The Long View
Sic transit Gloria
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:10:00 07/27/2009
Today is supposed to be marked by the President’s swan song: her final report to Congress and country about her stewardship. It should be about looking back – to an administration that is, right now, at eight years and six months, already the third-longest in duration in our history, and the longest, if you accept her legitimacy, in purely constitutional terms. This requires some explanation.
President Marcos, who held office 20 years, 1 month, and 26 days, did so for exactly eight years as a constitutional president; after Dec. 30, 1973 he continued to hold office by means of the self-coup (martial law) he undertook on Sept. 23, 1972. President Quezon, who held office for 8 years, 8 months and 17 days, was constitutionally president also for eight years, until Nov. 15, 1943, when his term was extended by fiat of the Congress of the United States. In both cases, both presidents exceeded the eight-year limit imposed by the 1935 Constitution by means of arguments that the Constitution had become inoperative or defunct.
No one expects anyone else to ever match Marcos’ stay in power; even if the President becomes the one who will take our country “to First World status by 2020″ (itself a slogan that betrays the ruling coalition’s ambitions) or 11 years from now, this would make her stay in office 19 years, 5 months and 10 days – which still allows her to retire without the dubious distinction, among the many others she’s already reaped, of outlasting the Dictator’s hold on power.
As it is, on Oct. 7, 2009, she will undoubtedly become the President with the second longest stay in office; and if she’s already the President with the longest constitutionally ordained stay in office, it also makes her the President with the biggest number of State of the Nation Addresses under her belt as a constitutional president. This again requires some explanation.
President Quezon delivered the first State of the Nation Address on June 16, 1936, even though the National Assembly sworn into office on Nov. 15, 1935 was called into special session 10 days later; the special session was devoted to the passage of three crucial pieces of legislation: Commonwealth Acts No. 1 (the National Defense Act), No. 2 (creating the National Economic Council, today’s NEDA), and No. 3 (establishing the Court of Appeals); but as the National Assembly hadn’t even yet fixed the dates of its session as provided for under the 1935 Constitution, there was no formal beginning of the regular legislative session.
And so it wasn’t until mid-1936 that the constitutional requirement for the President to inform the Assembly of the state of the nation could be complied with; and even then, the dates of the State of the Nation Address varied: on Oct. 18, 1937 and Jan. 24, 1938, for example. Quezon delivered five State of the Nation Addresses; the one that should have been delivered with the shift of the start of all terms of office to Dec. 30, 1941, which meant the new session of the restored bicameral Congress would have been in January 1942, never took place because of World War II.
After the war, State of the Nation Addresses always took place in January. President Marcos, during his constitutionally kosher two terms, delivered six State of the Nation Addresses, including the 1970 one that kicked off the First Quarter Storm and the much less eventful 1971 address; he would have delivered one in January 1973, but maneuvered the abolition of Congress before then, to forestall any legislative challenge to martial law. When he finally got around to reestablishing the legislature, this time as the Batasang Pambansa, he delivered eight more (1978-1985), but they are of a dictatorial piece.
In contrast, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has remained in power under the same Constitution and the official assertion of normal government eight times and, today, for the ninth and final time; a formidable body of work, if the nine State of the Nation Addresses are considered as comprising a whole.
Colleague John Nery however points out the President’s addresses aren’t of one seamless piece; her first two were “still part of the national narrative” of Edsa II, celebrating People Power and the clamor for deepening democracy and reform. Nery says by her third address, she’d embarked on a war footing; her victory address, in 2004, was supposed to unveil her 10-point agenda for governing but was hijacked by the kidnapping of Angelo dela Cruz.
Since 2005, her essentially ad hoc approach to the State of the Nation Address has been reflected in the addresses being primarily campaign speeches – whether to encourage efforts to amend the Constitution, or to keep supporters bedazzled by prospects of public works.
Throughout, the President has always emphasized, whatever rhetorical gimmicks she resorts to in any given year, that the country should abide her because she has kept the economy on an even keel. She has also minced no words in pointing out she fully intends to serve out her full term. This is the carrot and the stick; all else is tactical – to keep her critics divided, and her coalition fat and happy.
Though some might ask, particularly as the President is poised to conclude her current six-year term, that the term was first proposed in 1935 and restored in 1987 on the assumption that a chief executive with a fairly long term, but disqualified from re-election, would concentrate on governing rationally and with genuine statesmanship.
And this is where the “vision thing,” which she really attempted only once (with the idea of a Strong Republic) and its subsequent, conspicuous absence once the President, who obviously lacked the temperament and the capacity to communicate grand ideas, abandoned even pretending to be capable of being motivated by a vision, comes in.
It is what could have given her stay in office cohesion, and ultimately, relevance, as the country prepares to achieve one of its dearest wishes – to see her go. Instead, her legacy is of survival, yes; but beyond the public works, little else of enduring value.