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.
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”Ã¢â‚¬â€œ evidence that senators had trashed during EstradaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢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.
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.