The Explainer: SONA sources

I. The story of the SONA

2006 marks the 70th anniversary of the State of the Nation address, the first one having been delivered on June 16, 1936.

Past State of the Nation addresses haven’t been compiled. They should be, either online or in book form. A marvelous -indeed, the essential- source is The Official Gazette, published virtually continuously by the government since 1903. Under the Third Republic, the Official Gazette was authoritative and comprehensive, indeed. Older law firms and libraries still have long shelves of bound copies. From Presidents Quezon to Quirino, a series with annual volumes titled Messages of the President was also published, and can be found in larger school libraries. Going through the two is where I culled the information on when the SONA came to be known as such.

The description of the reason we have a SONA is mine, based on the provisions of the 1935 Constitution (from where the popular designation “State of the Nation address” originated):

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.

And the present 1987 Constitution (in the section on the Executive Department):

Art. VII (executive department)

sec. 22. The president shall submit to the congress within thirty days from the opening of the regular session, as the basis of the general appropriations bill, a budget of expenditures and sources of financing, including receipts from existing and proposed revenue measures.

sec. 23. The president shall address the congress at the opening of its regular session. He may also appear before it at any other time.

Regarding our constitutions, The government portal has all of them available. Also, I believe the explanation of congressional sessions is a widely-accepted one.

You can read up on the American State of the Union in Wikipedia.

Today, government online sources such as the Office of the Press Secretary website, carry past SONAs of the incumbent, as does the Presidential Management Staff. Oddly enough, the General Appropriations Act, either in draft or final approved form (with annexes) doesn’t seem to be available on line. I had to borrow the copy I used as a prop in the show from a congressional office.

Just as a side note, I would have wanted to delve into the budget more, considering it’s the first trillion-peso budget in our history; I brought along a copy of the 1938 budget, pegged at 69 million pesos. Perhaps an episode on the budget will be possible next time.

The classic account of the First Quarter Storm is “Days of disquiet, nights of rage: The First Quarter Storm & related events” (Jose F Lacaba). The book represents the pinnacle of Lacaba’s generation of journalists, and of pre martial law journalism. A sample is his account of the start of the First Quarter Storm, And the January 30 Insurrection.

There’s also an account by Kerima Polotan (which captures the atmosphere of the twilight of the Old Society) of the 1970 State of the Nation address in The Long Week.

We also used an editorial cartoon from “Cartoon history of the Republic” (Esmeraldo Z Izon).

II. The making of a SONA

An excellent book (and not just because I edited it) is “So Help Us God (The Presidents of The Philippines and Their Inaugural Addresses)” (J. Eduardo Malaya, Jonathan E. Malaya), which is about how the inaugural addresses of presidents came to be written, as well as the speeches themselves. It’s from that book that the list of presidential ghost writers came, as well as the description of how the SONA was crafted during the time of President Roxas (and thereafter).

In “Making of a Subversive: Memoir” (Hernando J. Abaya), there’s an engaging account of government ghost-writing during the Commonwealth.

Thanks to Edwin Lacierda for the tip on the Lenny Skutnik rhetorical device introduced by Ronald Reagan to the 1982 US State of the Union.

Another useful book for understanding the modern government is the PCIJ’s Uncovering the Beat: The Real-World Guide to Reporting on Government, which you can order online.

III. Discussion

Our guests were Jonathan Malaya (an Assistant Secretary, and formerly with the Department of Education), John Nery, who is a Senior Editor at the Philippine Daily Inquirer and who writes in his Newsstand blog on some points he made -and wanted to make, on the show, and Jonathan de los Santos la Cruz, a columnist in Malaya newspaper and a speechwriter himself. I’m delighted the show’s discussion also triggered an extended (and very meaty) entry in The Composed Gentleman, on SONAs and their contents.

IV. Closing statement

This was my closing statement for the show:

The need to cram so many things into a state of the nation address means they’re usually long, and as a result, often forgettable. But they serve a necessary purpose, which decades of increasing gimmickry in the way they’re delivered shouldn’t hide. We all deserve to know what government’s up to. Most of all, we need to get a sense of what governments have in store for us. Agree or disagree with what’s said, the sona is one of the few times each year that literally, as well as symbolically, our country comes together. We can debate all we want afterwards, and we should. But let’s listen –  and let’s try to remember that together with the sona should come the proposed budget: and just as we expect to be enlightened by the sona, we should remember to pay attention to deliberations on how our public funds will be spent.

Next week: a crash course on conflict in Lebanon.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

24 thoughts on “The Explainer: SONA sources

  1. listen i will on 24 july 2006…for the last SONA this will be…

    next time it will already be called SOEKA*…the State of the Enchanted Kingdom Address.

    *not to be confused with the word puke.

    …i surely hope the writer from last may 23’s gloria speech at the 27th national conference of employers still lives today…and not yet a ghost writer.

  2. After reading your link on Lacaba and Kerima Polotan, I wonder now how some people would regard the First Quarter Storm as some glorious event. Kind of revealing if you make comparison of those days and today and the picnic that today’s rallies/demonstrations are contrasted to those molotov-armed protests then, yet try compare police response then and now and you would feel more sympathy for the one they call ruthless dictator.

  3. manolo, i caught the last part of your show. good effort on the show and what you’re doing in your blog.

    some general comments: i like the concept of being a clearing house for political issues and events in our country.

    i agree to some extent with manuel on the tendency of discussions to be on the intellectual side (especially since the title is the eXplainer, after all). however, once in a while i need a dose of intellectual debate too.

    is oline howard your permanent co-host? hi to her.

  4. More on Lebanon. The difference in what is a moral kill from an immoral kill from one of the Gods in Washington, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton.;_ylt=AoOZVnnMI9B8J3z2ArW.qMGsOrgF;_ylu=X3oDMTA5aHJvMDdwBHNlYwN5bmNhdA–

    No wonder when Einstein was asked what type of weapons will be used in the Third World War he said he was not sure but he said that for the Fourth World War he was sure that men would be using sticks and stones.

    Lebanon civilian deaths morally not same as terror victims — Bolton

    Mon Jul 17, 4:47 PM ET

    US Ambassador John Bolton said there was no moral equivalence between the civilian casualties from the Israeli raids in Lebanon and those killed in Israel from “malicious terrorist acts”.

    Asked to comment on the deaths in an Israeli air strike of eight Canadian citizens in southern Lebanon Sunday, he said: “it is a matter of great concern to us …that these civilian deaths are occurring. It’s a tragedy.”

    “I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts,” he added, while defending as “self-defense” Israel’s military action, which has had “the tragic and unfortunate consequence of civilian deaths”.

    The eight dead Canadians were a Lebanese-Canadian couple, their four children, his mother and an uncle, said relatives in Montreal.

    The Montreal pharmacist and his family had arrived in Lebanon 10 days earlier for a vacation in his parents’ home village and to introduce his children to relatives, they said.

    Three of his Lebanese relatives died too, a family member told AFP.

    “It’s simply not the same thing to say that it’s the same act to deliberately target innocent civilians, to desire their deaths, to fire rockets and use explosive devices or kidnapping versus the sad and highly unfortunate consequences of self-defense,” Bolton noted.

    The overall civilian death toll from the Israeli onslaught in Lebanon since last Wednesday reached 195, in addition to 12 soldiers, officials said. Twenty-four Israelis have also been killed since fighting began last Wednesday, including 12 civilians in a barrage of Hezbollah rocket fire across the border.

  5. As background for next week’s episode, i would like to recommend billmon’s post (‘The Silent Party’) where he discusses the Al Qaeda angle.

    It raises the prospect that this time around, in terms of military objectives, Israel, Al Qaeda and the US, may be on the same side.

    My favorite line from that piece: “The bottom line is that like any fading rock group, Al Qaeda badly needs a hit to avoid being permanently supplanted in the public eye by its Shi’a rival, which is setting the charts ablaze, so to speak.”

  6. Given the confusion of the times, i’ve constructed an Hello Garci-Hezbollah equivalency matrix for my benefit as follows:

    Israel = Gloria Arroyo – the incumbent
    US = CBCP – watered-down pronouncements that favors incumbent
    Hezbollah = Opposition – the incumbent’s adversary
    Lebanon = Leftists – convenient, collateral targets
    Saudi Arabia = Solita Monsod – does not trust opposition, sometimes critical of incumbent
    Bin Laden = Bong Austero – anti-Opposition ‘pare-pareho lang kayo’

    Admittedly imperfect, point in time analogies as the situation is fluid. Comparison based on relative positions only, no moral equivalency implied.

  7. hvrds,

    What on earth could Bolton mean by ““I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts.”

  8. lagdameo says that if he or the other bishops ever spoke out against anyone or any group, they did it in the interest of the common welfare. What a crock! Anyone – and I mean ANY one – can claim to act “in the interest of the common welfare;” does that mean that no accountability can attach anymore because of this noble motive? It is sheer hypocrisy to be hiding behind this motherhood statement to defend someone who harbored an avowed criminal.

    Then he says “I invite them to prove their statements involving us, six bishops.” Isn’t this what various people in the government have been saying? From Malacanang to the COMELEC … even Erap gave this challenge. But was the Church ever serious about finding out the truth before they made their accusations and calls for resignation?

    It is bitter irony to be hearing these defenses from people who derided these very same defenses when they were being raised by others.

    My two cents to Lagdameo: your man Tobias dug the grave for his own credibility when he tried to play politics with those magdalo criminals. Deal with it. Don’t try to sugarcoat by claiming that it was done for the public good, because that is just plain stupid.

    Almost as stupid as all of you redhats trying so desperately to be the next Richlieu, the next Cardinal Sin.

  9. Manolo,

    Sorry, wasn’t able to catch your show yesterday. I’ll try to catch it on the replays.

    With your permission, may I give my impressions on another new show on your ANC home network?


    The debates between Congressman Chiz Escudero and Gloria’s Defender Mike Defensor for the past two weeks are interesting and may be a preview of things to come.

    In the past two episodes, Chiz Escudero made mincemeat (ground meat?) of Spiderboy Mike.

    The public was invited to vote by text in the second episode on three different propositions of the debate. On all three propositions, Chiz clobbered Mike.

    The problem with Defender Mike’s arguments was that he employed his usual “bola” and “spin” type of arguments. He just can’t seem to get away from this style. (Nor can any of the Spidermen in the Palace. ) Mike thought he could impress the viewers with his usual canned recitation of statistics on economics, business and employment – saying the figures showed that business was on the upswing and businessmen were happy. Chiz chose to debunk those “adjusted statistics” and brought the debate closer to the level of Juan and the state of Juan’s life now.

    Apparently and obviously the audience didn’t buy Mike’s “bolas” and accepted Chiz’s arguments. The final voting: Chiz – 84% and Mike – 14%.

    The outcome of the votes could mean two things: One, that the audience really believed Chiz won the debate. Or the viewers showed a general dislike for anything Gloria, including Mike. It could be a preview of how the public would vote in any referendum or election that would involve Gloria and her cohorts.

    A preview of THE KISS OF DEATH perhaps.

  10. Anna,

    You asked…What on earth could Bolton mean by ““I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts.”

    I think such obfuscation is what we now call “ecclessiastical hedging.”

    What on earth could Bolton mean by ““I think it would be a mistake to ascribe moral equivalence to civilians who die as the direct result of malicious terrorist acts.”

  11. Phil,

    I heard of about the Chiz/Mike debate from my housemaid. I asked her who won. She said, “si chiz po naka 80percent yata”
    I replied, “Oo nga but who do you think won?”
    She said, “Si chiz.”
    “bakit?” I asked.
    “Si Escudero realistic sumagot, si Defensor parang may pinoprotektahan.”she said.

    Defensor does not care if he is clobbered everytime he debates Chiz because, at the end of the day, he will get the name recognition and recall he needs for his senatorial candidacy. Same thing goes for Chiz.

    It would be good if ANC features other personalities other than Chiz and Mike. No sense in giving either of them a head start over other aspiring senators.

    The chiz and mike show may give ANC a ratings boost but if ratings are ANC’s bottom line … I think I would prefer to watch a naked starlet reading stock market reports than two overly ambitious young trapos debating.

  12. Manuel,
    Ha! Ha! I like that ” naked starlet reading stock market reports” bit. Would you watch a debate between Rossana and Annabel? ANC ratings will hit the roof!

  13. mlq3, i know you may have your guests on the lebanon episode all lined up…former labor attache fred rosario, now editor at the manila times, was the officer in charge of evacuating our nationals during the first lebanon crisis. he may have interesting insights to share. i am extremely worried about the plight of our workers in lebanon. the fact that all the superpowers are scrambling to get their citizens out of there speaks volumes about what may follow next. i look forward to watching your show next tuesday. sana you can eXplain not only the history behind the crisis, but the logistical nightmare involved in bringing our workers really out of harm’s way.

  14. State Of National Deception naman yan eh. SOND. It’s not what is but an empty promise of what’ll be. bs.

  15. hello..
    i would like to ask if the only reason for doing SONA is.. because of Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution..
    and because we need to know what’s happening?
    is it the only reason? umm.. i actually need it for my project..
    what happened to the other parts of the article..
    it’s like a kid played with some words..
    umm… i really want to know more.. but i think you’ll reply to this reply.. after the deadline of our project… urgh.. i really need help.. ASAP!! thank you anyway…

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