SONA: Truth or Spectacle?

By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
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The true state of the nation is in the people who live under the harshest of conditions in the margins of society yet see in collective strength the power to make their lives better. Aquino III says, “We can dream again.” Well, he has no sense of history: The people are not just dreaming but struggling, putting their own dreams into action.

The state of the nation address (SONA) is a discourse that mirrors the truth about the country’s situation and lays down an agenda for change to be implemented by the President. The nation has heard numerous SONAs but generally these came across as self-serving, rendered in a denial mode with a list of promises remaining unfulfilled. Thus SONAs turned out to be the opposite; instead of inspiring the people they provoke disbelief if not public outrage. Rather than unifying, they promote divisiveness.

That is precisely what has happened since the SONA of Ferdinand E. Marcos that triggered the First Quarter Storm (FQS) of 1970. That year the true state of the nation dramatized oil price hikes, tuition increases, corruption, a bogus land reform, police brutality – but Marcos looked the other way around, feeding fallacies far removed from the social and economic realities.

Converging at the old Congress, thousands of cause-oriented activists countered with their true state of the nation in radical language and cultural performances topped by calls for sweeping social reform. That was how the alternative SONA was born, shaking the nation and triggering massive indignation rallies nationwide.

Considered the first SONA is revolutionary leader Andres Bonifacio’s “State of the Katipunan Address” (SOKA) at the Tejeros Convention of March 22, 1897 or one year after Asia’s first ever revolution against colonialism and feudal oppression was launched. Soon, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo who staged a coup to unseat the Katipunan leadership from Bonifacio, would deliver the “State of the Revolutionary Nation” (SORNA) on August 29, 1898.

After a period of similar traditional addresses by American governors-general in the U.S. colonial years, Manuel L. Quezon as first Commonwealth president delivered the “State of Commonwealth Government’s Affairs” (SOCGA) before the first National Assembly in 1936 as provided for in the 1935 Constitution. The constitution called for the president to inform Congress on the state of the nation and recommend bills deemed “necessary and expedient.” The first post-war annual SONA was delivered by President Manuel Roxas before the first Congress in January 1947.

Critical junctures

Presidential SONAs have been delivered at the country’s critical junctures that include the government’s forging of special defense and trade ties with the former colonial master, United States, locking the Philippines to the latter’s various wars of aggression and the U.S.-backed long-drawn counter-insurgency campaigns presently framed as Oplan Bantay Laya. The periods also consistently included the unresolved land tenancy problem, economic downturns, martial rule, strikes and armed conflicts, coup attempts, as well as specific issues like unemployment, corruption and human rights. All the presidents were at the center of these critical junctures where the vast powers that they control appear to have failed in addressing the country’s basic problems and every turnover of the presidency seemed to have been marked by economic and political crisis.

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  1. why it is important to have a sona?

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