I. The story of the SONA
2006 marks the 70th anniversary of the State of the Nation address, the first one having been delivered on June 16, 1936.
Past State of the Nation addresses haven’t been compiled. They should be, either online or in book form. A marvelous -indeed, the essential- source is The Official Gazette, published virtually continuously by the government since 1903. Under the Third Republic, the Official Gazette was authoritative and comprehensive, indeed. Older law firms and libraries still have long shelves of bound copies. From Presidents Quezon to Quirino, a series with annual volumes titled Messages of the President was also published, and can be found in larger school libraries. Going through the two is where I culled the information on when the SONA came to be known as such.
The description of the reason we have a SONA is mine, based on the provisions of the 1935 Constitution (from where the popular designation “State of the Nation address” originated):
Art. VII (executive department), section 10. (5) The president shall from time to time give to the congress information on the state of the nation, and recommend to its consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.
And the present 1987 Constitution (in the section on the Executive Department):
Art. VII (executive department)
sec. 22. The president shall submit to the congress within thirty days from the opening of the regular session, as the basis of the general appropriations bill, a budget of expenditures and sources of financing, including receipts from existing and proposed revenue measures.
sec. 23. The president shall address the congress at the opening of its regular session. He may also appear before it at any other time.
Regarding our constitutions, The government portal has all of them available. Also, I believe the explanation of congressional sessions is a widely-accepted one.
You can read up on the American State of the Union in Wikipedia.
Today, government online sources such as the Office of the Press Secretary website, carry past SONAs of the incumbent, as does the Presidential Management Staff. Oddly enough, the General Appropriations Act, either in draft or final approved form (with annexes) doesn’t seem to be available on line. I had to borrow the copy I used as a prop in the show from a congressional office.
Just as a side note, I would have wanted to delve into the budget more, considering it’s the first trillion-peso budget in our history; I brought along a copy of the 1938 budget, pegged at 69 million pesos. Perhaps an episode on the budget will be possible next time.
The classic account of the First Quarter Storm is “Days of disquiet, nights of rage: The First Quarter Storm & related events” (Jose F Lacaba). The book represents the pinnacle of Lacaba’s generation of journalists, and of pre martial law journalism. A sample is his account of the start of the First Quarter Storm, And the January 30 Insurrection.
There’s also an account by Kerima Polotan (which captures the atmosphere of the twilight of the Old Society) of the 1970 State of the Nation address in The Long Week.
We also used an editorial cartoon from “Cartoon history of the Republic” (Esmeraldo Z Izon).
II. The making of a SONA
An excellent book (and not just because I edited it) is “So Help Us God (The Presidents of The Philippines and Their Inaugural Addresses)” (J. Eduardo Malaya, Jonathan E. Malaya), which is about how the inaugural addresses of presidents came to be written, as well as the speeches themselves. It’s from that book that the list of presidential ghost writers came, as well as the description of how the SONA was crafted during the time of President Roxas (and thereafter).
In “Making of a Subversive: Memoir” (Hernando J. Abaya), there’s an engaging account of government ghost-writing during the Commonwealth.
Thanks to Edwin Lacierda for the tip on the Lenny Skutnik rhetorical device introduced by Ronald Reagan to the 1982 US State of the Union.
Another useful book for understanding the modern government is the PCIJ’s Uncovering the Beat: The Real-World Guide to Reporting on Government, which you can order online.
Our guests were Jonathan Malaya (an Assistant Secretary, and formerly with the Department of Education), John Nery, who is a Senior Editor at the Philippine Daily Inquirer and who writes in his Newsstand blog on some points he made -and wanted to make, on the show, and Jonathan de los Santos la Cruz, a columnist in Malaya newspaper and a speechwriter himself. I’m delighted the show’s discussion also triggered an extended (and very meaty) entry in The Composed Gentleman, on SONAs and their contents.
IV. Closing statement
This was my closing statement for the show:
The need to cram so many things into a state of the nation address means they’re usually long, and as a result, often forgettable. But they serve a necessary purpose, which decades of increasing gimmickry in the way they’re delivered shouldn’t hide. We all deserve to know what government’s up to. Most of all, we need to get a sense of what governments have in store for us. Agree or disagree with what’s said, the sona is one of the few times each year that literally, as well as symbolically, our country comes together. We can debate all we want afterwards, and we should. But let’s listen –Ã‚Â and let’s try to remember that together with the sona should come the proposed budget: and just as we expect to be enlightened by the sona, we should remember to pay attention to deliberations on how our public funds will be spent.
Next week: a crash course on conflict in Lebanon.
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