The Mystery of the SONA

For a speech that lasted nearly an hour and was so heavily-laden with facts and figures, the much-anticipated second State of the Nation Address by President Noynoy Aquino has seemed to have left much of the country scratching their heads. Two days have passed since the SONA, and public interest has scarcely waned; that should be a good thing, a sign of an engaged and thinking population interested in what their Leader has to say, and what it means for them and the country.

Exactly what the people expect to hear from the President is more a matter of tradition than anything; his Constitutional duty (spelled out in Article VII, Section 23) only specifies that “The President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”  He could, hypothetically, fulfill the requirement by giving tips for the Tuesday night races at San Lazaro or sharing his chicken adobo recipe, but as a matter of convention it is generally anticipated that he will a) provide a summary of the current state of affairs in the country, and b) set the tone for the upcoming legislative session and the year between now and the next SONA by presenting ideas and objectives he would like to pursue.

If that happened, then the conversation the past couple of days would be something that at least resembles a discussion about the direction the President means to take, but the discussion is rather more an exercise in people asking themselves and each other, “What in the hell did all that mean, anyway?” This is not, as some of my detractors might be preparing to point out in the comments, mean-spirited sniping from a known non-fan of Noynoy Aquino; Doy Santos at Propinoy.net actually measured the proportion of plans to self-congratulations and discovered that

“If we look at the substance and purpose of the speech, which is supposedly the setting of the president’s legislative priorities, we find that in a speech of 5,989 words, the president devoted 116 of them to his proposed measures. That is about 1.9% of the text. He went through his proposals so quickly, that he even failed to give a proper justification for them or a rationale for how these priorities fit within his broad agenda.” [Emphasis original]

The people of the Philippines, whom the President was careful to acknowledge as “his boss,” have a right to know what their employee intends to do with the job they’ve entrusted to him. But whether Doy Santos or anyone else likes or not, however, there are, as I pointed out, no rules for the content of the SONA. Give a politician a stump, and you have to expect that he’s going to spend most of his time atop it in self-promotion.

With that in mind, I decided to take a look at the Technical Report accompanying this year’s SONA, because although it is made available to the public (a creditable gesture, regardless of the content), it is written for the benefit of the speechmaker and not his audience and thus ought to be unencumbered by the limits imposed by a live, televised address. Despite being four times as long as the actual speech, the Technical Report contains even less than the speech’s proportion of proposed measures. Written almost entirely in the past tense, the Report contains voluminous (23,392 words’ worth of voluminous, to be exact) details on things that have already happened and very little of what is planned. And even the few forward-looking statements that can be found tend to be vague, such as: “For 2011, P16.20 billion or 24.3% of the total DPWH Capital Outlay has been allocated for infrastructure development in Mindanao. This will help facilitate economic growth in the region” and “…the Labor and Employment Plan 2011-2016 promotes putting the human resource base at the core of all policy reform initiatives to achieve inclusive growth that massively creates jobs and continuously reduces poverty.”

Those are not plans, those are aspirations. And aspirations are fine, as expressions of a desired end state, but the job the President’s bosses hired him for is to fill in the blanks between now and that desired end state; having aspirations is something anyone can do. If the President and his Administration truly understood that, then we would all be having a very different sort of conversation about the SONA now, instead of suffering through reading the clutching-at-straws interpretations of its apologists.

It’s not exactly clear, but it is quite apparent that President Aquino has some strong, heartfelt notion about what he’d like the Philippines to be, and it is just as apparent that he strongly desires to convince his countrymen to share that ideal. Getting them to go along with it, and more importantly, getting them to assist him in the effort to reach it requires more than a little salesmanship. That being the case, Mr. President, let me offer a piece of advice I learned from my father: You don’t sell by talking, you sell by listening. Stop telling your people and the rest of the world – your potential customers – what you want them to want to hear, and start telling them what they want to know.

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About BenK

I write a column for The Manila Times on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Most of the energy sector and the heads of several government agencies probably wish I didn't.

15 Comments on “The Mystery of the SONA”

  1. . . . chicken adobe . . . ha ha

    SONA is indeed not a business report. It is PR. If he had read the technical report instead of popularizing and simplifying his message, people would not be scratching their heads, they would have fallen asleep 7 minutes in. I agree with the fundamental intent of his message, to slam at corruption with every tool or weapon in his verbal arsenal, and to play up the economy because good things build good things, whether they originated under President Arroyo or President Aquino. He will never get the message right for The Cusp or Ilda because they start with the premise that he is ineffective, and look for the evidence to prove it. I think his direction is right and he is not wasting his time being the architect of midnight raids on the constitution or shuffling fertilizer bags and bags of cash into this black hole or that. He is imperfect because he is naive at administration, but he is good for the Philippines.

    1. “…but he is good for the Philippines.”

      So far, he shows that he isn’t. There are unenlightened people who may like him, but it doesn’t translate into being “good for the Philippines” as you put it.

      1. I kind of agree with Joe; I think he is good for the Philippines, because one of two things is going to happen. Either he’s going to be on the wrong end of so many shortfalls due to ill-conceived and reactionary management that he’s going to be forced to get his act together and do a decent job, or there’s going to be some significant changes in the system, because the people are going to be continually forced to face unfulfilled expectations and think about what they really want in a government. I’m coming to the conclusion that the latter is maybe more likely. In that sense, Aquino really might be a catalyst for change — perhaps not the way he imagined it, but then on the other hand, if he embraces it and decides to put himself in front of it, he could come out a winner.

        But that means standing up for some fundamental and far-reaching work. Amend the charter. Redo the Labor Code. Throw out the entire Customs Bureau, and rewrite the tariff laws. Restructure the entire judiciary. Repeal the Foreign Investment Act and try again with a law that makes some damn sense. In short, quit counting things like mosquito traps and ziplines to haul vegetables as achievements, and be the big-picture guy with actual innovative ideas instead of dreams.

      2. “I think he is good for the Philippines, because one of two things is going to happen…”

        You may be right. He may inadvertently turn out to be the necessary evil that would force people to rethink their position or question their most cherished beliefs–which may lead to actual reform. Sometimes pinoys would rather learn the hard way.

        1. There are some people who are fortunate in that they have an innate ability to do things right the first time. Then there are some who need to be knocked about by life’s experiences before they get going down the right path. Hopefully, Pinoys fit the latter type. There is the third type — those folk who remain winos, drug addicts, and stumble from one failed relationship to another for much of their entire lives. Hopefully the Philippines is not the national equivalent of that third type.

      3. I agree with Joe, and I have as much of Ilda’s way let in or out what mindset tacked in our brains to figure out what we’re made of. I like the challenge and Joe you are so accurate, just like Ilda I wish to know more of infractions otherwise may have been deliberately obfuscated had there been no Noynoy to allow them as leader of this country. Yeah Noynoy is just as rightly tempered to just how we wanted them, pave way for more whistle blowers, more truth!

  2. Joe,

    Ilda is the Ann Coulter of the Philippines. Even if Noynoy actually does something right (by luck or hard work), she will never write anything positive about Noynoy.

    Her bias is so overwhelming that even if Noynoy killed Satan himself, Ilda would make a long blog explaining why Noynoy is still a failure.

    If you are perplexed by this behavior, do not be worried. It is quite a common Pinoy trait to avoid admitting any mistakes. They don’t want to “lose face” so they would rather keep spinning the truth hoping that we miss the fact that they have lost all sense of fairness and objectivity.

    The greatest irony is that these Anti-Pinoys are turning out the be “very Pinoy” indeed.

    1. Haven’t you heard? All this at the very core is an exchange of expressions of personal biases. Those that stand the test of time, are validated by logical discourse, or are ultimately vindicated by actual events, win.

      It’s simple, reallyâ„¢ — though not for the small-minded. 😀

    2. Ilda is Ann Coulter?

      How I wish she is be but she’s not. Ilda can hold her own. She and benign0 can write well and both of them are very civil in exchanging pleasantries with commenters.

      As for Ann Coulter, IMO, she’s one of the best as a book writer (always in the bestseller’s list) and as one of the widely read blogger in US. She’s one of the most hated person next to Dubyah Bush and Glenn Beck by the ideologues worldwide and well loved by the conservatives (including me). (I suspect her writings have converted a lot of liberals to conservatives.)

      If Ilda is wrong, then confront her with her specific mistake. Instead of whining, challenge her narrations.

      “It is quite a common Pinoy trait to avoid admitting any mistakes. They don’t want to “lose face” so they would rather keep spinning the truth hoping that we miss the fact that they have lost all sense of fairness and objectivity.”

      The above are are all attributable to Penoy’s characteristics.

      “For a speech that lasted nearly an hour and was so heavily-laden with facts and figures…”

      Penoy was gloating with this fact: one billion ++ pesos spent on coffee alone by PAGCOR under GMA watch!

      After some basic calculations, it will amount to 10 cups of coffee consumption on 13 PAGCOR casinos on a given average number of patrons per hour.

      Penoy is really an international embarrassment.

      1. Whoa…Benk wrote this critique but Joe and Expat are singling me out? haha. Some people can really hold a grudge. 😉

        You remind of someone from FV, Expat. She took my criticism of PNoy too personally as well. She even went around the blogosphere and made sure to badmouth me. Anyway, I didn’t bother to stop her from making a fool of herself. Her true breeding showed when she succumbed to using ad hominems just to get people on her side. It was sad seeing someone like that resort to such a low move.

        At least you inspired me to write this new article about the SONA: The truth about the second SONA of Noynoy Aquino delivered on July 25, 2011

        Happy reading!

  3. Many important issues, that must be attended to; were not in the SONA. The self-sufficiency of rice production, is not there. How he will solve it?…Feudalism is the blocking point here. He is the largest Feudal Lord of the land. And, he owns the Hacienda Luisita…Without basic industries; you cannot create jobs. And cannot industrialized. OFW labors are what he means on creating jobs. This will soon pass, as the : Indians, Bangladese, Africans, etc…OFWs will take our place, at lower labor costs, for OFW employers…

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