SONAnaNAMAN: The Ninth Episode of Stirring Up the Public Sphere

Article by: Richelle Joy Belgira

She could be mistaken for an optimistic professor in Economics as she stood over the rostrum and gave a lecture on the effects of inflation. She mentioned the positive consequences of the extended value-added tax, as proven by more foreign investments in the country. She gave out an air of optimism for the country amid a global financial crisis.

But besides being well-informed in Economics, she also portrayed herself as a brilliant storyteller. On her rostrum, she shared real-life stories of commonplace people with better living conditions as a result of an improving economy. As in previous years, new narratives were added such as the story of farmers-turned millionaires’ because of the success of their loans from the Land Bank of the Philippines. And who could forget the fable of the paper boats where children's wishes were written? Listening to her makes you hopeful that someday yours could also be a rags-to-riches tale, or a serendipitously answered wish.

She stood firm but she spoke in motherly way as she shared her dreams and plans in an attempt to make us feel more secured about our future that rests in her hands. A mother who is willing to sacrifice and do everything for her children is how she appears to be. Who would not be moved by her sweet words of love and care?

In spite of all these, it was difficult for her audience to not see her as a traditional politician who has something less pristine up her sleeves. Her positive reports of a growing economy and an alleviated poverty still form clouds of doubt over countless individuals who could not see any evidence for what she was talking about. The developmental plans she presented are backed up by facts but seem delusional. Hence, it appeared to be a propaganda to critics rather than the actual state of the nation.

With already eight previous attempts of matching the address to the addressed, and a not very impressive track record at successfully doing so, many are led to ask: could she simply be a string-puppet manipulated by the master-puppeteers of the bureaucracy, or could she be the master-puppeteer herself ? It is hard not to treat the past SONAs as a farce, because really, what else is there in place of actual development but jeers or applauses?

Answers to the questions above could be based on the past SONAs she delivered, including this recent one, where we have heard her report of the (under)development of the country through her administration, li(f)e stories of the impoverished Filipino people she dealt with, and her administration’s (distr) action plans for Juan dela Cruz.

And now, the 27th of July 2009 has been a marker in Philippine history where President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stood before the Filipino people and delivered her ninth and supposedly last state of the nation address. Clad in her designer gown she confronted the Filipino people and stirred up the already jittery public sphere. This could be her final legacy to the Filipino people or it could be an introduction to a more heinous scheme. And if plans to Charter change would ensue courageously what we foresee is definitely grim.

As the last state of the nation address of this administration, it may have appeared to us like an old episode in a telenovela where everything seemed predictable, yet we eagerly wait for the conclusion hoping there would be a twist. For certain, people waited in excitement, or in agitation for this ninth SONA. But it seemed like the same old track with different horses.

At the end of the day, in all the nine state of the nation addresses, critics have never ceased to throw out disapproving commentaries. In turn, supporters have been prompt to rebut them, to cut the president some slack despite obvious inconsistencies. But this time, people did not wait for the actual day itself to rally and demonstrate and demand that the truth be told.

Now after the final SONA, people still keep their ears wide-open and eyes as vigilant as ever for the next moments are crucial, just like the climax scenes in the telenovelas which will only be shown after several commercial breaks to keep the audience excited and suspended for a while.

The ninth and last state of the nation address of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, marked another critical moment in Philippine history. Now we ask: where will we go from here? Who will be the next to deliver his or her state of the nation address?

The next episodes are, at this point, in the very hands of each and every Filipino citizen. ▪