Manolo Quezon was kind enough to solicit my views — together with those of Jonathan Malaya and Jonathan (de la Cruz of) Malaya — on next week’s State of the Nation address. I had a handful of notes in my pocket (literally; my notebook was in my coat) but, as these things go, there wasn’t enough time to put them all on the table. Besides, it was freezing inside Studio 6, and my fingers were too stiff to fish my notes out.
Jonathan Malaya, who co-authored So Help Me God, a compilation of presidential inaugural addresses, rightly said that we have come to expect "road maps" from a president’s Sona. I would only add that we also should expect some consistency in the mapping.
In GMA’s first two Sonas, Edsa 2 was still part of the national narrative the new President was describing. 2001: "… people rose up to restore morality as the first institution of society and as the animating principle of justice and the rule of law." 2002: "Legions of ordinary Filipinos, many of them students, came, stood and clamored [sic] at Edsa, for a better government. It is to them I look for validation."
But as the years wore on, GMA began to look for validation in other places, notably in the exigencies (and the metaphors) of war. In 2002 the language of war was already in use. But in 2003 (the State of the Nation rite that year came a day after the Magdalo mutiny), she all but declared herself a wartime president: "But we remain at war," she said, and rattled off the various fronts: terrorism, poverty, disease, drugs. (In 2003 too, Manny Pacquiao is first mentioned, as the epitome of the Filipino who, "given the chance to compete … will take it and win.")
The President’s post-election Sona in 2004 should have concentrated on a new overarching theme for her six-year term, and in fact there was an attempt to do so ("isang bagong direksyon: mamamayan muna" — a new direction: citizens first), but it was drowned in a sea of rationalizations, explanations to the world at large why it was necessary and in the national interest to ransom Angelo de la Cruz off by accelerating the planned pullout of Philippine troops from Iraq. (The paradox of the State of the Nation address: it is both an agenda-setting tool and eminently events-driven.)
Last year’s Sona, of course, was remarkable for its brevity, its tale of two countries (a campaign leftover, as Jove Francisco noted), and — not least — its politely phrased directive to let a hundred flowers of Charter change arguments bloom.
Road maps, yes. But if they change from year to year, won’t we end up going around in circles?