Anatomy of a SONA

Every President has a SONA template. This way he does not have to reinvent the wheel year after year. This is President Aquino’s template:

Set the stage- Check. The President establishes the proceedings with the question: Why are we here? His answer in the past was because GMA put us here. That practice, however, has worn thin since he increasingly owns his outcomes. This year the President alluded only once to the sins of the past. The 2013 answer: Because the Filipino wants change.

Roll out the accomplishments (or if you have it, flaunt it)- Check. A SONA is as much an ode to a President as it is a report card of his people. Cabinet officials kill to have their stuff included and Presidents allow it as a small reward for their labor. This explains the length of SONAs: This year it took an hour to lay out the litany of Government achievements. Compounding this, the President likes to display his command of the minutiae of governance. Thus he talked about the Bangsamoro peace talks and the investment grade; but he also explained the economics of the MRT fares and classroom books. The President, noticeably, omitted reference to the stock market, the urban real estate boom and other bounties of the rich, things 99% of his audience know nothing about.

Praise your staff- Check. In this segment the President recognizes special members of his official family. Like the Oscars, Cabinet officials eagerly await the nominations. This year the President cited Secretaries Singson (the President’s pet, he has been hailed in every SONA), Jimenez (another favorite), Luistro and Albert del Rosario. The latter was saluted for his derring-do in Libya but it was really a message to China that the President is backing Sec. Albert’s strong position on the Spratlys (Del Rosario, incidentally, was caught on TV with a translator’s headset raising speculation he either (a) sought to bond with his foreign ambassadors (b) wanted to hear the Presidential praise right (c) is not conversant in the vernacular or (d) was testing his noise-cancelling device).

Trot out Filipino heroes- Check. Here the President recognizes ordinary Filipinos who in their daily lives exemplify the values he wishes to espouse. President Ramos was the first to adopt this with Mang Pandoy. This year the President cited Niño Aguirre and police officers Edlyn Arbo and Felipe Moncatar. Borrowing from the advertising industry, the President also presented video testimonials of citizens who have benefited from the Government’s many poverty programs.

Deliver the Year’s Message- Check. This year’s homily was opportunity, personal accountability, trust, duty and national transformation. In the past it was blame it on the girl.

“Widespread opportunity is key to sustained progress,” he said. “The only ones who may be left behind are the ones who do not seize the opportunity”. He did not quite say how the Filipino is to do this but never mind.

On personal accountability: “You are the ones who will determine whether the fruits of our labor become sweet and ripe for the picking…”. Believe me, the over-taxed metaphors sound better in Tagalog.

On trust: “For every Filipino who believes in the strength of small kindness, this is your SONA”. “To our Muslim brothers:  We are all Filipinos. Let us put an end to this conflict”.

On duty: “ I would not be able to live with myself if I had refused to alleviate the suffering of Filipinos.”  I always assumed he did it because he loved us.

End with a feel-good moment- Check.  The idea is to finish what can be a ho-hum affair with –literally for some- a wake-up call.This year the high-five line was: “I am Noynoy Aquino and I proudly say to the world: How wonderful to be a Filipino today” (Shades of Sec. Jimenez’ “It’s more fun in the Philippines”).

This year’s SONA was both exhaustive and exhausting. Pundits decried the lack of a road map for jobs, mention of China, pork barrel and the FOI bill. In my mind the real elephant in the room (and he was in the audience) was the issue of Presidential succession. The President referenced it obliquely saying, without looking at Number Two, the onus is with us (“What will happen in 2016? It will be you who will make certain what we have here will continue”).

And this must be the message of this SONA. What will happen in three years is our call. If Filipinos share the prosperity, if we become more accountable for our acts, emulate those who serve us well, believe in ourselves and care for each other; we can become the nation we want to be, our leaders beware.

It took our President 55 pages, 11,641 words and one hour and 42 minutes to say this but if this is the price for his service to the nation, I can live with it. Thank you, sir.


About Leo Alejandrino

The blog is principally a commentary on Philippine politics and economics.
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2 Responses to Anatomy of a SONA

  1. Joe America says:

    It is so refreshing reading an opinion that grants the President of this fine nation the right to give the speech the President wants to give, rather than the one the critic would have given. Thanks.

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