Pinoy Ambisyoso gives capsule reviews of some reactions; the PCIJ Blog runs through other reactions, from all sides of the political fence (former president Ramos was, apparently, a bit cranky) but perhaps the most concise description comes from baratillo@cubao, who calls it the “Eat My Shorts Speech,” and who provides his own condensed version of the address.
Three bloggers’ entries struck me the most.
First, lawyer Marichu Lambino who zeroed in on the beginning and end of the President’s speech:
Any experienced ghostwriter of formal speeches might tell you that the theme of a formal speech, or the sentiment of the speaker, is found in the beginning and end of the speech — the rest are just bridges, bridge- paragraphs, of the beginning to the end.
In the President’s SONA, those bridge-paragraphs were literally, of bridges — roads, airports, shiplanes, waterways, power plants. A bit of legislative agenda here and there on the political assassinations and a pitch for education here and there.
85% of the body of the SONA — highways, byways, airways, waterways — tell us that the nation has a President who is surely a ways-and-means committee leader (no pun meant); that the country has always had her, a President who, during work-hours, was awake and able to sign infrastructure contracts and disbursement vouchers and priority yellow-tabbed instructions to the budget department for her allies (never mind commissions up and down here and there).
And she concludes with an analysis of what is rapidly becoming the most quotable part of the President’s address:
Her real sentiment is found at the end of her speech, the most applauded, cued or not. For those who did not get why it was the most applauded or why it had been cued for that, here’s why:
She said: “From where I sit, I can tell you: a President can always be as strong as she wants to be.” (strongest applause).
“always” is not the same as “only”; in fact, it has the opposite meaning. “xxx a President can always be as strong as she wants to be” is not the same as “xxx a President can only be as strong as she wants to be”; certain people might have thought they heard the latter and were puzzled, or applauded her; but it was the former that she said. It’s the opposite. The latter (“I can only be as strong as I want to be”) implies that her power is limited by her will to exercise her powers, or that her will will not exceed her limited power. It’s the opposite. She will “always be as strong” as she wants to be. That means her powers are not limited by anything (“as strong as she wants to be”) or that she thinks her powers are not limited by anything. She could have said “as strong as required by the nation’s interest”, or something. But she said “always as strong as she wants to be.” …
…But only to add: “Make no mistake: I will not stand idly if anyone tries to stand in the way of the national interest and tries to block the national vision.”
And that’s where she finished with: she will always be as strong as she wants to be.
She is telling critics, destabilizers, ambitious politicians (and this is where she finished): Don’t dismiss me. You haven’t seen the last of me. I am still President.
And that’s the smallness of this speech.
Another lawyer, Edwin Lacierda (no fan of the President), points out that the gross ignorance of protocol during the SONA indicates a deeper problem:
Symbolically, the disorganized hustle and bustle of the solons before and while the President is entering reflects the lack of formal and substantive order in the business of government. The marketplace ambience symbolically reflects the lack of respect for the President. And no matter how one detests this incumbent president, the solons, whether administration or opposition, must learn to honor the office of the President, never mind the holder. In august halls like the Batasan and in formal gatherings like the SONA, swords are sheathed and left at the door.
The third entry that struck me, actually consists of two entries by the same blogger. In “First World country in 20 years” to be today’s SONA, blogger AKOMISMO, a teacher at the Philippine Science High School, offered up a pre-SONA reflection:
While I can’t comment fully on the speech yet due to obvious reasons, I also wouldn’t want to say how unrealistic her vision is. Everyone deserves the chance to dream. However, I would like to raise an important point made by the Inquirer’s editorial today - that our country needs a leader, not a manager. We don’t need just a checklist of accomplishments and goals; we need a direction, a vision and a dream. PGMA may dream all she will, but to get our people sold on that dream is another matter. Having our people believe in her and work with her on this requires the talents and charisma of a leader that this manager of a President has yet to or may never even become. How she attempts to do this in the SONA will be one thing I’m looking out for.
He then conducted an interesting activity, which he describes in What my students taught me about the SONA: as he and his students watched the speech, they exchanged views on what was going on:
They questioned everything from why people generalize that the Philippines is corrupt, to why there are still poor people despite the economic gains we have had. They weren’t even blinded by the mention of the Philippine Science High School - Why did GMA mention those victories, siya ba yung nanalo?…
…Our discussion after the SONA quickly shifted from an analysis of her key points (if there were any, as one student pointed out) and into who is to blame for our society’s ills. We didn’t dwell long on that however, and moved instead into how to heal. It was then clear to me that a lot of them actually appreciate GMA’s efforts but recognize that it isn’t just the government who runs our country. Our nations rests on the backs of the people too.
It was at that point where I put aside all my knowledge of history and political science and just listened to what thought and felt. They convinced me that federalism could just work - people are selfish anyway, so let’s leave them alone - and that our people should think of each other more. Of course, their arguments are crude but they see things which are too obvious and yet are often missed out by those in the academia…
And what I learned that afternoon is that in our classrooms, ladies and gentlemen, are people who are fiercely in love with their country. They may not show it, they may not even speak it, but deep down they want to do what they can to make it better. I don’t see the youth others describe as lusting after wealth and comfort in foreign shores. Of course, my students see the valid need in working abroad and do not disregard their efforts – a lot have relatives and friends working as OFWs, calling them martyrs - but most would rather have it that they stay.
Here’s what other students had to say: Underside found it “a load of crap”; ar_21684 focused on fashion, to make a political point; quinkoy tawops was very appreciative of the SONA, and deepened his admiration of the President; put these and other student’s comments together, and you will find a picture very similar to what AKOMISMO’s described.
For other reactions, few bloggers were as thorough as Tingog.com, who put forward what he thought were 10 key highlights from the address. Thorough, in another sense, is NURSicism, who provides a blow-by-blow account of his reactions; point-by-point satire, on the other hand, comes courtesy of Professional Heckler:
Reports say President Arroyo’s speech was applauded 103 times, 63 times less than last year’s SONA. Malacañang has berated the sound engineer for not pressing the play button of the “canned applause” more often.
Archbishop Oscar Cruz blogged his reaction: the SONA was a signal the President intends to stay in office, and that taxes will be raised. The Archbishop and Ellen Tordesillas pretty much agree on what, to them, the President’s address truly signified: a warning.
moolah matters points to Money Smarts list of economic promises in the SONA (Reyna Elena, on the other hand, brings up past SONA promises), and reflects on the President’s remark on “social safety nets”, and how families need to create their own safety nets.
My own take on the SONA?
1. Body language says a lot. The President looked tired and drawn when she arrived at the Batasan; keeping control of things that day obviously wasn’t easy. Compared to last year’s triumphalist, even gleeful, delivery, she seemed to falter and stumble over the words a lot. And despite name-dropping like crazy, she garnered less applause than last year: and it was the loyal NBN people who did the counting, mind you.
2. A speech has three audiences: the faithful, the enemy, and the uncommitted you want to win over to your side, both foreign and domestic. I think there was more of an effort to win over the uncommitted last year, since it was the kickoff for Charter Change and failing that, the 2007 elections. This year, the President knows clearly enough, just how divided (at best) the country remains (see the most recent Pulse Asia survey, as discussed by today’s Inquirer editorial). So she made only a token effort at reconciliation in general. Instead, she concentrated her energy on rewarding friends, and dangling the prospects of gravy for anyone in Congress willing to deal with her.
Obviously, the writing on the wall’s been clear since 2005: LGU and lower house support, plus the military, will trump public opinion and the opposition anytime. Keep the pump well primed, and your gunpowder dry, and it will be the status quo. The President, for example, acknowledged the public relations severity of the political killings issue, but passed the buck to Congress. No direct orders as commander-in-chief, were given, which she could have done, with the top brass in attendance.
3. Still, mind-numbing though it can be, the President’s catalog of infrastructure projects is important. It shows how she herself understands her office; it lists her priorities. You could say the country lost its greatest Secretary of Public Works when Mrs. Arroyo became President of the Philippines. Her encyclopedic grasp of geography and pork barrel projects is breathtaking. Her inability to tie it all together in a meaningful manner, points to one of her severest handicaps as a president. The vision thing is a must, because even her own supporters need that vision thing from time to time. And the vision thing is the surest antidote to opposition.
4. I think its obvious enough the President’s worried about becoming a lame duck, which is why she took pains to remind Congress and the LGUs that the president giveth, and taketh, away. And why she has to remind her critics to behave.
5. But even her laying it on thick in terms of past, present, and future, pork, only underlines that she is inching closer to lame duck status. Unless she can pull a political surprise (which is precisely what her joke about running for office in 2010, even if it was just a joke, accomplishes: keeping everyone guessing; a politician everyone’s guessing about, remains a relevant politician). The speech was successful, though, in reminding everyone, on her side or against, that she intends to keep on fighting and keep herself on center stage.
6. but on the whole, it was a wasted opportunity, to rally the faithful; it certainly has her critics all abuzz, and serves warning that she isn’t about to clip the military: Congress can do that, if it dares. Whether she managed to telegraph to her allies, that they should be willing to continue supporting her, instead of figuring out which horse to bet on in 2010, and whether the public, at least the part of it inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt all the way to 2010, would let her stay on past that date, probably depends on more than the SONA.
7. For now, she avoided many political land mines. If she didn’t say enough about certain things, she also didn’t bring other things up, at all: the EZ deal, Chairman Abalos, etc., etc. A list of pork barrel projects isn’t something anyone can either fault her for, or criticize much: who can object to development being spread out? If it isn’t enough for some critics, it’s plenty for many of her supporters. The lack of a vision thing, well, no vision, less debate. It was a cautious speech, even when it came to the parts that seemed daring. It’s the speech of someone hedging their bets.