Notes on the State of the Nation

The State of the Nation Address (the term, of course, borrowed from the State of the Union Address in the United States), has been a steady feature of the Philippine presidency since 1936. But it was not always known as the State of the Nation Address.

The 1935 Constitution, as amended, contained the following provisions:

Art. VI (Legislative Department) Section 9. The Congress shall convene in regular session once every year on the fourth Monday of January, unless a different date is fixed by law. It may be called in special session at any time by the President to consider general legislation or only such subjects as he may designate. No special session shall continue longer than thirty days and no regular session longer than one hundred days, exclusive of Sundays.

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.

Thus the term, “state of the nation” was there from 1935, but that it should be during the opening of the legislature’s sessions (from 1935-1972 restricted to 100 days out of the year, unless special sessions were called), was not explicitly demanded. That is an innovation in the present Constitution (the 1973 Constitution is such a mess that I don’t refer to it much).

The first “State of the Nation Address” was delivered on June 16, 1935, during the opening of the First Session of the First National Assembly. It’s title was merely “On The Country’s Conditions and Problems.” It began,

Seven months ago this Commonwealth was inaugurated amidst the general rejoicing of our people, and with misgivings on the part of some timorous individuals. Today the Government of the Commonwealth counts with the confidence and respect of all. True, there are still a few prophets of disaster, but these need not seriously disturb us, for its evident that it is only their wish that is father to their forebodings.

And it goes on for 20 book pages on “Our Relations with America”; “The Gold Reserve Funds and the Excise Tax on Oil”; “Our Foreign Population”; “Peace and Order”; “Social Justice”; “Previous Legislative Enactments”; “Public Instruction”; “Civil Service”; “The National Language”; “New Taxes” and a conclusion:

Let this new democracy of ours show to the world that democracy can be as efficient as dictatorship, without trespassing on individual liberty and the sacred rights of the people.

The message was followed on June 23, 1936, with the Budget for 1937, which is similar to the practice under the present administration (during other administrations, the President’s address would be followed by the submission of the proposed budget).

The next such message, on October 18, 1937, didn’t bear “state of the nation” in it’s title, either; the address was titled, “Message on [the] Improvement of Philippine Conditions, Philippine Independence, and Relations with American High Commissioner.” It’s beginning seems a little too cheery for contemporary ears:

At no time in ancient or contemporary history has Almighty God showered His blessings upon our beloved country as generously as He has done during this year that is about to close. In a spirit of humility and thankfulness to Him, I come to report to you that the finances of the Government are sounder than they have ever been, that our foreign and international trade has increased, that more school houses and roads have been built and opened to the people, that public health is in a good condition, and that peace and order prevail in every province, city, municipality, and barrio of the Archipelago.

There would be messages in 1938, 1939, and 1940, but the message for the First Congress of the Commonwealth (elected in November, 1940) was never delivered because of the war. Congress would finally convene in 1945. On June 3, 1946, President Manuel Roxas addressed the Second Congress for the first time as president, and his speech was simply titled, “Message to the Second Congress [of the Commonwealth]” This would be the last State of the Nation Address of the Commonwealth:

I am happy to return to the halls in which I saw my start in national public life. I feel perfectly at home here. It has been my great privilege to preside over both the houses of Congress in years past. No one is more jealous than I have been and still am of the proud prerogatives of the Legislative Branch of Government. You share with me the responsibilities, the coordinate and co-equal responsibilities, of reflecting the will of the people in the great task which faces Government today. I see among you some few who were my colleagues in the drafting of the Constitution of the Commonwealth, of what will soon be a free Republic. Some few days ago, on May 28, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the Philippines. This I intend to do with all the vigor at my command. I am firmly convinced that laws are wiser guides than individuals in regulating the proper conduct of human affairs. I pledge before you an administration based on law. The Constitution will be the “Ark of the Covenant” which I will protect from violation and desecration with every power and every force at my disposal. I do not take this pledge lightly. I have a profound conviction that constitutional government in all the subtle meanings of the phrase is the only type of government which can safeguard the rights of the people even against the abuses of government itself. Constitutions may be perfected but the fabric of government once torn by disrespect for the basic law of the land can only be repaired with the greatest difficulty.

And the speech goes on for 39 book pages.

In fact, it seems that only with Manuel Roxas’s first address to Congress as the president of an independent republic that we find the title, “Message on the State of the Nation.” This was delivered on January 27, 1947, to the First Congress (our present Congress is the 13th). With the Republic thus began formally calling the subject of the president’s message the “State of the Nation,” and also, it’s being held in January, every year. It began,

Eight months ago I made my first report to you on the state of the nation. I did not draw a bright picture. I did not attempt to gloss over the tragic aspects of the scene that confronted us. I told as truly as I could of the mountainous problems we faced.

Roxas’s successor, Elpidio Quirino, clearly continued the tradition. His message is titled, “Address on the State of Nation.” It was delivered on January 22, 1951, and we can say that the SONA in its present form, dates to that time. It began,

I join you today in opening your greatest opportunity yet to make history for our people. This is a year exceptionally heavy with decision and destiny; and your actuations in this your second regular session may spell the difference between irreparable disaster and survival to our country.

And goes on for a relatively brief 11 book pages.

But it would, of course, be the rise of student protests in the late 1960s, that turned the State of the Nation Address to the ceremony of state competing with a session of the parliament of the streets, that it has been since the Marcos administration.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

3 thoughts on “Notes on the State of the Nation

  1. Hi Manolo,

    Is there any case where significant parts, if not the entirety, of state of the nation was delivered in the vernacular, Pilipino?

    I would think that any president, including Arroyo, would be abled to reach out better to the people if the vernacular was used.


  2. I have to look it up, but I believe the first president to shift back and forth was Marcos. Estrada delivered large chunks in Filipino at first then used more and more English. The idea is that English connotes seriousness, statesmanship, most of all, it sends signals to the diplomats present (apparently it’s important not to have CNN bother to translate things). Estrada’s inaugural address was almost entirely in Tagalog except for some brief passages.

    As I told Howie, the President has never been keen in using Tagalog for long speeches, and now that she will play the Federalism card, she will be tempted to use regional languages in her speech. The Tagalog provinces, after all, don’t like her anyway, they can argue.

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