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Jul 23

The SONA’s signals

What will the President’s State of the Nation Address on Monday prove, or show, Twink Macaraig asked me the other day, during a taped interview for Channel News Asia. Several things, I answered.

First and foremost, it will demonstrate the President’s grit and determination to stay in office, despite the efforts of all the sectors ranged against her. At the beginning of the crisis, July 25, the date of the State of the Nation Address, was supposed to be the make or break date. This assumption, I suppose, was based on the Oakwood Mutiny experience.

After all, when -and it seemed, for a time, if was the more likely question- the President enters the session hall of the Batasang Pambansa, she does so as President of the Philippines, Commander-in-Chief, titular head of the ruling party, head of state and government. The importance of a ceremony of state, which is what the State of the Nation Address is, is that it is a physical demonstration of the pecking order of our government and society. The legislature invites the chief executive to be heard, the judiciary listens, the military are in attendance, diplomats are in their seats, and, by all accounts, this time around, there will be a large number of governors and mayors, particularly from the President’s bailiwicks, in attendance. They will be there to listen to the President, who once more will show it is she who makes the news.

The President, too, at least from this weekend to days after her speech, will determine the talking points of everyone, regardless of their political persuasion. It will be the points made in her speech that will be commented on, objected to, applauded and derided. This is one of the fundamental powers of the presidency: to define the terms of reference, set the agenda, make the news.

So the President has a chance to bask in the pomp and circumstance, because formality and ritual strokes the egos of all those who participate in it; she has a chance to rally the faithful (and the unsure), she has a chance to thank those standing by her side and dangle goodies to those wavering; she even has a chance to confound her critics. Certainly, it sends a signal to all those who thought that by now she’d be a goner: don’t underestimate me.

Emphasizing that message will be those outside the session hall of the House of Representatives. It will be the same people outside the session hall every time there is a State of the Nation Address, regardless of who is president. This is something the Palace propagandists will probably point out bluntly and subtly, depending on the spokesmen doing tag-team appearances in the talk and news shows. It is a message that shouldn’t be underestimated, particularly if the demonstrations tie up traffic, or turn violent. the numbers, too, will be watched; if the turnout is not as big as expected, it will be used in the President’s favor. Even the weather, will be looked at: if it’s stormy, it will add atmosphere to the event, and also, somehow, even subliminally, be said to reflect divine displeasure with the rallyists (who, after all, will be the ones getting wet).

By all accounts, the President will be expected to focus on the economy, pushing forward her line from the beginning of the crisis: this is something cooked up by my enemies, because they know our plans and reforms are working, we’re poised to take off, and they want to derail our growth before the public gets to enjoy the benefits. She will also, perhaps, say something about a Truth Commission and impeachment, but also, dwell on a similar party line: if you dare throw stones at me, look among yourselves to see if you aren’t merely lusting after the position I hold. She will then unveil her plans for constitutional change, with the governors and mayors from the provinces on hand to leap to their feet and roar their approval, in tandem with the congressmen from the provinces: Federal! Unicameral! Parliamentary! Now! And perhaps even do this in as many regional languages she can squeeze in. The Vice-President will be there, smiling, supportive, unthreatening. The generals, too; the Papal Nuncio; and, perhaps, former President Fidel Ramos with no Cory Aquino in sight. The Speaker will be all smiles, the Senate President (if still Senate President) will try to look stern, but polite.The (new) Cabinet will bask in their master’s glory.

The picture will be one of a country, united -even in the face of an angry mob composed of Communists and Estrada loyalists -the people the armed forces, the provincial bigwigs, the congressmen, businessmen, and so on, all love to hate, all yelling anti -isms that hark back to the 1960s and 1970s. Unless the President totally bungles her speech, it will be a powerful message and picture. There will be a shock wave, of sorts, as all other news gets sidelined, and the President appears to once again have political momentum on her side.

Then of course, the questions will come thick and fast. The President’s rhetoric will be systematically analyzed, her proposals taken apart item by item, her vision looked into. The Palace will keep up the offensive by continuing a pretty effective line: she has a plan, but do you?

I would think the President, after putting forward her argument that the country is doing pretty well, and is poised to do better, if only her enemies would give the country some peace, will then have to focus on avoiding the Truth Commission land mine while avoiding making any categorical statements that appear like marching orders to her congressmen to block impeachment. She will then have to do a pretty convincing job coming up with a plan for constitutional change that doesn’t look like a total surrender to Fidel Ramos, while pleasing her party mates and provincial officials. It will be quite a balancing act.

I’ve had two conversations over the past couple of days that seem to me indicative of how delicate this balancing act is, for the President.

The first was with a retired general who has a good reputation as far as retired officers go. I didn’t ask him how the younger officers felt about the President, but the general was aware of my position concerning the President’s fitness for office, and gave an encouraging smile, which is as far as he could go, under the circumstances. But our conversation focused on the Communists and his response was extremely dismissive. He says their number of regulars in the field have dropped by 1,000 in recent years, but that they have made great gains in the propaganda front.

How so, I asked him. By their access to the media and expanding their presence (or rather, the volume of it) in the metropolitan areas. They are also getting more skilled at promoting the concept of a united front among civilian and legal sectors in metropolitan areas. He added that the Reaffirmists (loyal to Jose Ma. Sison), realizing their great error in sitting out the 1986 Edsa Revolution, have even gone so far as to build alliances with the Rejectionist (anti guerrilla war) Communists and Socialists, even though “you know that as soon as they win, they will then proceed to try to exterminate each other.” Now there is nothing particularly new in what this retired general said, but it’s indicative of the mentality of the armed forces, and it suggests to me they are keeping a way eye on precisely these efforts at building a united front against the President. While most analysts and observers I talk to (except the extremely committed to the CPP-NPA-NDF line of being poised to gain power) say it’s practically impossible for the militant Left to seize power on their own, the idea that they might could trigger the armed forces to step in to prevent such a takeover (it doesn’t have to be a real threat; the perception only has to be there). What I don’t know is if the mindset of a fairly recently-retired general is reflected by the mentality of the younger officers.

Another person I talked to is a political operative. The topic was the ruling party, Lakas-CMD, and how strong or soft its support for the President is. The operative said, “pretty soft.” Why so, I asked. The operative explained, “she gave the party nothing after the elections, she seemed more interested in the Liberals, the party mates would say, ‘look, she’s more of a Liberal than one of us,’ and then there was of course, Kampi.” But the President’s pet party, I pointed out, is being merged with Lakas-CMD. True, the operative replied, “and of course now, the President is doing everything the party wants, and moving heaven and earth to court the party, but the party only wants Charter Change and it’s not certain if she’s the one to do it.” Apparently there is some concern that Charter Change might be hindered by the President’s advocacy of it. “Don’t get me wrong,” the operative explained, “she can say she’s been consistent in supporting it, and she can say, which is true, she and Noli made it a campaign platform since day 1 of the campaign.”

But the operative pointed out that there are still significant sectors opposed to Charter Change, and most surprising of all, to me, was the operative’s opinion that among the fiercest (or most skeptical) opponents are members of the Makati Business Club, and other business organizations:”these people have already figured out the system so why should they want the rules changed now? Besides which, they may have nightmares of Danding Cojuangco ruling parliament.” The question in some party members’ minds (and the operative emphasized, it’s not only Lakas-CMD that wants Charter Change, “all of the parties want it”), is whether the President can deliver -and they will support her so long as they think she can- or whether they might be better off risking it with the Vice-President, who has no party constituency, and would need a multi-party coalition to govern. There also seem to be genuine fears that the President is taking a big risk with impeachment, as it would be best to kick around the charges in the House rather than send them straight to the Senate, where things could get out of hand.

So the operative suggests that there remains significant hurdles in the path of getting support for Charter Change; that even within the ruling party, support for the President is premised more on keeping up appearances (after all, she is the titular head of the party) and on the President’s ability to deliver on what they want, which is a change in the system of governance. This is a constituency that feels it has turned the tables on her, and what’s more, is sort of enjoying it, because of grudges going back to at least the presidential campaign.

Ph2-072205

The President, in the Presidential Study (often erroneously called “The Study Room,” which features the presidential desk used by all presidents except Cory Aquino. Note on the upper left, there is a rather large “Jesus I Trust in You,” or “3 o’clock habit,” image, which wasn’t there before. This is an official Palace photo.

What other signals will the State of the Nation Address send? Senator Panfilo Lacson already sent his, and it is, that he is indeed, the last opposition senator standing. At least in his mind. I really think that it will turn out that when former Senator Tatad received an envelope with audio tapes, it was an apple of discord sent as a special gift from Lacson’s orchard. Lacson has established himself, in many ways, as the only opposition leader who has been left stronger, rather than weaker, by the President’s weakening, too. Edwin Lacierda, though, thinks it’s all much ado about nothing.

42 comments

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  1. Janette Toral

    Hi Manolo. You cited a predicament about VP Noli De Castro not having any party affiliation. Will it be good for him to have one now in case he becomes the President?

  2. meliza

    if there is one thing GMA is taking a lot of us in awe is her political savvy to draw the strongest and the most traditional of politicians on her side. Hearing these politicos defend GMA i can just imagine the concession that they are getting for doing so. Do you think the Villafuertes of Camarines Sur or the Fentebellas of Bacolod, Duranos or Garcias of Cebu and even Dutertes of Davao will stick to her like elmers’s glue for nothing?

    It is the politicos’ want that is now foremost in GMA’s mind. To survive , to stick her ass in Malacanang, she will give in to the politicos manipulation, like charter change for the ruling lakas party, than taking perhaps a sensible consideration of what the makati business club would need.

    thanks a lot, mlq3, for generously sharing with us your analyses of the present crisis.

    I suggest that you run for president, before most of us thinking Filipinos would decide to hack a living or a life somewhere else in the world but the Philippines.

  3. mlq3

    janette: yes and no. yes, because having a party would help him govern right away, but also make the new government seem greedy. no, because parties need a president more than a president needs parties.

    meliza: i’ve answered that question before. you need me in politics like you need a hole in the head.

  4. Carl Cid S.M. Inting

    A real leader would have fessed up from day one about the real state of the economy. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news, afraid the people will shoot the messenger. That’s why they all pretend they can come up with solutions. And the people continue to hold up false expectations. It’s like the Emperor’s new clothes. They’re all kidding each other.

  5. gari

    oist! it is not only the communist and the estrada loyalist who will be outside ranting and raving there…

    how about us in the democratic left–socialist and social democrats–, the small entrepreneurs for local economies, the organized marginalized sector who are independent of any political bloc affiliations…

    anyway, just posting to let you know that not only those who are visible because of their big crowd mobilization and the traditional politicians who will be counted out in the streets in time for the SONA.

    don’t discount the pro-gloria rally to outside batasan waiting for their masters to come out and give them a big wave.

    wala lang. just commenting. 🙂

  6. mlq3

    gari, tama ka. pero ang pinopoint out ko, yun ang perception na itutulak ng pamahalaan, right or wrong. di naman ang left dems at soc dems (that i tend to sympathize with) ang tututukan ng media eh, yung ndf and friends -kaya sila din ang babanatan ng government media.

  7. meliza

    sorry, mlq3, you are my new discovery. I apologizw if my questions seemed to repeat what has been asked of you previously. But honestly we need people like you to be at a higher level of service in the government. Saka ung ibang mga nag pa-participate dito. Ang gagaling ninyo.

  8. dops

    “meliza: i’ve answered that question before. you need me in politics like you need a hole in the head.”

    mlq3, just a thought, what if we make a signature campaign just so you will run for government post, say as senator? will your answer br the same?

  9. Juan dela Cruz

    that’s chavit in the picture standing. i would imagine he’s probably telling gloria she didnt win yesterday’s bola ng jueteng right inside the palace! and boy, is she frowning, pretending not to see or hear him. “better luck next time mam!”

  10. Juan dela Cruz

    manolo, you took notice of the “Jesus i trust in you” or the “3 o’clock habit” picture. but funny you didnt notice the “chavit i trust in you ha?” which is so obvious in the picture.

  11. Carl Cid S.M. Inting

    meliza said: “It is the politicos’ want that is now foremost in GMA’s mind. To survive , to stick her ass in Malacanang, she will give in to the politicos manipulation, like charter change for the ruling lakas party, than taking perhaps a sensible consideration of what the makati business club would need.”

    In fairness, traditional politicians have a better sense of the grassroots’ pulse than the Makati Business Club or the Ibon Foundation, for that matter. There is so much hypocrisy coming from the ivory towers of business, academic, religious and ideological groups. When almost 90% of national income goes to debt service, what practical solutions can these self-appointed prophets offer? GMA is hopeless, that is a given. But can the motley cast of messiahs come up with a cure? They cannot even agree on a common diagnosis for what ails the country, how can they achieve consensus for prescribing remedies? Given the very grave economic situation, can any of these groups honestly tell the country what alternatives are at hand?

  12. Willie

    Re the photo, it’s bad enough that Chavit is there. What’s worse is he’s standing/loitering where he’s not supposed to. Reminds me of those signs in service establishments (“employees only beyond this point”) that warn customers not to stray behind the counter.

  13. kidlat tahimik

    There are a lot of people who mis-read the situation. We are just waiting for the “second envelope” or anything that would convincingly show GMA cheated in the last elections. Then, she will be ousted. But without it, sorry. The opposition can kiss their dreams (or nightmare?) goodbye.

  14. jackryan68

    Mr Inting said” “In fairness, traditional politicians have a better sense of the grassroots’ pulse than the Makati Business Club or the Ibon Foundation, for that matter. There is so much hypocrisy coming from the ivory towers of business, academic, religious and ideological groups. When almost 90% of national income goes to debt service, what practical solutions can these self-appointed prophets offer? GMA is hopeless, that is a given. But can the motley cast of messiahs come up with a cure? They cannot even agree on a common diagnosis for what ails the country, how can they achieve consensus for prescribing remedies? Given the very grave economic situation, can any of these groups honestly tell the country what alternatives are at hand?”

    I have to disagree. While traditional politicians may be nearer to the grassroots, and they have a better sense of the local pulse, but they always put their own personal interest on top of everything else, even the truth. When their interests coincide with that of the embattled GMA, the greater interest is sacrificed and the local pulse sidelined.

    My sense is that this SONA is going to be a battle of perceptions – that GMA must stay for the administration and that she needs to go for the opposition. But it will not give us the true state of a troubled nation so divided because its leaders cannot handle the truth.

  15. Carl Cid S.M. Inting

    I agree with jackryan about trapos looking after their interest first. But to dismiss them outright would be naive. No entity or group could claim to have the silver bullet to save the country, it needs a collective effort. Religious and civic groups are full of pie-in-the-sky ideas. These need to be tempered with a dose of pragmatism.

    I must, however, disagree with jackryan when he generalizes that “When their (politicians) interests coincide with that of the embattled GMA, the greater interest is sacrificed and the local pulse sidelined”. The opposition is oozing with trapos as well. They’re everywhere, a fact of life in the Philippines (and other countries, too), that is why you cannot cavalierly dismiss them.

    As for saying that the SONA “will not give us the true state of a troubled nation so divided because its leaders cannot handle the truth”, I totally agree. The country has been in a rut for many years. Yet no President, even during Cory Aquino’s time, has levelled with the people about the true state of nation, for fear of a backlash. Are they afraid that it is the people who “cannot handle the truth”? Had GMA been forthright right after EDSA II, she may well have had to kiss goodbye any dreams of being elected back into office. But she would certainly have stood taller in the eyes of the public. The truth would have set her free.

  16. meliza

    dops, i’ll be happy to be the first to sign plus my husband and my mother and all my kababayans! can we start now?

    MLQ3 FOR SENATOR!!! –

    ps.I hope you don’t mind if i scream. this is your blogsite

  17. meliza

    carl cid s.m. inting, when i mentioned traditional politicians on the one side and the makati business club on the other, it was meant to emphasize the prference of the president as i see it. What i meant was some important economic reforms may be sidelined because foremeost in GMA’s mind now is what can please her allies.

  18. mlq3

    meliza, thanks for your faith. But really…. Politics makes no sense if you want to earn a decent salary. And the only way to earn a decent salary is to return government salaries to their levels in 1937.

    Also, like I keep saying, you need me running like you need a brain tumor.

  19. mlq3

    jackryan: Take a look at this account by an early 20th Century American politician. You’ll understand much about politics from this piece -and why traditional politicians often do better than reformists.

  20. mlq3

    Willie: yes, Chavit’s location breaks protocol.

  21. mlq3

    Juan: the photo speaks for itself 😀

  22. gari

    i don’t think mlq3 would make a difference if he enters politic. he won’t fit in the well entrenched and stinking political system. if we want mlq3 to stinks as hell in politics, let it be.

    but i don’t think he can survive. of course, unless…the composition in the congress changes radically.

    a thinking person needs to be with thinking people and not with a stinking assholes.

    i believe mlq3 can be of much help in shaping public opinion until such time that enough intellectualization has been done to contribute into maturing our democracy.

    political sense is not enough but its a great help in creating a “tipping point” for social inclusion.

    wala lang…

  23. mlq3

    gari: i’ve seen government up close, i like it where i am.

  24. Ed

    ” She will then have to do a pretty convincing job coming up with a plan for constitutional change that doesn’t look like a total surrender to Fidel Ramos, while pleasing her party mates and provincial officials. It will be quite a balancing act.” Ramos is Lakas. Without the dude she is a goner. I dont think anyone can stand up and face the cigar totting dude and challenge his ideas without serious consequences. Gloria needs to please him or she will be fed to the vultures circling above her head.

    I heard Gloria is more like a figurehead now. But it seems she wants to cut out the man who saved her. I dont know what will happen but if she continue what she keeps on doing I doubt if she will last long enough to stay in power and it is more likely she and her family will share a cell with Chavit and HerNani Perez.

  25. djuara

    this week end preparation for the SONA, watching, observing the mayors “loyal” to GMA most of them having two drivers, body guards and families in tow travelling to manila….. i just cant help but wonder at the pathetic situation GMA is in, with all the funding being promised to these “blood suckers” in exchange for their “pledge of loyalty” to GMA…our pres has already shown her true grit and detemination to remain in office.

    MLQ3, i agree with what the others have been suggesting it would do the country good if you are elected senator… to begin with

  26. mlq3

    Ed, but FVR seems frustrated. I think she’s much less anyone’s puppet than they’d like.

    djuara: Thank you, but no, you don’t need me in politics.

  27. Juan dela Cruz

    oh by the way manolo, i believe i do have the exact same copy of that picture minus chavit standing.could it be that he added his photo to that photo?? perhaps with the aid of ramon jacinto? hehe

  28. mlq3

    juan, no. it came from the ops website (www.ops.gov.ph).

  29. Ed

    Manolo, can you imagine what will Gloria do if Ramos widthdraw his support? I can help but to think that these show of loyalty is Ramos own doing. Malakas pa rin ang hatak. I even heard a barbero said that lots of soldiers are loyal to the dude.
    The operative explained, “she gave the party nothing after the elections, she seemed more interested in the Liberals, the party mates would say, ‘look, she’s more of a Liberal than one of us,’ and then there was of course, Kampi.” But the President’s pet party, I pointed out, is being merged with Lakas-CMD. True, the operative replied, “and of course now, the President is doing everything the party wants, and moving heaven and earth to court the party, but the party only wants Charter Change and it’s not certain if she’s the one to do it.” Apparently there is some concern that Charter Change might be hindered by the President’s advocacy of it. “Don’t get me wrong,” the operative explained, “she can say she’s been consistent in supporting it, and she can say, which is true, she and Noli made it a campaign platform since day 1 of the campaign.”

    Maybe I should research more because Im turning to a paranoid freak who seems to see ramos hands everywhere and kept on hearing “tanda” saying mala incredible hulk “you wont like me when Im angry”

  30. Ed

    The quote tag is not working or maybe i bungled it up sorry if it looks like a mess.

  31. jackryan68

    Mlq3, i checked your link and all the more it reinforced my belief that there is hope for our country, in spite of what is happening. Hey, we’ve only got more than 50 years of self-rule, and there is much that we still have to learn yet.

    I’ve been working with local governments since I graduated from college in ’89, and I’ve seen the best and the worst. Where I am now gives me hope though, and that is because among others, we have assumed as if the national government does not exist 🙂

  32. Jojo

    Manolo, who do you think will write the speech? John Nery misses the Strong Republic speech of 2002 (which Bobi Tiglao wrote). Who used to write her speeches in times of crisis?

  33. mlq3

    jack, the future lies in the provinces, i think, but also in recognizing the provinces need to collaborate.

    jojo, all i know is teddyboy locsin is doing the styling. i believe teddyboy also wrote the speech of gma responding to cory’s. i’m curious to know if the leaks concerning the speeche’s supposed very conciliatory tone reflects bobi’s views or not.

  34. admiralgreer

    state of the nation is in state of calamity…filipinos are well know for bacstabbing people…i dont think and most americans and other nations that the philippines will have a stable goverment not unless if they(politicians)set aside their differences after election….

  35. Jojo

    Manolo, I doubt if Bobi has a hand in the conciliartory part of the speech. Listening t him and reading about him in the International Herald’s Tribune/New York Times interview with Raymond Bonner made me realize his ferocity in defending his boss. Even common friends of ours from the media say better to keep out of his way for now. Talagang all-out…

  36. Miguk

    Really intersting article about the Tammany Hall politician. He took care of his people and they took care of him…the way it is supposed to be.

  37. jackryan68

    “Really intersting article about the Tammany Hall politician. He took care of his people and they took care of him…the way it is supposed to be.”

    The problem with most of our local “Tammany politicians” is they tend to take care more of themselves than their people — or at least those who have voted for them, and therefore expect something in return. And they have leveraged these to perpetuate themselves, and their children and grandchildren, in power.

    This paternalistic tendencies have yielded very little choice, and have actually stunted the growth of local democracy — which is about ordinary citizens empowered to make a choice from among the best, not the worst options.

  38. mlq3

    jojo: if the president had listened to bobi all along she wouldnt be in the mess she is. now he’s one of the few who is truly loyal to her, but as you indicated, i think his standing or effectivity in influencing policy changes from day to day…

    miguk, well, it explains how the old-time politicians saw themselves, at least.

    jackryan: i’ve been reading your blog with interest.

  39. Alex


    The true state of the nation is the failure of democracy in the Philippines. Where cynicism, instead of respect, is the dominating attitude towards the Constitution and our government. Where due process is not upheld while the rule of the mob prevails. Where personalities have more sway than democratic institutions. Where elected officials are the first ones to quit from participating in the democratic process if their self-interests are not serve. Where the separation of church and state is routinely ignored. Where freedom of the press is so abused that it has ceased to become an instrument of democracy but of anarchy. Where both the church and the military have become active players in the deadly game of power politics.

    As a people we have lost focus on our ideals, on what kind of nation we are, and on what kind of government we want to have. Democracy has eluded us.

  40. Carl Cid S.M. Inting

    This noon Speaker De Venecia gave a preview of what may be an important part of the SONA. He predicted that GMA will go for a constituent assembly to amend the constitution. Of course, the ivory-tower dwellers will immediately attempt to shoot that down. The timing may not be the best, but it has been a long time coming. That Cory Aquino constitution has really done the Philippines a lot of damage.

  41. Miguk

    Yes, that is the way they saw themselves. And if “Gangs of New York” was even close to realistic, the Philippines is still a whole lot better off.

    Is the constituent assembly the same as the constitutional assembly? I have serious reservations about the current group of politicians creating a new constitution with the common good at the forefront

  42. Carl Cid S.M. Inting

    Whether it is a constitutional assembly or a constituent assembly, it will be composed of the same people or their proxies. So what? It is a political reality. Leftists or so-called “progressives” would never have a chance in an election. The people don’t trust them and can’t relate to them. They should accept that fact and stop their ranting.

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