY FOR THEY VOTED AN INSANE PRESIDENT. WHO KNOWS NOTHING, INCOMPETENT AND WANTS TO EXACT VENGEANCE FOR WHAT JUST BECAUSE THE LIBERAL PARTY BIGWIGS WAS CUT OFF FROM PGMA WHICH MEANS THEY COULD NO LONGER SUCKS BLOOD OF THE PEOPLE. MINSAN LANG SILA HINDI NAPAGBIGYAN NAG HYATT 10 NA SILA. GANOON NAMAN TALAGA SILA KAPIT TUKO KAHIT SINO ANG MAGING PRESIDENTE KAYA KAHIT MANDAYA SA ELECTION E NATALO PA RIN SILA. KUNG ANG MGA TAO BUMOTO LANG NG KAUNTI BAKA MALAMANG NALAMPASAN NA NI ROXAS ANG BOTO SA KANYA PERO OVERWHELMING KAHIT PA KINUNAN NG 10,000,000 VOTES ANG KAY PDU30 HINDI PA RIN NAKAYA. KAYA AYON SI BONGBONG KINAYA.

  10. That was the first SONA I watched and re-watched until dawn in my time zone. That was not unique as media decscribed it but that’s a real, sincere SONA. Tatay Digong is talking to us (read: poor masses) particularly; assuring us that “makabangon din tayo”, “palangga ko kamo” og “tabangi lang ko ninyo”. In between his words, I can see him almost teary and without those adlibs perhaps we would see those tears. I cried.

    Finally for the “trapos” and those wanting to abuse us — 8888 lang kamo!!!

  11. PNoy had no balls to sit beside Arroyo. The SC clipped it when they voted to free GMA.

  12. Rudi Miranda on

    Thank you! Bravo! Mabuhay! It’s a myth that SONAs are required by the Constitution. All it requires (Article 7, Section 3) is for the President “to address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”
    To save us time, and spare us from boring SONAs, and for the President to instead have the initiative, it would be better for Duterte next year to instead use this “address” as an opportunity to tell these highly paid but mostly useless legislators what laws they have to pass pronto, and what bills they have been focusing on but will be useless for the nation. [I prefer it as such!]

  13. Jose A. Oliveros on

    PeNoy’s absence at the SONA was noticed by almost everybody, specially journalists. But his absence was not missed by the Filipino people. Sic transit gloria mundi.

  14. Jaime Dela Cruz on

    Nice one Mr. Tiglao. I do hope the essence of your article reaches the ears of the president and as a result he ends this useless display of wanabes in government. I couldn’t agree more that a lot of the president’s time and the country’s resources are spent without a remarkable benefit to the people.

  15. Noynoy is irrelevant now. Ewan kung sinong luku lukung businessmen ang magsi-seek ng advice kay Noynoy. mga estudyante lang ang mabobola ni Noynoy.

    maganda pa din ang may SONA, para malaman natin kung ano ba ang plataporma ng gobyerno at presidente, at nang malaman natin kung na-aachieve ba ng gobyerno ang kanyang plataporma.

  16. What about Duterte ? Has he told us that we have one of the worst internet and phone systems in the world ?

    Same with electric power , the dirtiest, the poorest quality (brownout, voltage fluctuations, single phase, etc ?

    Competition in all aspects of the economy……how do we get foreign investment in to compete with Hongkong and Singapore,,,,,,,what we need is massive CAPITALISM to improve our country and alleviate the brain drain of at least . we need competion from overseas where the funds are subject to their countries laws…not ours which are non existent (buy the SEC and the judges if you want a company,,,,,forget the stockholders

    • If the cost of your electricity is the highest is the highest among the region, how could we expext capitalism?

    • “Same with electricity”. – Possibly the highest in Asia after Japan

      Remove all the itemized taxes in your bill, and presto! we would have one of the lowest rates in Asia.

      The past administrations, beginning with the watch of Marcos, have saddled higher taxes on basic commodities and services that are mostly patronized by the masses.

      The tax matrix is harsh on the lowly paid employees but provide a playground for big corporations and the local and expat oligarchs.

      There is a promise to lower the income tax, but the VAT on raw materials, petrol, and imported infrastructures would go up, jacking up domestic prices and gulping down the gains of the common men from the decreased income tax.

      How the fiscal and monetary systems work is beyond our understanding. Some technocrats in the new dispensation might be in the know to improve the economy for the masses, but might refuse to tow the line.

  17. P.Akialamiro on

    Du30 is proving to be a sincere president; not obsessed by the the prestige of the highest position of the land, but of serving the country, especially the lower and lowest strata of the Flipino society. How he did it, is a “stroke of a genius”. While a few of the past presidents knew what’s being clamoured by the people, they just didn’t have the political will power and passion to do to do it, like Duterte.

    At last, we have a real President of all Filipinos! TGID! (Thank God It’s Duterte, as I wanted to be).

  18. “that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in court. And if the evidence warrants, they will have their day of reckoning, too.” – DU30
    YARI KA PNOY ABNOY, ROXAS, ABAD, DE LIMA, OCHOA

    • Indeed, ang sinasabi lang ni Mr. Rho Dee ay magantay pa ng kaunti hangga’t di pa naalis si con-cheetah dahil baka mag file ng kaso ngayon ay dismiss lang agad at di na uli pwede file because of the double jeopardy dictum. So those cases may just have to wait for two more years. Anyway, wala naman yata statue of limitation sa mga kasong kriminal.

  19. Go Mr Tiglao! Continue exposing Mr Aquino for his inept and incompetent leadership. People say we have to move on but Pres. Duterte said “those who abused their powers must have their day in court” obviously referring to Aquino.