The big happening on Monday, July 27, at the Batasang Pambansa is actually two major events rolled into one:
First, the opening of the third and final regular session of the 16th Congress, which will end its term on June 30, 2016; and
Second, the sixth and final report on the state of the nation by President Aquino 3rd, as he also nears the end of his term on June 30, 2016.
An air of valediction – a sense of the beginning of the end — will pervade in Monday’s proceedings, with key officials taking their final bows in the spotlight.
True to its evolution into a piece of theater and ritual, the Congress opening will place again on display women legislators and women government officials dressed to the nines in the sometimes pathetic creations of Filipino fashion designers.
It is also the time for the left and disgruntled groups to ritualistically vent their grievances and protests against the government.
But these distractions aside, the event belongs first and last to President Aquino, because his state of the nation address (codified as the SONA) is the primary focus of attention, to be broadcast live to all corners of the archipelago.
The monsoon of our discontent?
The most truthful state-of-the-nation address in history was delivered by Richard III (1483-85), the king of England.
In the opening scene of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Richard III, Richard declared truthfully: “Now is the winter of our discontent.”
On Monday, our own Aquino 3rd, if he were truthful about the present state of our national life, could say: “We are living through the monsoon of our discontent. The rains keep pouring. Roads and communities are underwater. My approval rating is also underwater.”
There’s another affinity between Richard III and Aquino 3rtd. In a time of grave crisis, Richard pleaded: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse.” Aquino for his part has gone everywhere offering his endorsement in exchange for a good horse to ride in the 2016 presidential election.
Every Filipino president tries to put the best face on the national situation and condition during his watch. Because it will be his final SONA, President Aquino will strive to define his legacy as historic and significant.
And because he still has 11 months to go in office, with all his powers still intact, he could salvage his legacy, if he could make this last year a purposive and productive one for the economy and a successful one for our electoral politics.
The last fleeting glimpse of unity
In preparation for Monday’s proceedings, and to assess fairly whether the President has met his stated goals and aspirations, I bravely decided to read the text of President Aquino’s first SONA on July 26,2010, as well as his inaugural address on June 30, 2010.
It was a punishing exercise, but it provided me with a startling and happy discovery.
The opening of the 15th Congress in 2010 was probably the last and only time that President Aquino, Vice-president Jejomar Binay, Chief Justice Renato Corona, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and Speaker Feliciano Belmonte appeared in one occasion together. It was, if you like, the last fleeting glimpse of unity among the top officials of the republic.
The following year, President Aquino would launch his relentless campaign to impeach Corona from the high court, bribing both houses of the Congress to do the job for him.
Soon after Corona’s removal, Aquino turned his attention to the filing of graft charges and detention of opposition senators Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla, who are currently under trial in the graft court.
In his first SONA, Aquino spoke about the straight path and the crooked path.
He said: “Our administration is facing a forked road. On one direction, decisions are made to protect the welfare of our people; to look after the interest of the majority; to have a firm grip on principles; and to be faithful to the public servant’s sworn oath to serve the country honestly. This is the straight path.
“On the other side, personal interest is the priority, and where one becomes a slave to political considerations to the detriment of our nation. This is the crooked path.”
Readers should savor this, because it’s the closest thing to an explanation of his straight path slogan.
Because he talks about reforms and good governance a lot, I imagined he would cite or explain these words in the defining speeches of his presidency. But they are nowhere there. He uses the word “reform” exactly once.
With respect to policymaking, he promised to convene soonest the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) to discuss the important bills that need to be addressed. But LEDAC has met only once during his term; more frequent were his bribery caucuses with legislators.
Where and what is his vision
Where and what is his vision?, many friends and readers have often asked me.
After close analysis of Aquno’s inaugural address and first SONA, I am forced to conclude that the President does not have a vision for his presidency and our country.
He does not have what leadership gurus and management teachers mean when they speak of vision.
To quote Warren Bennis: “A vision is a portrait of the future to which you can commit. It is the articulation of your values.
“A nation cannot survive without public virtue; it cannot progress without a common vision.”
In the Book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible, it is written, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
The only thing that has stuck with President Aquino from the start of his presidency till now is the term “straight path.” But he and no one in the administration has ever explained to the media and the public what he means by the term, or what its principles are.
He cannot spell out the reforms he keeps citing as his achievements.
For President Aquino, it appears that the shape of the road is what matters, not the destination.
Not knowing where we are really going, we Filipinos have been wandering around during the last five years.
The emblematic image of this presidency is that of the thousands who are forced to hike for their ride because the MRT and LRT systems have collapsed under this administration.