The next chapter

Howie Severino asks me, Manolo, you’ve studied political speeches. Historically speaking, how siginificant is GMA’s SONA speech this Monday? Have there been speeches more important to the survival of a government?

I’ve had to spend some time pondering this one. Let’s begin with the most famous State of the Nation Address prior to next Monday’s. That would have been the one that launched the First Quarter Storm. An eyewitness account of that day (and the entire First Quarter Storm) is in Jose F. Lacaba’s Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage, one of the most important examples of literary journalism by a Filipino (Pete Lacaba, and before him, Nick Joaquin were my models for efforts such as my accounts of Edsa Dos and later, Edsa Tres).

Under the 1935 Constitution, elections were held in November, presidents were inaugurated on Rizal Day, and Congress began its sessions in January. On January 26, 1970, President Marcos went to the Legislative Building (now the National Museum building) to deliver his State of the Nation Address. No one remembers what he said. What people remember is what happened when Marcos attempted to leave the premises of Congress. As Lacaba wrote,

Where the demonstration leaders stood, emblems of the enemy were prominently displayed: a cardboard coffin representing the death of democracy at the hands of the goonstabulary in the last elections; a cardboard crocodile, painted green, symbolizing congressmen greedy for allowances; a paper effigy of Ferdinand Marcos. When the President stepped out of Congress, the effigy was set on fire and, according to report, the coffin was pushed toward him, the crocodile hurled at him. From my position down on the street, I saw only the burning of the effigy -a singularly undramatic incident, since it took the effigy so long to catch fire. I could not even see the President and could only deduce the fact of his coming out of Congress from the commotion at the doors, the sudden radiance created by dozens of flashbulbs bursting simulataneously, and the rise in the streets of the cry:”MArcos PUPpet! MARcos PUPpet! MARcos PUPpet!”

Marcos would zoom away, with his wife Imelda suffering a broken ankle; rioting began and took place late into the night, complete with rock-throwing and the smashing and burning of the luxury vehicles of members of Congress.

I believe we have to make some qualifications concerning political speeches and their role in our history. Set speeches, confined by rigid protocol, often in the language of the ruling class, do not have the same make-or-break, electrifying effect extemporaneous speeches can have.

Manifestos, the printed speech, which is an artistic form (it can even be an open letter, such as Rizal’s to the Women of Malolos, which I believe, is properly, a manifesto) have had more effect, one only has to look at the manifestos of Rizal (condemning the revolution), of Bonifacio (in 20 Speeches That Moved a Nation), of Mabini (defending his resistance to the Americans); even the Pastoral Letter read in 1986 by the Catholic Bishops was, in a sense, a speech.

But answer Howie’s specific question, for a Philippine president, has there ever been a speech so crucial to the survival of a president? No. It has always been the speeches of others that have helped bring down a president; but I cannot find an example where a president’s speech brought the president down, or gave that president a new lease on life. There’s the hot-headed speech at the end of the Tejeros Convention which questioned Bonifacio’s election as Secretary of the Interior, resulting in open schism ending with Bonifacio’s trial and execution; Ferdinand Marcos gained fame with his speech defending himself during his trial for murder before the war; and there have been speeches that launched intellectual movement’s such as Recto’s UP commencement address on nationalism. Presidents who have survived power grabs have usually done so in a triumphant manner (recall Aquino being applauded after the coups, even Arroyo after Oakwood). Indeed, the President’s getting past Oakwood was linked to her delivering her State of the Nation Address. Her being able to do so marked her victory. This time around, it merely marks a new round in slugfest.

The punditocracy opines heavily on Truth Commission matters: the Inquirer and Manila Times both editorialize on it (favorably); Amando Doronila says opposition to a commission is a sign of a “can’t do,” rather than a “can do,” culture, and besides,

The issues raised in the new debate revolve around questions such as who will appoint the members of the truth commission; who will compose its membership; what are the parameters or scope of the inquiry; whether its inquiry will run parallel to the impeachment proceedings; will it have punitive powers or authority to compel compliance to its summonses for witnesses or to its subpoena for evidence.

These tricky issues are expected to be answered by the State of the Nation Address, which will clarify the mandate of the commission. Secular sectors are as divided as bishops on these issues, which reflect the penchant of Filipinos for looking for flaws that won’t make things work rather than making something work.

I believe that’s an officially-sanctioned leak, folks.

Other Truth-Commission-oriented pundits for today: Dan Mariano; Jose C. Sison; Kelvin King Lee; Jarius Bondoc suggests it’s a ploy, one of many by all sides:

The Administration is not without its own shortcuts. After taunting the Opposition to take its beef to Congress, Arroyo allies counted the odds and saw impeachment a strong possibility. Her adviser Rep. Joey Salceda confided that the Opposition easily could get the 79 votes. So Arroyo this late in the day announced the formation of a Truth Commission that her erstwhile civil-society allies had suggested in June.

It is yet unsure who will comprise such body, what powers it would wield, or which truth it can dig up. Certain, though, is that it will coincide with and distract the impeachment. Too, that it will tread unconstitutional ground if it sets out to recount the 2004 votes. Only the Supreme Court, sitting as a Presidential Electoral Tribunal, may do that. And a complaining loser may file a case only within 30 days of the election.

The Opposition counts on one last shortcut. Overeager Majority men expectedly will stop at nothing to kill the impeachment. This could serve as the “second envelope”– evidence that senators had trashed during Estrada’s trial and which triggered a popular revolt that forced him to abdicate.

Ellen Tordesillas and Rene Saguisag take a look back at President Macapagal (Diosdado) to make points about President Macapagal (Gloria Arroyo), Tordesillas through e-mails sent by Raul Gonzalez (Press Secretary of DM), Saguisag through the political memories of Jovito Salonga. Saguisag brings up a bit of historical trivia: one of the slogans coined by the Marcos campaign in 1965 was, alis dyan! (“Get out of there!”).

Mike Tan discusses the concept of a demographic winter; Raul Pangalanan turns Starbucks coffee into a metaphor for the Philippine middle class; Patricio Diaz warns the economy of General Santos City is over-dependent on tuna.

The blogosphere, meanwhile, buzzes with Jove thanking Pinoyblogs for making his their blog of the week; Ederic mentions that has RSS feeds; Leon Kilat looks at automated podcasting.

Sef asks media why it’s wasting time on Elly Pumatong (because freaks make for freaky news, and freaky news is fun). Newsstand dissects the recent YOU (Young Officer’s Union, remember them?) declaration against the President:

I was struck most by the following passage in the YOU statement:

“The ‘Hello Garci’ tape scandal is nothing compared to the huge sums of money from jueteng, drugs, smuggling and kickbacks that changed hands between the first week of the May 2004 presidential elections and the last weeks of June after the elections at the house of Mrs. Arroyo in La Vista, Quezon City, where bags of money … were distributed.”

This allegation, if proven or at least plausibly established, may well provoke some in the military to cross the line between personal expression and group action.

Incidentally, Newsstand points to an intriguing new blog, Anonymous Sources, the validity of whose contents is being subjected to validation (one validation: as Newsstand points out, “Anonymous Sources, the new blog, already adverted to the allegation a few days ago”). I haven’t quite figured out the politics of that blog.

Edwin Lacierda begins a primer on impeachment, while referring to those getting involved in Blogs of the Round Table as, well, a primer on impeachment (what a term!). Filipino Librarian has link to a video story done by GMA7 news on blogging (Alecks Pabico of PCIJ and myself were interviewed). And Willie Galang advises everyone to brace for a messy week ahead.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

16 thoughts on “The next chapter

  1. Ang totoo niyan, dapat ay twice a month siya. Pero dahil laging sira ang PC ko at sa masikip na schedule, nagiging paminsan-minsan na lang. Pero babawi kami soon. 🙂

  2. Thanks as always for a useful history lesson. Another one, how important is the language used in a SONA? Since she may want to appeal directly to the public, will anyone care to wager that she will use Filipino in much of the speech?

    A foreign correspondent once observed that our presidents speak in english when they need to explain something complex like foreign or economic policy; and Filipino when they crack a joke or want to just sound folksy. It’s like our presidents think the vast majority of people would have no interest in the economy or foreign affairs, or the president doesn’t see it as part of her role to educate them about what should concern all of us.

  3. howie, the President’s problem is she has always been loathe to use Tagalog, even when it might make her more “approachable.” Recall how at the height of the coup attempts, Cory would switch to Tagalog.

    If I were going to bet, she’ll take a cue from her last SONA, and use more regional languages: sections in Cebuano, even Ilonggo, Ilocano, Capangpangan, to further play the Federalism card. Remember she got lots of applause for one liners in regional languages last time.

  4. Magta-Tagalog yan sa speech nya kahit konti lang to cover all regional bases possible. (Pero wala syang binatbat kay Erap sa Tagalog; sayang nga lang at ginago lang tayo.)

    Kahit siguro Latin, basta sigurado lang na manatili sa pwesto.

  5. hi! i think i saw this yesterday but–not realizing that you’d mention my blog in a roundup at the end of a very political post–didn’t read to the end. thanks! =)

  6. [the spam guard worries me, so here it is again. please delete if the first one made it =)]

    hi! i think i saw this yesterday but–not realizing that you’d mention my blog in a roundup at the end of a very political post–didn’t read to the end. thanks! =)

  7. Manolo, I went to the Saguisag column about Diosdado Mac and Stonehill that was linked above. For a lawyer-senator who was such a stickler for accuracy, Saguisag kept mentioning that GMA’s father was president in 1961. If you recall, Diosdado (then Garcia’s VP) won the election in Nov 1961, and was inaugurated in Jan 62. I would have conveyed the same to the writer but he had no email add.

    What was interesting as well though was that Stonehill had donated money to the elder Mac, who later had him deported in the famous case investigated by Pepe Diokno, then justice sec.

    Everyone remembers Mac as the “incorruptible”, but was this just a case of effective propaganda? After all, that was the title of his commissioned campaign bio.

    There was also the banner headlined election fraud case in Jan 62 brought against Mac by his predecessor Carlos Garcia, charges that have long been forgotten.

    I bring this up bec we still don’t know how GMA will be remembered in history. Will she be as lucky as her father?

    As for the “poor boy of Lubao,” he eventually lived much of his retirement in Forbes Park. Was this covered by his presidential pension?

  8. howie:presidents were inaugurated on december 30, so dm was president for two days in 1961 (his term was officially 1961-65). lew gleeck has a pretty good (if ranty) book on stonehill, hard to find, but the only book there is, really.

    you bring up the question of how presidents prior to marcos made money. ‘id suggest reading this, which is by an american politician in the days of tammany hall, which was the model for american political behavior at the time we learned politics, american-style, from the americans:

    Let’s start with an old Today column titled Notes on Corruption. Then read George Washington Plunkitt’s explanation of how politicians find opportunities and take them. Finally, refer to the fact, which I also pointed out in a column, that presidential salaries were actually decent.

    My point is, that Macapagal besides being a practicing lawyer at a time when the prohibitions against practicing law while in office (prior to the presidency) weren’t as strict, and that wealth for officials in the past was built on the acquisition of land (which being in office allowed you to do, quite cheaply, and legally, but very profitably), and you can see why wealth was quite possible -more so if you married into money or had a wife who was good at business (Marcos was exceptional in being more entrepreneurially-oriented than his predecessors, who simply spent whatever could be earned).

    The presential pension is something no one has taken seriously, and it’s only existed since Edsa. You can go through the assets of all our presidents prior to Marcos, and see it was based on land acquired over the years.

  9. Manolo, actually Saguisag referred to Diosdado as the president in July-August 61, during the start of the Stonehill controversy.

    Another thing: you referred in an earlier blog entry to a Mac apology, in connection to his daughter’s mea culpa more than 40 years later. I haven’t been able to find other references to this first Macapagal public apology. What was this apology all about?

  10. howie, dm apologized to the nation during a new year’s address, he had gone through several reverses, including the supreme court overturning some decisions, and accusations in the press of being dictatorial. the speech is cited in gleeck’s “the third philippine republic.”

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