Post-SONA hangover 2007 edition

Photographs of protesters, including Korean “exposurists,” at My World and Street Documentaries.

Pinoy Ambisyoso gives capsule reviews of some reactions; the PCIJ Blog runs through other reactions, from all sides of the political fence (former president Ramos was, apparently, a bit cranky) but perhaps the most concise description comes from baratillo@cubao, who calls it the “Eat My Shorts Speech,” and who provides his own condensed version of the address.

Three bloggers’ entries struck me the most.

First, lawyer Marichu Lambino who zeroed in on the beginning and end of the President’s speech:

Any experienced ghostwriter of formal speeches might tell you that the theme of a formal speech, or the sentiment of the speaker, is found in the beginning and end of the speech — the rest are just bridges, bridge- paragraphs, of the beginning to the end.

In the President’s SONA, those bridge-paragraphs were literally, of bridges — roads, airports, shiplanes, waterways, power plants. A bit of legislative agenda here and there on the political assassinations and a pitch for education here and there.

85% of the body of the SONA — highways, byways, airways, waterways — tell us that the nation has a President who is surely a ways-and-means committee leader (no pun meant); that the country has always had her, a President who, during work-hours, was awake and able to sign infrastructure contracts and disbursement vouchers and priority yellow-tabbed instructions to the budget department for her allies (never mind commissions up and down here and there).

And she concludes with an analysis of what is rapidly becoming the most quotable part of the President’s address:

Her real sentiment is found at the end of her speech, the most applauded, cued or not. For those who did not get why it was the most applauded or why it had been cued for that, here’s why:

She said: “From where I sit, I can tell you: a President can always be as strong as she wants to be.” (strongest applause).

“always” is not the same as “only”; in fact, it has the opposite meaning. “xxx a President can always be as strong as she wants to be” is not the same as “xxx a President can only be as strong as she wants to be”; certain people might have thought they heard the latter and were puzzled, or applauded her; but it was the former that she said. It’s the opposite. The latter (“I can only be as strong as I want to be”) implies that her power is limited by her will to exercise her powers, or that her will will not exceed her limited power. It’s the opposite. She will “always be as strong” as she wants to be. That means her powers are not limited by anything (“as strong as she wants to be”) or that she thinks her powers are not limited by anything. She could have said “as strong as required by the nation’s interest”, or something. But she said “always as strong as she wants to be.” …

…But only to add: “Make no mistake: I will not stand idly if anyone tries to stand in the way of the national interest and tries to block the national vision.”

And that’s where she finished with: she will always be as strong as she wants to be.

She is telling critics, destabilizers, ambitious politicians (and this is where she finished): Don’t dismiss me. You haven’t seen the last of me. I am still President.

And that’s the smallness of this speech.

Another lawyer, Edwin Lacierda (no fan of the President), points out that the gross ignorance of protocol during the SONA indicates a deeper problem:

Symbolically, the disorganized hustle and bustle of the solons before and while the President is entering reflects the lack of formal and substantive order in the business of government. The marketplace ambience symbolically reflects the lack of respect for the President. And no matter how one detests this incumbent president, the solons, whether administration or opposition, must learn to honor the office of the President, never mind the holder. In august halls like the Batasan and in formal gatherings like the SONA, swords are sheathed and left at the door.

The third entry that struck me, actually consists of two entries by the same blogger. In “First World country in 20 years” to be today’s SONA, blogger AKOMISMO, a teacher at the Philippine Science High School, offered up a pre-SONA reflection:

While I can’t comment fully on the speech yet due to obvious reasons, I also wouldn’t want to say how unrealistic her vision is. Everyone deserves the chance to dream. However, I would like to raise an important point made by the Inquirer’s editorial today - that our country needs a leader, not a manager. We don’t need just a checklist of accomplishments and goals; we need a direction, a vision and a dream. PGMA may dream all she will, but to get our people sold on that dream is another matter. Having our people believe in her and work with her on this requires the talents and charisma of a leader that this manager of a President has yet to or may never even become. How she attempts to do this in the SONA will be one thing I’m looking out for.

He then conducted an interesting activity, which he describes in What my students taught me about the SONA: as he and his students watched the speech, they exchanged views on what was going on:

They questioned everything from why people generalize that the Philippines is corrupt, to why there are still poor people despite the economic gains we have had. They weren’t even blinded by the mention of the Philippine Science High School - Why did GMA mention those victories, siya ba yung nanalo?…

…Our discussion after the SONA quickly shifted from an analysis of her key points (if there were any, as one student pointed out) and into who is to blame for our society’s ills. We didn’t dwell long on that however, and moved instead into how to heal. It was then clear to me that a lot of them actually appreciate GMA’s efforts but recognize that it isn’t just the government who runs our country. Our nations rests on the backs of the people too.

It was at that point where I put aside all my knowledge of history and political science and just listened to what thought and felt. They convinced me that federalism could just work - people are selfish anyway, so let’s leave them alone - and that our people should think of each other more. Of course, their arguments are crude but they see things which are too obvious and yet are often missed out by those in the academia…

And what I learned that afternoon is that in our classrooms, ladies and gentlemen, are people who are fiercely in love with their country. They may not show it, they may not even speak it, but deep down they want to do what they can to make it better. I don’t see the youth others describe as lusting after wealth and comfort in foreign shores. Of course, my students see the valid need in working abroad and do not disregard their efforts – a lot have relatives and friends working as OFWs, calling them martyrs - but most would rather have it that they stay.

Here’s what other students had to say: Underside found it “a load of crap”; ar_21684 focused on fashion, to make a political point; quinkoy tawops was very appreciative of the SONA, and deepened his admiration of the President; put these and other student’s comments together, and you will find a picture very similar to what AKOMISMO’s described.

For other reactions, few bloggers were as thorough as, who put forward what he thought were 10 key highlights from the address. Thorough, in another sense, is NURSicism, who provides a blow-by-blow account of his reactions; point-by-point satire, on the other hand, comes courtesy of Professional Heckler:

Reports say President Arroyo’s speech was applauded 103 times, 63 times less than last year’s SONA. Malacañang has berated the sound engineer for not pressing the play button of the “canned applause” more often.

Archbishop Oscar Cruz blogged his reaction: the SONA was a signal the President intends to stay in office, and that taxes will be raised. The Archbishop and Ellen Tordesillas pretty much agree on what, to them, the President’s address truly signified: a warning.

moolah matters points to Money Smarts list of economic promises in the SONA (Reyna Elena, on the other hand, brings up past SONA promises), and reflects on the President’s remark on “social safety nets”, and how families need to create their own safety nets.

An OFW in Hong Kong wants less talk and more action (an impatience with rhetoric is also shown by Giornale di un Signorino‘s choice of a quote from a congressman).

My own take on the SONA?

1. Body language says a lot. The President looked tired and drawn when she arrived at the Batasan; keeping control of things that day obviously wasn’t easy. Compared to last year’s triumphalist, even gleeful, delivery, she seemed to falter and stumble over the words a lot. And despite name-dropping like crazy, she garnered less applause than last year: and it was the loyal NBN people who did the counting, mind you.

2. A speech has three audiences: the faithful, the enemy, and the uncommitted you want to win over to your side, both foreign and domestic. I think there was more of an effort to win over the uncommitted last year, since it was the kickoff for Charter Change and failing that, the 2007 elections. This year, the President knows clearly enough, just how divided (at best) the country remains (see the most recent Pulse Asia survey, as discussed by today’s Inquirer editorial). So she made only a token effort at reconciliation in general. Instead, she concentrated her energy on rewarding friends, and dangling the prospects of gravy for anyone in Congress willing to deal with her.

Obviously, the writing on the wall’s been clear since 2005: LGU and lower house support, plus the military, will trump public opinion and the opposition anytime. Keep the pump well primed, and your gunpowder dry, and it will be the status quo. The President, for example, acknowledged the public relations severity of the political killings issue, but passed the buck to Congress. No direct orders as commander-in-chief, were given, which she could have done, with the top brass in attendance.

3. Still, mind-numbing though it can be, the President’s catalog of infrastructure projects is important. It shows how she herself understands her office; it lists her priorities. You could say the country lost its greatest Secretary of Public Works when Mrs. Arroyo became President of the Philippines. Her encyclopedic grasp of geography and pork barrel projects is breathtaking. Her inability to tie it all together in a meaningful manner, points to one of her severest handicaps as a president. The vision thing is a must, because even her own supporters need that vision thing from time to time. And the vision thing is the surest antidote to opposition.

4. I think its obvious enough the President’s worried about becoming a lame duck, which is why she took pains to remind Congress and the LGUs that the president giveth, and taketh, away. And why she has to remind her critics to behave.

5. But even her laying it on thick in terms of past, present, and future, pork, only underlines that she is inching closer to lame duck status. Unless she can pull a political surprise (which is precisely what her joke about running for office in 2010, even if it was just a joke, accomplishes: keeping everyone guessing; a politician everyone’s guessing about, remains a relevant politician). The speech was successful, though, in reminding everyone, on her side or against, that she intends to keep on fighting and keep herself on center stage.

6. but on the whole, it was a wasted opportunity, to rally the faithful; it certainly has her critics all abuzz, and serves warning that she isn’t about to clip the military: Congress can do that, if it dares. Whether she managed to telegraph to her allies, that they should be willing to continue supporting her, instead of figuring out which horse to bet on in 2010, and whether the public, at least the part of it inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt all the way to 2010, would let her stay on past that date, probably depends on more than the SONA.

7. For now, she avoided many political land mines. If she didn’t say enough about certain things, she also didn’t bring other things up, at all: the EZ deal, Chairman Abalos, etc., etc. A list of pork barrel projects isn’t something anyone can either fault her for, or criticize much: who can object to development being spread out? If it isn’t enough for some critics, it’s plenty for many of her supporters. The lack of a vision thing, well, no vision, less debate. It was a cautious speech, even when it came to the parts that seemed daring. It’s the speech of someone hedging their bets.

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Manuel L. Quezon III.

74 thoughts on “Post-SONA hangover 2007 edition

  1. shamanofmalilipot:you are absolutely right about goals. but then again, you’re proceeding from a statement that takes as accurate an assumption that has not been proven to be accurate, which makes all of your subsequent conclusions and declarations intrinsically flawed.

    “GMA’s vision of First World status for the country within 12.5 short years, not 20 years, is not a vision, in the real sense of the word, but a goal or objective.” I disagree. But, for the edification of everyone, what makes you say that it is a goal or objective and not a vision? Because, from the looks of it, it has none of the hallmarks of an objective (as you so adroitly pointed out).

    Unless of course you’re saying that GMA is so inept that she cannot even tell the difference between a vision and an objective. In which case, this conversation is moot.

  2. “has there any iota of true evidence produced on the allegations on piatco, dm highway, fertilizer scam, impsa? if so, how come no prosecution or indictment has been initiated by the vociferous accusers who are mostly hiding behind legislative privilege? and you, you have made your own prejudgment that is of value only to you and your like-minded friends. put up or shut up, for a change!”

    kahit meron man, dyan nagpapasiklaban ang mga bayarang atornies sa pagtatakip ng mga kahinahinalang kabalastugan. bakit di nating gayahin ang japan–at the first instance of graft scandal, nagpapakamatay kaagad ang mga sangkot. tawag diyan, delicadeza.

    ang padulas, ang padulas.

  3. Rom,

    First, I would like to correct myself. GMA’s timeframe is “in 20 years” and not “by 2020” as I’ve incorrectly implied.

    Again, I’m taking off from the corporate setting, because I believe that running a country is no different from managing a corporatoin in more ways than one.

    A vision is a short, succinct, and inspiring statement of what an organization intends to become at some indefinite point in the future, without specifying the means to achieve the desired end.

    The statement, “To become a First World country in 20 years” is more of a goal or objective than a vision in that sense.

    GMA’s “First World status in 20 years” is still a goal even if it doesn’t meet all the SMART criteria – only that it’s not a SMART goal.

    At any rate, whether you prefer to call it a vision or a goal doesn’t matter. To some people, it may just be a matter of semantics. What matters, at least to me, is the intention behind the statement. I still believe that it’s deception.

  4. whoa, bencard’s taking everybody on. his rate must be going through the roof! caching$$$.

  5. SANA….hindi SONA!

    Yan ang sinasabi ng Kababayang naaapi na’ nagugutom pa!
    Samantalang si gloria suot ay pula, ang taba’y kitang-kita;
    Si Juan-de-la-Cruz nama’y tuyot at tiyan ay kumakalam
    Sikmura’y nagtatambling dahil ito’y walang laman!

    SANA….hindi SONA!

    Dahil pare-pareho naman ang binabandera
    ng sinungaling sa may Pasig! Mata’y nanlilisik
    Baka maagawan ng puwestong ninakaw…
    Kay erap na kinasuhan kahit na ito’y gawa-gawa lamang.

    SANA….hindi SONA!

    Sangkaterbang pera, ginastos na naman
    Sa walang kakuwenta-kuwentang speech na pulos banta lamang;
    Sankatutak ang escort, bantay sa kanya lamang…
    Kung bakit takot, pakitanong kay Mang Teban.

    SANA….hindi SONA!

    Puro palpak din naman, trabaho marami raw…
    Bakit kung ganun, sa libu-libong nag-aplayan,
    Ni isa walang nakuha, wala na ring pamasahe
    pagka’t ito’y nagtaasan!

    SANA…hindi SONA!

    Hindi na kailangan sinungaling sa Bayan
    Nais nami’y matino’t mapagkakatiwalaan;
    Hindi sinungaling, salita’y walang katotohanan,
    Pagkatao man, tiyak: hindi pagdududahan.

    SANA….hindi SONA!

    SANA mabuking ka na!
    Mahuli at maparusahan…
    Malaman ng Bayan ang tunay mong kulay,
    Matigil na ang iyong kagagawan!

    Sana nga….

    Pero sa totoo lang,

    gutom pa rin ang karamihan sa mga Pinoy!

    Sana nga, puwedeng kainin ang SONA na parang biskwit,

    nang maibsan kahit sumandali ang kalam ng sikmura

    at uhaw sa katarungan ng Taumbayan.

    Sana nga…..



  6. Wow Benign0 (at July 25th, 2007, 11:38 am), for a moment there i thought i was reading hvrds. There may be hope for you yet.

  7. “Twenty years ago, the country’s debt stood at P472.5 billion. At its present aggregate value, the debt has increased by more than 725 percent, which corresponds to an annual average growth of 36 percent.”
    “Of the post-Marcos governments, it is the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration that holds the distinction of being the country’s highest single borrower. From 2001 to 2005, the Arroyo government has incurred additional debts amounting to P2.44 trillion, more than half of the current outstanding debt, for an average of P487.9 billion every year.”
    “What is mind-boggling, FDC points out, is that the Arroyo administration’s debts far exceed the combined borrowings of its post-Edsa predecessors by almost P1 trillion. The Aquino (1987-1991), Ramos (1992-1997) and Estrada (1998-2000) governments incurred P338 billion, P401 billion and P725 billion, respectively, for combined total borrowings of P1.46 trillion.” Maitet Diokno Pascual data from the Bureau of Treasury.
    Does anyone understand the theory of the governments ability to create something out of nothing. In the first five years of Big Mike’s and GMA’s reign they created more than Php 2.44 trillion of new pesos and pumped it into the economy. Most of it to pay for loans and interest and about Php 300m+ for capital outlay. The capital outlay is where the swine get their pork from. That capital outlay was for years 2001-2005. Now you are telling everyone you will spend Php 2 trillion till 2010 for capital spending. We all thought that W. was the greatest bullshiter the planet has ever seen.
    No wonder our bankers are so happy.
    With all that liquidity our BSP is forced to keep interest rates high to control runaway inflation. For the dumb the overnite rate of the BSP is 8%. Japan stands at 0.5%. Last year principal payments and interest rates payments ate up almost all government tax revenues of Php 700M+. Out of a total budget of Php 900M+.
    I read this somewhere. Is stupidity and carelessness an impeachable offense. Don’t think so.
    Is there any individual lawmaker that has questioned the issuance of new taxes in the amount of Php 2.44 trillion that Big Mike and GMA have issued during their watch? Now she has to prove to the world that we have to balance our budget. Oh, great.
    The Philippine economy is today Php 6 Trillion + in today’s pesos. Do you know what happens to an economy when you use debt to pump prime growth and almost 90% is primarily used to pay loans. You are running on a couple of cylinders and all ten of your twelve cylinders are already dead. You get listed in the Failed List of States.

    Privilege must come with responsibility and accountability. Oversight, oversight, oversight. What ever political system you might want, without oversight nothing will advance and prosper.
    Credit standards in the world’s financial markets will start to tighten in the coming years.

    Say thank you Big Mike and GMA for doing their part in maintaining the lifestyles of those in Congress and themselves. The power of the purse was only to be used in emergencies. You know in case of fire, break glass. It was not meant to be used to make you rich and famous. The SONA has become a reunion of the ruling classes. Now you know why Alex Magno is at the DBP. Helping Big Mike and GMA rack up more debts.

  8. mga bros/sis, saludo ako sa inyo. Lalong lalo na sa oppositions….. Napakagaling nyo talaga..analysis dyan, analysis dito. Comparison dyan, comparison dito..aaayyyy ang galing talaga ng pinoy. vision pa lang may opposition na. hindi nyo ba alam na kaya hindi tayo umangat dahil sa sobra ng kagalingan natin.
    May mag bigay lang ng idea..10 to 20 agad ang mag oppose at karamihan naman ng opposition wala namang mga ideas…buhay talaga o..

  9. bkit ganyan ang ginagawa ninyo sa ating pangulo lagi nyo n lng kinukuntra ang mga ginagawa nya?dapat kung ang kanyang mga ginagawa ay para nmn sa kabutihan at ikakaunlad ng ating bayan ay dapat nmn natin syang suportahan!isa po akong studyante d2 sa probensya at hndi ko alam kung ano tlaga ang gus2 ng mga senators at ng mga may malalakas n boses n nasa kongreso!dahil sa mga nakikita ko lahat nmng umuupo n mga pangulo ay piliy ninyong pinaalis sa kanilang mga 2ngkulin!

  10. If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is still stuck “visioning” at this point of the game, then no one should wonder why the Philippines is going kaput. If she is a true visionary as some of her apologists claim she is, that process should have taken place as early as when she was a senator.

    But if we are seeing despotic bents in her body language (or “accidental” language), maybe visioning at this stage is still apropos, because that means after seven years of ruling the country, the second longest in Philippine history, she is just really warming-up.

    Mayor Villegas saw the same handwriting on the wall when Marcos, supposedly on the final leg of his political career, had stepped up the building of roads, bridges and other physical infrastructures as the exit door stares right smack at him.

    Watch these too.

    First the measured myopia: “I haven’t thought that far ahead,” President Arroyo told Reuter on June 12 when asked what she’s planning at the end of her term.

    Then the improvident teaser last week at Subic: “Who knows? I may run for Congress in my hometown.”

    Now the royal punch line of the SONA 2007: “From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be.”

    Those telltales should not be underestimated at all. Not when coming from one with a Marcosian instinct.

    What vision? Maybe tunnel vision.

  11. abe margallo, are you saying that one should stop “visioning” after having done it once? some visions are not fulfilled overnight or over one’s lifetime. some of the “visions” of nostradamus or cayce are said to be just beginning to happen almost a century after they were presented. maybe it in your understanding of what a vision is. if you take it to mean a promise, i think you are dead wrong. to my mind, a vision is a glimpse of what would likely happen in the future based on what is currently happening. one does not have to be a seer to have a vision. all one needs is a vantage position from where to see what the future holds.

    the presidency is such a unique position for the incumbent is in the forefront of every event that is of national importance. she is involved not only in the initial conceptualization of ideas, but in the whole process up to its actual implementation. the moment a president stops “visioning” for the country is the time she ceases to be president.

    your piece by piece scrutiny of the president’s every word
    and “body language”, with obvious attitude that borders on outright hostility, is consistent and predictable. but investing her with “marcosian instinct” is a tad unfair.
    afterall, hostile groups and individuals are still around free to hurl every kind of abuse upon her with nary a retaliatory act on her part.

  12. “vision pa lang may opposition na”

    I think it’s because Pinoys are simply incapable of separating ideas from personalities. We simply lack the intellectual faculties to evaluate ideas critically on their own internal logical merit.

    If a bozo like Arroyo says something that in essence is identical to something that may have been said by another bozo like, say, Trillanes, Pinoys will simply gravitate towards whoever personality they get their rocks off on.

    What differentiates a good vision from a bad vision?

    Well, if you leave out any information on who’s vision it is, that question will simply leave Pinoys scratching their heads. 😀

  13. Benign0: I think it’s because Pinoys are simply incapable of separating ideas from personalities.

    It’s either that or Pinoys know what bullshit smells like.

  14. “It’s either that or Pinoys know what bullshit smells like”

    Hmmmm, considering that the same old recycled election taglines and hollow-headed slogans work term in and term out kind of blows that theory out of the water.

  15. It’s really amazing how internet works…blogging has now become a forum to exchange thoughts openly. Good writers, thinkers and debaters.

    But rather than splitting hairs and trying to justify one’s argument about a vision, it is now prime time to move forward and take on the roadmap( if one exist) to at least lay down the nuts & bolts in the hope of achieving this vision.

    Everyone, I think, really hope that the vision can be realized despite each individual argument. Everyone is trying to put in their share…. a social science teacher who help shape his students to achieve their dreams, an 18 year old who smokes while she writes to present at least an argument, a health sounding blog monicker who keeps up with everyone to outline his own argument, etc…etc. All in the spirit of willingness to contribute.

    I suggest that you guys use this blog forum for all of you to help even create a roadmap to the vision instead of presenting different arguments, be-laboring, whining and splitting hairs over what’s been said. Don’t be like the current crop of politicians who only knows best to argue and end up achieving nothing.

    Internet, despite the still low penetration in the country, is well aligned with the vision. Use it to help build blocks towards 1st world…all of you have the power to. Who knows, all of you will be the same people who’ll really work with each other to achieve such dreams.

  16. Hmmmm, considering that the same old recycled election taglines and hollow-headed slogans work term in and term out kind of blows that theory out of the water.


  17. Alec,

    I believe most, if not all, of the bloggers here are engaged in productive work, either as employees or employers or free-lancers. I don’t know if there is someone among us here who does nothing but live on the interest of a fabulous inherited wealth.

    So, it’s not as if bloggers here do nothing but spend the whole day in front of a computer just blogging away. I’m sure most, if not all, of us here are already hard at work, “laying the nuts and bolts”, as you have termed it, toward achieving a better future for our country.

    So, don’t be dismayed if sometimes bloggers here appear to be hair-splitting. You may not believe it, but open and intense discussions can give more clarity to one’s vision and promote wider consensus which, hopefully, will lead us all to a common roadmap.

  18. If I may add, MannyB, if assholes could fly, this place would be an airport!

  19. Like previous SONAs, this one is long on rhetoric , short on actions, What the nation needs are the solutions to its problems.

    the SONA of the president dealt extensively on the macro economics achievement and reforms of the Arroyo Administration, and how the scorecard of accomplishments since the last SONA compares to the promises of 2006…

    I dont think visions as what they said turns into reality!

    I can say that I am so young yet so disappointing of our situations..

  20. I am an red blooded OFW so I have had the pleasure of experiencing the effects of the strong peso (or weak dollar. I also have the challenging task of reporting to my colleagues abroad the economic and political situation in the Philippines that may affect my company’s business with this country. Believe me, its not an easy task as these guys see and hear a lot of the Philippines courtesy of the media. The general impression is mostly that most Filipinos focus so much on politics rather than on productive pursuits. Its obvious that the ones who complain that the blessings of an improving economy are not reaching the “grass roots” are either unemployed, unemployable, and employed as professional opposition. I am not a great fan of the PGMA, just an ordinary worker trying to earn a living and oftentimes ashamed by my country’s lack of respect for national institutions and apparent surplus of selfish, ambitious, and pseudo makamasa (who did not even experience what hardship is). The world does not owe us a living, we have to earn it and those who would rather point fingers at personalities to blame seem to have missed the point. What we need are people who are willing to work hard and not waste time on these blogs.

  21. I’m trying to search for Pres. Quezon’s speech regarding the national language. But it seems it can’t be found if I open the link in your website.

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