I. What a SONA is
In February, 1972, the Philippines Free Press observed in an editorial (back when terms began on Rizal Day and thus Congress convened in January) that,
Every new year the President of the Republic addresses Congress and the people with what is known as his State-of-the-Nation message. An envisioned by the legislators who thought of this rite, the President is expected to give an accurate description of the situation in his country during the preceding year and his suggestions to improve that situation in the coming year. Congress is expected to learn from the contents of his message and frame laws that are relevant to the conditions he has described. That, at any rate, is how it should go in a responsible democracy.If the President’s message does not reflect reality, especially if this is done purposely then the whole purpose of the rite is frustrated. The President is supposed to describe accurately the state of the nation, speaking plainly and holding nothing back that could contribute to his auditors’ understanding of the matters he had discussed. Congress, then, takes it up from there. That is the general idea of this rite where the President delivers a message before both Houses of Congress, addressed to the nation. The reality is something else.Our Presidents, on these occasions, have inflated their achievements—or claimed imaginary ones—and glossed over their mistakes. They paint a bright picture of the previous year and a still brighter one of the coming one. How they have the cheek to do this before the people who have suffered so much from their mistakes is one of the intriguing mysteries of politics.
Here is the list of all SONAs, from the first in November, 1935 to the most recent one in July, 2015. You can also see a Flickr photo album of pretty much nearly all the past SONAs. You can also visualize SONAs according to content or word clouds:
Here is an Album of Pie Charts that Visualize the Content of past SONAs, proportionally-speaking, according to topics. Examples:
Here is an Album of World Clouds the visualizes emphasis of past SONAs on various ideas, concepts, and the frequency of certain words used. Examples:
II. SONA Day
Here is a comprehensive briefer on what a SONA is, and the traditions and rituals surrounding them. Here is an infographic on SONA procedures:
III. Assorted Facts and Figures
For trivia hounds, here is a collection of SONA Trivia: the ten longest, ten shorters, the seven places at which they’ve been held, and so on.
IV. Location, location, location
Here is a briefer on Locations where SONAs have been delivered. The briefer has interesting photos of the locations over time, too.
V. Eyewitness and official accounts
Quezon –the first SONA. From the News Summary of Philippines Magazine, November 18-December 13, 1935:
Nov. 25.—The National Assembly opens its inaugural session with Quintin Paredes, Speaker of the former House of Representatives in the chair. Assemblyman Gil Montilla is duly elected Speaker, Francisco Enage (Leyte) floor leader, Narciso Pimentel, secretary, and Narciso Diokno sergeant-at-arms. A stormy discussion follows a resolution offered by Enage providing for the immediate organization of the Commission on Appointments—to which he recommended Assemblymen Ruperto Montinola, Eusebio Orense, Miguel Cueneo, Juan S. Alano, and Agaton Yaranon—and the motion is voted down. Some of the rules governing the former Legislature are temporarily adopted. As President Quezon mounts the rostrom, before his address, he hands Speaker Montilla a gavel which he states was a gift from Vice-President John N. Garner which he has been asked to deliver to the Speaker of the new Assembly. Addressing the Assembly, he speaks almost exclusively of his plans for national defense and asks that full powers he conferred on him to carry them out, closing his address with the statement: “What would be the use of seeing our country free one day, with its own flag standing alone and flying against the sky, only to see ourselves the subjects of another power the following day, with its flag sovereign in our country? What would be the purpose of educating our young men and women concerning their rights and privileges as free citizens, if tomorrow they are to be subjects of a foreign foe? Why build up the wealth of the nation only to swell the coffers of another? If that is to be our preordained fate, why seek a new master when the Stars and Stripes has given us not only justice and fair treatment, welfare and prosperity, but also ever-increasing liberties, including independence? National freedom now stands before us as a shining light—the freedom that for many years gleamed only as a fitful candle in the distant dark. We shall make ourselves ready to grasp the torch, so that no predatory force may ever strike it from our hands.”
Quezon –the second SONA (and the first in a regular session). See Francis Burton Harrison in his diary, June 16, 1936:
Went to the Legislative Building to hear the message of the President to the Assembly. Gratings were locked on the doors. I pushed through the crowd, got a policeman to open the door and was met by Chief of Police Antonio Torres who said the city had been “under arms” since the night before; the only people in the galleries were his secret service men. Communists were supposed to have threatened a bomb. Sat with the Alcalde and the Chief of Police. Quezon read a forty minute message of “progressive conservatism”–really an excellent program for the development and relief of the country. Acoustics of the hall are so bad, I could hardly catch his words. Torres says this building was designed for the National Library and 3000 pesos have just been spent to improve the acoustics of the hall, but with no success;–he said it must be air-conditioned and hung with tapestries. Quezon’s voice is too strong and oratorical for the loud speaker. If he proposes to broadcast, I have advised him to study the matter of his voice.
Osmeña’s lone SONA –From the President’s Month in Review, June 1945:
Meeting for the first time since its election in November, 1941, the Philippine Congress held a joint special session on the afternoon of last June 9, at its provisional quarters on Lepanto Street. Highlights of the session were a message personally delivered by President Sergio Osmeña and the election of the heads of the Senate and the House of Representatives.Reviewing past events in the Philippine struggle for liberty, the President in his message pointed out that the Filipinos have no other duty and no other choice than to accept the independence which the United States is offering now with protection.Expressing the desire of the Filipino people to help the United States win the war against Japan, the President reiterated the offer made by President Manuel L. Quezon in 1941 to the people of America, to the effect that the men and resources of the Philippines are unconditionally at the service of the United States. He announced, in this connection, that he had offered to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur one division of Filipino troops, under Filipino officers, for the final assault on Japan, “Words alone,” the President said, “cannot express our gratitude to the United States for all it has done for us.”Speaking of the great problems of reconstruction and rehabilitation lying ahead of the nation, the President stated that he was aware that the means necessary for their solution at the moment are inadequate but that “we shall not falter in the line of duty. “Let us get together in one mighty effort,” he declared. “Let us set aside selfish considerations and forget petty differences. Only in unity can there be strength.”Besides a brief but comprehensive report on the work carried out by the Commonwealth Government during its three-year stay in Washington, D. C., the presidential message contained a description of conditions prevailing in the Philippines during the period of enemy occupation and an acknowledgment of the invaluable assistance rendered by the guerrillas to the American forces in the liberation of the Philippines. In praising the guerrillas, the President took occasion to mention the loyal civilian population who were left behind and who, at the risk of their lives, supported the resistance movement.” Included among them, according to him, were the civil service employees and holders of subordinate positions in the government. “They should, as a general principle,” the President emphasized, “be recalled as soon as their services should be needed; only for strong reasons should they be deprived of their privilege to serve.” He added that the same policy should be followed in the case of provincial and municipal officials who were elected in 1940, “thus giving due consideration to the will of the people as expressed at the polls.”
Roxas’ first SONA –From the President’s Month in Review June 1946:
In his message on the state of the nation, the President, after briefly describing the aspect of the intricate problems which the Philippines faces today, particularly the lack of financial means both to support the government’s functions and to carry out the projects in rehabilitation and economic development, discussed some of the subjects taken up by him in Washington D.C., last May, including the government loan of approximately 800 million pesos to be lent to the Philippines in five yearly installments. Then he made his recommendations for the prompt and efficient solution of the major problems confronting the nation. Concluding the President said: “I know that in the tasks I have outlined, this congress, this representative body of the Filipino people, will be equal to its responsibilities. I am sure that you will discharge your duties in the best and highest traditions of the long line of great Philippine representative bodies.”
Roxas’ second SONA –From the President’s Month in Review January 1947:
Manuel Roxas on the afternoon of January 27 appeared before a joint session of the first Congress of the Republic of the Philippines and delivered a message on the state of the nation. Asserting that within the past eight months the basis of independent government in the Philippines has been firmly established, the President in his message said that the nation had ceased to retreat in disorder and confusion and that it was moving courageously and confidently forward on the road to national health. “We are well,” he declared, “into a period of progress. The clouds of gloom which hovered over us eight months ago have dissipated. Hope and resolution have replaced despair and doubt; plan and program have come forward in place of distraction and aimlessness; our economy is taking shape; peace and order have returned; employment is gradually increasing; business prospers; our exports are mounting daily; assistance of many kinds from the United States has come, and more is on the way.”The Chief Executive warned, however, that the crisis was not past. He spoke in detail of the country’s still critical condition, and of the heroic efforts which are yet required for national success. He outlined in this connection an industrialization plan for the immediate future of the Philippines. This plan integrates with the government’s power development projects. The vocational training program, the establishment of credit facilities, the promotion of geological researches and surveys, the invitation of American capital to invest here, and the proposed constitutional provision for special rights for American citizens. “We will insure,” the President said, “the fullest participation by Filipinos in this program.”Concluding his message the President said:“We will be resolute in our march toward our lofty goals . . . carrying lightly the heavy burdens which we now assume, in addition to those thrust upon us by Fate. We will not abandon the contest. The greatness of our nation is at issue. The happiness and enduring welfare of our people are at stake. With the help of Almighty God, we will reach the summits we seek.”The joint session of Congress was held at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives on Lepanto Street. It was attended by the First Lady, the President’s mother and daughter, ranking government officials and their ladies, and the diplomatic and consular corps headed by United States Ambassador Paul V. McNutt.
Roxas’ third SONA –From the Official Month in Review, February 1948:
PRESIDENT Roxas, addressing the members of the Council of State on January 20, declared that the administration had committed itself to the task of gradually attaining a reasonable economic security for the Filipino people, and that with this goal in mind, he would propose before Congress the enactment of important measures designed to round out the economic development of the country.The Council of State for about four hours discussed all problems which the President intended to take up with the Congress in his “State of the Nation” address.EXCLAIMING that the period of appeasement had ended, President Roxas announced in clear-cut fashion his administration policy in an extemporaneous speech before the convention of provincial governors and city mayors held in the session hall of the House of Representatives during its opening session on January 22, 1948.The President struck by the fact that while the Huks claimed to be the champions of the masses and the down-troden, the government records of murders, kidnappings and rapine show that the farmers and the poor were the victims.APPEARING before a joint session of the Congress at four o’clock on January 26, President Roxas issued an appeal against wasting energies in partisan conflict or in an attempt to gain personal advantage while the country is engaged in the all-consuming task of lifting the Republic from the ashes of war.“We are still far away,” said the President, “from our chosen goals. But we are decidedly on our way. I assure you we are treading on firm ground and marching in the right direction. We are following paths which the experience of nations has proven to be safe and reliable. We are attempting no short-cuts.”
Quirino’s first SONA –From The Official Month in Review January 1949:
THE Philippine budget is balanced, the Government has further strengthened the people’s confidence in its sincerity and integrity, the Huk movement has degenerated into sheer banditry, and the country is well geared to meet the menace of Communism. These were among the major accomplishments of the present administration which President Quirino mentioned in his state-of-the-nation message to the Congress of the Philippines the afternoon of January 24 in the old Legislative Building. Among the “tasks ahead,” the President stressed the need for production and social amelioration and urged Congress to approve adequate social security legislation. Indicating that the administration will continue its “unequivocal policy” of eliminating evils to prove “the primacy of public interest over party, group or personal claims,” the President said: “This is the age of the common man . . . We want to follow up the program of social amelioration with greater intensity and give the masses a Straight Deal.” Outlining the basic foreign policy, he pledged adherence to the United Nations, expressing confidence in its capacity to “adjust international conflicts for the permanent peace of the world.”
Quirino’s second SONA (the only not delivered in person to Congress by a president) –The Official Month in Review January 1950:
WELL on his way to recovery at the Johns Hopkins hospital, President Quirino delivered his state-of-the-nation address to the joint session of Congress on January 23. His speech was beamed through RCS in the United States and picked up by the local radio network at 10 o’clock in the morning just in time for the opening of the regular congressional session. The President centered his address on his national economic program and other problems confronting the country with an appeal to the nation to “exert every effort and employ every ounce of our energy to implement these high objectives.”
Magsaysay’s first SONA —Official Month in Review January 1957:
January 26: The President wired his greetings to General Douglas MacArthur on the occasion of the General’s birthday. The text of the President’s telegrams was as follows: “My people and I salute you today with prayerful wishes for a most happy birthday. May God Almighty continue to keep and bless you and all your own for a life that has found full dedication in active service to freedom and peace-loving men everywhere.”At noon, the President received on board the yacht Apo a joint committee of the Senate and the House, which notified him that the Second Congress of the Republic had opened its fourth and final session, and that Congress had passed a resolution to hear his message.In his state-of-the-nation message delivered before a joint session of Congress at 5:40 p.m., the President told Congress that the Philippines was making tremendous strides toward economic and political stability but warned that the “painful” advance in this direction was “a continuing process” which “should leave us no time and excuse for complacency.” The President stressed these two points in his message to Congress on the state-of-the-nation which painted the country’s achievements during the past three years against the backdrop of the perils that beset the country.“We have established during our time,” the President said, “a government stable in its finances and political institutions, notwithstanding other observations at home and abroad, rich in promise of yet greater deeds.” He warned, however, that “all this would be set at naught, will have no meaning, and our efforts will be in vain, if we do not employ care and vigilance in the preservation of what we hold dear in our heart and soul as a people.”After addressing Congress, the President returned to the yacht Apo to entertain Norman Thomas Cardinal Gilroy at a cocktail party. The Cardinal called on the President to say goodbye as he is leaving the next day for his native land, Australia.
January 26.—THIS morning, the President received members of the joint committee from the Senate and the House of Representatives, who called on him at Malacañang to inform him that this year’s session of Congress had been formally opened.Composing the joint legislative committee were Sens. Lorenzo M. Tañada, Emmanuel Pelaez, and Pacita M. Gonzalez, and Reps. Ramon Bagatsing, Justiniano S. Montano, and Valeriano Yancha.The legislators were ushered to the music room of Malacañang by Legislative Secretary Vicente Logarta, Assistant Executive Secretary, Enrique C. Quema, and Lt. Col. Emilio Borromeo, senior presidential aide.President Garcia reviewed with his callers his pet administration bills which he wanted enacted during this session, particularly those on the synchronization of elections, habeas corpus, multiple currency reserve system, and revenue measures.The President’s first caller was Ambassador Carlos P. Romulo, who reported briefly to the Chief Executive. No details were released by Malacañang on the subjects taken up by Romulo with the President.PRESIDENT Garcia this afternoon delivered his state-of-the-nation message before a joint session of Congress, formally marking the opening of the regular session of the Congress.The President was warmly applauded 12 times by the senators and congressmen, who listened intently to his recommendations for legislative implementation.The First Lady accompanied the President to the session hall of the House of Representatives.The President started reading his message promptly at 5 o’clock this afternoon and finished with it after an hour and thirty two minutes. As the President and the First Lady entered the session hall, the senators and the congressmen and the people who packed the galleries gave the First Couple a standing ovation.From Congress, the President and the First Lady returned to Malacañang.
Macapagal’s first SONA —The Official Week in Review January 21-January 27, 1962:
January 22.—PRESIDENT Macapagal this afternoon proposed a bipartisan executive-legislative approach to the new administration’s socio-economic program designed to provide every Filipino a decent living.Speaking before a joint session of the precariously balanced Senate and an NP-controlled House of Representatives, which had only a few hours before re-elected Speaker Daniel Z. Romualdez, the President drew applauses and tears as he pleaded the cause of the common man and pledged to carry out this sworn duty of serving the nation.The President also drew praises and remarks from solons, both Liberals and Nacionalistas, for a well-grounded and thoroughly laid out socio-economic program which he was able to prepare and present to Congress in the brief space of 24 days after he had assumed the presidency.In his 70-minute speech the President pinpointed two tasks and made 13 basic recommendations for legislation to Congress.The President said the two prime goals of the Administration are the moral regeneration and the solution of the economic problems of the nation.To achieve these goals, the Chief Executive appealed for legislative support in:(1) The establishment and financing of a Moral Commission to study and recommend ways and means to mobilize all elements and institutions of the country for a national moral regeneration;(2) Adoption of a comprehensive rice-and-corn program of self-sufficiency at prices within the reach of the masses;(3) Legislation to assist private enterprise in the creation of job opportunities, for which specific measures will be presented to Congress;(4) Appropriation of funds for construction of apartment houses for displaced squatters and low-income groups at nominal rentals;(5) Appropriation for improvement and expansion of essential public services, designed to raise the general living standards of people; such as, education, public health, and low-cost housing;(6) Further revision of tariff rates, to protect domestic industries and discourage luxurious living;(7) Passage of foreign investments law to delineate clearly economic fields open to foreign capital, attract new foreign investments into the country, define treatment of foreign capital, particularly on repatriation of capital and profits remittances;(8) Enactment of law imposing selective export tax on protected exports and raw materials locally processed, in order to prevent inflationary pressures and expand government revenues;(9) Repeal of the margin levy on foreign exchange;(10) Repeal of barter law to eliminate virtual multiple rates of exchange for barterable products and to simplify system and prevent loopholes which drain foreign exchange earnings;(11) Re-examination and revision of tax structure to make them more equitable, and to support the government’s industrialization program.(12) Creation of an anti-smuggling office to eradicate smuggling which deprives national treasury of large sums in the form of customs dues and internal revenue receipts; and(13) Adoption of the five-year integrated socio-economic program.The President arrived at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives at 5 p.m., accompanied by members of his Cabinet.Upon alighting in front of the Philippine. Congress building, he was practically mobbed by a large crowd that had gathered to greet him, and was ushered into the Hall of Congress with a rolling applause that continued for over ten minutes when he mounted the rostrum and shook hands with acting Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez and Speaker Daniel Z. Romualdez.The President again drew a long applause when he extended his hand as a sporting gesture, to congratulate Speaker Romualdez on his re-election. The President, however, in a light vein, added as a rejoinder that he would “congratulate the Senate President at the proper time.” The Senate had postponed election of a new President.The President received no less than 15 applauses in his entire speech. For a brief moment, the long recitation of facts seemed almost to bore the NP solons, but they were soon jerked back to alertness as the President, in a low, slow, and choking voice made a last appeal, his eyes misty as he tried to fight back tears.After concluding his speech, the President received a thunderous applause, followed by praises and remarks from the crowds. As he stood up to receive the congratulations of the Senate and House of Representatives presiding officers, the President, again was mobbed by the people, and he had a hard time getting outside of the Congress to board his car.From Congress, the President returned to Malacañang.The President occupied himself the whole day putting the finishing touches : on his state-of-the-nation message to Congress.At 10:40 a.m. the Chief Executive received the Senate committee, which informed him that the Upper House had already convened. The Senate committee was “composed of Sens. Lorenzo Tañada, Oscar Ledesma, Jose J. Roy, Rogelio de la Rosa, and Maria Kalaw-Katigbak.The Lower House committee, which informed the President that the House was already in session, saw the Chief Executive at 3:50 p.m. It was composed of Reps. Wenceslao R. Lagumbay of Laguna, Rodolfo Ganzon of Iloilo, Reynaldo Honrado of Surigao, Floro Crisologo of Ilocos Sur, and Vivencio Sagun of Zamboanga del Sur.
Kerima Polotan covered the last pre-martial law SONA, in The Long Week (February 7, 1970), with a mordant eye, a biting, observant, wit, and her pro-Marcos sympathies on her sleeves:
The country had seen how many Congresses open before and except for a mugginess in the afternoon, rare in January, the Seventh held no special portents. The young had, of course, taken over the streets and were on Ayala Street, thrusting leaflets at passerby:An Appeal for a Non-Partisan Constitutional Convention. All week the week before, they’d been pretty busy, demonstrating in front of Malacañang. A particularly “militant” group had roughed up an army sergeant moonlighting as a photographer; they had peppered the air with elegant language, the accepted idiom of student activism, amplified many decibels with the aid of loudspeakers……Inside Congress, however, the familiar peremptoriness of security guards greeted guests—even the most inoffensive looking specimen got thoroughly sniffed at from head to foot and if you didn’t smell at all as if you had legitimate business on the premises, you were quickly waved off to a side door where khaki’d arms blocked the way. You thrust a press card and the guard’s sangfroid remained undented—one prepared, therefore, to offer a fistful of identification papers: credit card, driver’s license, insurance bill, plumber’s reminder, grocery list, beauty parlor receipt, but remembering from somewhere that occasionally a double whammy worked, one fixed the fellow with a look: left eye shut, right eye open, and then a whisper: Tsip, puede ba?It worked, and one was suddenly inside, to one’s utter disappointment. One had not fought one’s way through to stand guard over a half empty hall, along with half a hundred TV cameras, and the minor functionaries of this Republic, the second officials, the junior assistants, who strutted and poked and pointed—“Mahina ang audio!”—but there were compensations. Eduardo Cojuangco, the husband of Gretchen Oppen, was there, in expensive barong; and so was Joe Aspiras, the ex-press secretary, in barong; and also Joe de Venecia, whom the papers called a Marcos Liberal, who had just shed (again according to the papers) an old love and acquired a new one, in coat and tie; a dear friend from Dumaguete: Herminio (Minion) Teves, the younger twin of Lorence, in coat and tie; Rafael Aquino, the Sorsogueño from Butuan City, in coat and tie. All brand new diputados, eager to be of service to the country, but already practised in the art (and craft) of winning people and influencing friends. You could tell—they strode as though they belonged (and did they not?), crossed their legs, scratched their colleagues’ back, held languid cigarettes, laughed their rich solid laugh. But no Rufino Antonio, poor man, with all his troubles—he should have stuck to selling motorcycles. However, with Antonio not there, was Roquito far behind? One glimpsed through a clump of faces, the Northern congressman, short, dark, chubby, smiling a genuine Ilocano smile, winning, irresistible, the kind where the charm comes straight from the solar plexus. You could see where Special Forces was written all over him.The old-timers were drifting in—Pablo Roman, who owns Bataan; Fermin Caram, who owns Filipinas; Ramon Mitra, who doesn’t own Palawan (yet), but does have a pair of sideburns reaching down to his knees and the start of a gross look; Carmelo Barbero, Carlos Imperial, Floring Crisologo, Constantino Navarro. On this side, the Supreme Court Justices, in black robes; across the floor from them, the cabinet: Carlos P. Romulo, Juan Ponce Enrile, Franciso Tatad, Gregorio Feliciano, Leonides Virata, and Manang Pacita, wearing her hair shoulder-length, dressed in a bright Bonnie frock. Beside the cabinet, the lady justices of the court of Appeals; Cecilia Muñoz Palma, in a green terno, and that stalwart of the legal profession, Lourdes San Diego, who is said to know her law like some women know their beauty ritual, in a wine colored terno.Where one sat, craning behind the backs of security, one was hemmed in, on the right, by TV announcers—“our very own Henry Halasan” in an off-white suit, demure and dimpled—and, on the left, by the military (the navy, the army, the air force) all in white duck. An attractive woman in a brief checkered dress desired to hurdle the railing that separated her from the military and one gallant junior aide extended a strong arm. She stood on a chair and lifted a leg and one could hear the military gasp in delight; my, my! If only all the subversives in the country had thighs like those—but after a while, the lady began to prove a nuisance, because she desired once more to return to the floor, and so executed that Open Sesame exercise and then once more, back with the military; and so on, three or four times, like a see-saw, and by then, the TV announcers’ Adam’s apples were bobbing up and down, and the junior aides were beginning to weary of her dance.Then the Senators—Roy, Sumulong, Pelaez, Aytona, Tañada, Laurel, Padilla, Puyat, Eva Kalaw, feminine every inch of her, who walked in like Isadora Duncan, in a blue terno, but instead of wearing the panuelo across her shoulders, she’d wrapped it around her neck, and, voila! it was a scarf. However, the most beautiful neck on the floor that afternoon belonged to the Senadora from Laguna, Mme. Helena Benitez, the great and good friend of the Filipinescas dance troupe, who works very hard to get them their dollars and their accreditation; such a good sport, every chance she gets, she puts in a good word for them, they ought to make her muse or something.One neck that looked different was Father Ortiz’s, buttoned high like a proper cleric’s, and if one hadn’t known him from previous invocations, you’d mistake him for chairman of the board of some multi-million peso mining corporation. All that eloquent talk of revolution has not affected the good and comfortable lives that many priests live. One remembered Father Ortiz from the NP convention of ‘67—he wasn’t Rector then—when he had also read a stirring invocation. He was to repeat his warning here, this afternoon, but in stronger words: “Our unsafe streets,” he said, prompting a Church non-lover to ask: if our streets are unsafe, how’d he get here? A people awaited redress, the young wanted change, the Rector said, an entire country trembled on the edge of revolution, the priest went on..THE HOUR WAS late, Father Ortiz said, and how right he was, for here came now the ladies of the congressmen and their senators. Most favored was the terno, no one was in pantsuit, and muted colors predominated. Was that a diamond that sparkled on a breast? Impossible to tell from the distance, but by their chins and their humps your could identify them: Mesdames Lopez, Puyat, Aldeguer, Roy—and Virginia Veloso who sat in the last seat, front row, two arm’s lengths away from Imelda Marcos, exactly as they had sat together in class 20 years ago in Tacloban, when Mrs. Veloso had been the darling of the social swirl and Mrs. Marcos had partly paid her way through school working in the library.Flanked by Senator Puyat and Speaker Laurel, both suited, Mr. Marcos stood on the rostrum, in a barong. He looked rested. He bowed to the Supreme Court, he looked up at the klieg lights, he glanced at his watch. He’d worked his way from the front door to the rostrum, shaking hands, murmuring greetings—the amenities. One after the other, the two gavels banged: “For my part, I declare the House open for the session,” said Speaker Laurel, an old sad man with long white hair who must now live with the memory of a Bicol hill and a dead son. “For my part,” rasped Senate President Puyat, “I declare the Senate open for the session,” then the invocation that would have the editorial writers the next day tripping over each other, praising it, but meaningless to this one citizen until the Church gives up its pawnshops. And finally, Mr. Marcos’s quick descent to the microphones three steps below and the State-of-the-Nation address that would all but be forgotten in the terror with which that long week ended…Thirty-five minutes he spoke, forty, if you counted the applause before and after, to a hall that had been fuller in previous years. But the persistent talk of assassination had finally worked its poison, and the overzealous guards had kept out more people than they should have. Some nuns there were in the mezzanine, their arms folded, looking quietly at Mr. Marcos; a row of impassive-faced diplomats sat below, among them the Honorable Mr. Addis whose garage the students had burned down a couple of years ago; and no more than half a hundred citizens—non-military, non-political, non-official—brown, sober, thoughtful, scattered through the hall.While Mr. Marcos and his retinue walked out of the hall, to their fateful encounter with the papier mache crocodile and the cardboard coffin, the reporters on the floor swarmed all over the Opposition, cornering Senators Salonga, Aquino, and Roxas, who dutifully cleared their throats and gave their verdicts.
Ah, the papier-mache crocodile. A classic of reportage is Pete Lacaba’s The January 26 Confrontation: A Highly Personal Account (February 7, 1970). It deserves to be read in full, but here’s an extended passage that tells us what was happening as Polotan reported on what was going-on in the Legislative Building:
The President was already delivering his State of the Nation message: loudspeakers on both sides of the legislative building relayed the familiar voice and the equally familiar rhetoric to anyone in the streets who cared to listen. In front of the building, massed from end to end of Burgos Drive, spilling over to the parking lot and the grassy sidewalk that forms an embankment above the Muni golf course, were the demonstrators. Few of them cared to listen to the President. They had brought with them microphones and loudspeakers of their own and they lent their ears to people they could see, standing before them, on the raised ground that leads to the steps of the legislative building, around the flagpole, beneath a flag that was at half-mast. There were, according to conservative estimates, at least 20,000 of them, perhaps even 50,000. Beyond the fringes of this huge convocation stood the uniformed policemen, their long rattan sticks swinging like clocks pendulums at their sides; with them were the members of the riot squad, wearing crash helmets and carrying wicker shields.I came on foot from the Luneta, which was as far as my taxi could go, and made straight for the Congress driveway. A cop at the foot of the driveway took one look at my hair and waved me away, pointing to the demonstrators beyond a row of white hurdles. When I pointed to the special press badge pinned to the breast pocket of my leather jacket, he eyed me suspiciously, but finally let me through the cordon sanitaire. The guard at the door of Congress was no less suspicious, on guard against intruders and infiltrators, and along the corridors it seemed that every man in uniform tightened his grip on his carbine as I passed by, and strained his eyes to read the fine print on my press badge.The doors of the session hall were locked, presumably to prevent late entrances from disturbing the assembly listening to the Presidents message. A clutch of photographers who had arrived late milled outside the session hall, talking with some men in barong Tagalog, pleading and demanding to be let in. The men in barong Tagalog shook their heads, smiled ruefully, and shrugged; they had their orders. I decided to go out and have a look at the demonstration.Among the demonstrators it was possible to feel at ease. None of them carried guns, they didnt stand on ceremony, and there was no need for the aura of privilege that a press badge automatically confers on its wearer. I took off the badge, pocketed it, and reflected on the pleasurable sensation that comes from being inconspicuous. It seemed awkward, absurd, to strut around with a label on a lapel proclaiming ones identity, a feeling doubtless shared by cops who were even then surreptitiously removing their name plates. Also, I was curious. No joiner of demonstrations in my antisocial student days, I now wanted to know how it felt like to be in one, not as journalistic observer but as participant, and I wanted to find out what treatment I could expect from authority in this guise.I found out soon enough, and the knowledge hurt.At about half past five, the demo that had been going on for more than four hours was only beginning to warm up. The colegialas in their well-pressed uniforms were wandering off toward the Luneta, munching on pinipig crunches and dying of boredom. Priests and seminarians lingered at one edge of the crowd, probably discussing the epistemology of dissent. Behind the traffic island in the middle of Burgos Drive, in the negligible shade of the pine trees, ice cream and popsicle carts vied for attention with small tables each laden with paper and envelopes, an improvised cardboard mailbox and a sign that urged: Write Your Congressman. In this outer circle of the demo, things were relatively quiet; but in the inner circle, nearer Congress, right below the mikes, the militants were restless, clamorous, chanting their slogans, carrying the streamers that bore the names of their organizations, waving placards (made out of those controversial Japanese-made calendars the administration gave away during the campaign) that pictured the President as Hitler, the First Couple as Bonnie and Clyde.There were two mikes, taped together; and this may sound frivolous, but I think the mikes were the immediate cause of the trouble that ensued. They were in the hands of Edgar Jopson of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, the group that had organized the rally and secured the permit for it. The NUSP dubbed its demonstration the January 26 Movement; its chief objective was to demand a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention in 1971. Demonstrations, however, are never restricted to members of the organization to which a permit has been issued. They are, according to standard practice, open to all sympathizers who care to join; and to the January 26 Movement the veterans of countless demos sent their representatives. Swelling the numbers of the dissenters were youth organizations like the Kabataang Makabayan, the Samahang Demokratiko ng Kabataan, the Malayang Pagkakaisa ng Kabataang Pilipino, the Kilusan ng Kabataang Makati; labor groups like the National Association of Trade Unions; peasant associations like the Malayang Samahang Magsasaka.Now, at about half past five, Jopson, who was in polo barong and sported a red armband with the inscription J26M, announced that the next speaker would be Gary Olivar of the SDK and of the University of the Philippines student council. Scads of demonstration leaders stood with Jopson on that raised ground with the Congress flagpole, but Olivar was at this point not to be seen among them. The mikes passed instead to Roger Arienda, the radio commentator and publisher of Bomba. Arienda may sound impressive to his radio listeners, but in person he acts like a parody of a high-school freshman delivering Mark Anthonys funeral oration. His bombast, complete with expansive gestures, drew laughter and Bronx cheers from the militants up front, who now started chanting: We want Gary! We want Gary!Arienda retreated, the chant grew louder, and someone with glasses who looked like a priest took the mikes and in a fruity, flute-thin voice pleaded for sobriety and silence. We are all in this together, he fluted. We are with you. There is no need for shouting. Let us respect each other. Or words to that effect. By this time, Olivar was visible, standing next to Jopson. It was about a quarter to six.When Jopson got the mikes back, however, he did not pass them on to Olivar. Once more he announced: Ang susunod na magsasalita ay si Gary Olivar. Olivar stretched out his hand, waiting for the mikes, and the crowd resumed its chant; but Jopson after some hesitation now said: Aawitin natin ang Bayang Magiliw. Those seated, squatting, or sprawled on the road rose as one man. Jopson sang the first verse of the national anthem, then paused, as if to let the crowd go on from there: instead he went right on singing into the mikes, drowning out the voices of everybody else, pausing every now and then for breath or to change his pitch.Olivar stood there with a funny expression on his face, his mouth assuming a shape that was not quite a smile, not quite a scowl. Other demonstration leaders started remonstrating with Jopson, gesturing toward the mikes, but he pointedly ignored them. He repeated his instructions to NUSP members, then started acting busy and looking preoccupied, all the while clutching the mikes to his breast. Manifestoes that had earlier been passed from hand to hand now started flying, in crumpled balls or as paper planes, toward the demonstration leaders perch. It was at this point that one of the militants grabbed the mikes from Jopson.Certainly there can be no justification for the action of the militants. The NUSP leaders had every right to pack up and leave, since their permit gave them only up to six oclock to demonstrate and they had declared their demonstration formally closed; and since it was their organization that had paid for the use of the microphones and loudspeakers, they had every right to keep these instruments ot themselves. Yet, by refusing to at least lend their mikes to the radicals, the NUSP leaders gave the impression of being too finicky; they acted like an old maid aunt determined not to surrender her Edwardian finery to a hippie niece, knowing that it would be used for more audacious purposes than she had ever intended for it. The radicals would surely demand more than a nonpartisan Constitutional Convention; they would speak of more fundamental, doubtless violent, changes; and it was precisely the prospect of violence that the NUSP feared. The quarrel over the mikes revealed the class distinctions in the demonstration: on the one hand the exclusive-school kids of the NUSP, bred in comfort, decent, respectful, and timorous; and on the other hand the public-school firebrands of groups like the KM and the SDK, familiar with privation, rowdy, irreverent, troublesome. Naturally, the nice dissenters wanted to dissociate themselves from anything that smelled disreputable, and besides the mikes belonged to them.Now the mikes had passed to a young man, a labor union leader I had seen before, at another demonstration, whose name I do not know.It had happened so fast Jopson was caught by surprise; the next thing he knew the mikes were no longer in his possession. This young labor union leader was a terrific speaker. He was obviously some kind of hero to the militants, for they cheered him on as he attacked the counter-revolutionaries who want to end this demonstration, going on from there to attack fascists and imperialists in general. By the time he was through, his audience had a new, a more insistent chant: Rebolusyon! Rebolusyon! Rebolusyon!Passions were high, exacerbated by the quarrel over the mikes; and the President had the back luck of coming out of Congress at this particular instant.
Here is Ferdinand Marcos, writing in his diary, with his own take on what happened next, in his diary entry for January 26, 1970:
The invocation of Father Pacifico Ortiz, Ateneo head, was in poor taste. It castigated the government referring to goons, high prices, streets not being safe, the threat of revolution and how the citizens were ready to fight for their rights even in the barricades.It was an attempt at the state of the nation. I hope he is happy with what he has helped to bring about.Raul Manglapus engineered this with the help of the Jesuits apparently for all the Catholic schools had delegations. But apparently they were infiltrated by the Kabataan Makabayan who with some students started the violence.After the State of the Nation address, which was perhaps my best so far, and we were going down the front stairs, the bottles, placard handles, stones and other missiles started dropping all around us on the driveway to the tune of a “Marcos, Puppet” chant.As the intelligence reports it, the demonstrators had brought a coffin which they carried from the street below to the site of the flagpole, when they pushed it into the faces of the policemen. The policemen then threw the coffin to the street below and may have hit two demonstrators. The latter then took out a stuffed alligator from inside the coffin and threw it at the policemen who threw it back. Then the wood, bottle and stone throwing which caught us at the front stairs. I could not go into the car as Imelda kept standing on the stairs. Col. Ver tried to push me inside but I ordered the First Lady to be fetched and put inside first. Since she could not be pulled by anyone, I had to do it myself. I am afraid I pushed her into the car floor much too hard. Anyway I bumped my head behind the right ear against the car’s door side and twisted my weak right ankle again. We moved out under a hail of stones. But the PSA agent covering me, Agent Suson, was hit in the forehead and left eyelid and took four stitches. I thought it was Col. Ver as his barong was splashed with splotches of blood but Suson’s blood had spilled on him as he was on my right.A year later, he would write, on January 25, 1971, in his diary,This is the turning point. The congressional opening and State of the Nation address ceremonies were peaceful.And the whole nation heaved a sigh of relief. For many had left for the provinces and for abroad to avoid the imagined dangers of a revolution.Chino Roces, Manglapus, the radicals who have been predicting the start of a revolution today must be disappointed.
It’s interesting that even when he padlocked Congress, Marcos found it necessary to retain the SONA, whether delivering it to the public or some sort of temporary –and later, quasi-permanent, then, permanent– legislature.
I think it was during those years that the whole thing became less a function of the state and its co-equal branches coming together, and more a presidential bravura performance; something we have not quite gotten out our system. By this I mean that the SONA is meant to be a report to the legislature as a co-equal branch, and that whoever is president makes the report as a guest of the legislature. Over the years, the public has taken an increasingly prominent role in terms of being the broader audience –but the Marcos-era hangover remains, so that I suspect even the legislature remains only dimly aware that the speech and the rituals surrounding it, still retains an air of the Marcos era.