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 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.


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.

Post Author: 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.

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15 Comments on "The Mystery of the SONA"

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Joe America
. . . 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… Read more »
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… Read more »
Hyden Toro

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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