Addressing the Nation

Tomorrow, the country will sit still and listen to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) to be delivered by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This year’s SONA is crucial in clarifying government’s agenda and priorities for the year ahead. Aside from displaying fashion sense, this mid-year gathering to mark the convening of Congress is also an occasion for politicians to drop witty one-liners for inclusion in next day’s news. Women legislators will eye each other’s gowns and dresses with interest, down to the smallest bead. Pomp and finery shall govern within the session hall while fourteen thousand policemen form a human shield to protect those inside from plots real and imagined.

Local officials and members of the Charter Change Advocacy Commission as well as Sigaw ng Bayan will be out in full force, ready to spring from their seats to applaud the mention of Cha-cha. One Voice and other groups that have appealed for the bogus People’s Initiative to stop, shall be watching from their homes and offices, just as eager to know whether their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. Will elections take place next year? Will the President’s policy of an all-out war against insurgency receive more funding and support? On the other hand, will she acknowledge that this ongoing war has also claimed an alarming number of civilian lives? And what about the impeachment cases? Will these be mentioned at all?

I hope that the President tackles foreign policy in the SONA. Her speech must have the world as its backdrop because the ongoing conflict in the Middle East and Pyongyang’s stated objective of pursuing nuclear defense present a clear and present danger to millions of Filipino workers, and to our own regional security. Looking ahead, the country will host the ASEAN Leaders’ Summit in December where world leaders will head for Cebu to attend this momentous event. This global summit underscores the need to strengthen national security and put a sense of civility and order in our shambolic political affairs. What role can an average Filipino play in ensuring the success of the Summit?

It is expected that the SONA will touch on the concept of mega-regions. It will also include a full report on government accomplishments including all-out marketing initiatives to promote the country as a retirement haven. All the rhetorical flourishes will be in it, with dramatic pauses at the right moments, and as the President delivers her speech, the nation will be wanting to give her this chance to lead. After all, the SONA is her moment. After all the controversies and attempts to bring her down, she will own that podium tomorrow and say her piece because she is President to 85 million Filipinos.

“Here I am,” her facial expression will say, as her eyes gaze at the audience and beyond it with confidence, if not triumph, as she collects her thoughts and begins to speak.

As a former member of the presidential speechwriting group, I have been asked what I thought should be the tone of this year’s SONA. I said wistfully that I hope it would not be combative, because people are tired of verbal tirades that publicists tend to profit from, at the expense of civil and intelligent discourse. People tend to tune out a speech that goes beyond seven to ten minutes especially if the orator dwells on his or her pain and successes rather than tackling the audience’s interests. Because this is a SONA, the public and media will do its best to comprehend the President’s words, as well as the emotions that go with every line.

Will there be venom in her speech, a touch of hatred directed at her enemies perhaps? Former Czech President Vaclav Havel, a noted writer, once said, “I have noticed that all haters accuse their neighbors – and through them the whole world – of being evil. The motive force behind this wrath is the feeling that these evil people and the evil world are denying them what is naturally theirs. In other words, haters project their own anger onto others. Here too they are like spoiled children. They don’t see that they must sometimes show themselves worthy of something and if they don’t automatically have everything they think they should, this is not because someone is being nasty to them.”

Will it be more reconciliatory, a throwback to days of yore when leadership heals and inspires? Once again, Havel — “I would like to say that I want to be a president who will speak less and work more. To be a president who will not only look out of the windows of his airplane but who, first and foremost, will always be present among his fellow citizens and listen to them well. […] People, your government has returned to you!”

Let us listen well, to what would be said and not said, in tomorrow’s State of the Nation Address. As citizens of this beloved country, we are co-creators and co-owners of every triumph, and every fall that this country experiences. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo takes that podium tomorrow, in our behalf, and it is for us to determine if her reality and aspirations sufficiently match our own. Tomorrow is a day of discernment, and for this reason, the SONA will be more than just your usual speech.

Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

Share This Post On
  • migzc

    The bitch needs speech lessons. And excitement management.