Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo’s 2nd SONA

(Short news commentary on the tail of a massive news media coverage of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s much anticipated 2nd State of the Nation Address. I am at GMT+8, it is July 26 here and the day after SONA.)

Manila, Philippines – President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) finally unraveled yesterday, ending a period of speculation about what she would say before both House of the Congress in the midst of calls for her resignation triggered by shocking allegations of her family’s involvement in protecting big time Jueteng (an illegal numbers game) operators and boiling controversy surrounding an alleged taped conversation which purportedly revealed her hand in rigging the 2004 National Elections with the aid of Election Official Garcillano.

Both controversial developments had caused some to declare the presence of a political crisis, with one side advocating a change in leadership and the other side defending the status quo.

Unlike past SONA’s where the Philippine President, as mandated by the 1987 Constitution, would formally transmit to the Houses of Congress a report on the accomplishments of his/her administration along with plans/programs and the following year’s proposed budget, this year much of the speculation centered around whether or not she would even acknowledge the controversies surrounding her administration.

Previous SONA’s (especially those during the term of former President Fidel Ramos) were patently boring and dry affairs. This year’s SONA had the makings of a blockbuster movie, the continuing drama of a middle aged woman’s desperate bid to maintain her hold on power as her enemies mount plot after plot to unseat her.

The reason I said this is because I had observed that as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo made her way to the rostrum at the head of the cavernous hall of Congress, thunderous and triumphant music surged and welled up as simultaneous applause erupted and roared from the gallery as if on cue. She projected a weary kind of solemnity, a sense of threadbare grimness that one gets from the old pictures of Japanese stragglers emerging from the boondocks after decades of hiding.

Her eyes were sunk, her cheekbones a bit drawn, and her voice droned like a one note sonata as she emphasized a need for a change in the system of government while touching briefly on the accomplishments of her administration.
On the ear of my favorite newspaper today, an article says that President Arroyo’s 23 minute speech was interrupted by 5 standing ovations and was applauded 33 times – suggesting it had been a success of a sort.

And I wondered why.

At some time after the opening of her SONA speech and the beginning of a passage where she had mentioned the need to shift to a parliamentary form of government as a means of addressing problems of the present presidential system, I had drifted off somewhere else. I saw her lips move and heard her voice, but could not bring myself to understand anything she was saying. Soon, I had found myself drowning in an elegant river of words and banging against boulders of sharp rage which had somehow gotten dredged up by the turbulence of my worried thoughts about an aimless future.

Right now, I realize something so basic that it escaped me. In any attempt to say something meaningful, one’s words should have the power to evoke any kind of connection between the speaker and the listener’s mental reservoir of experiences. That power to evoke a connection is at times highly dependent on the relevance of what is being said to the audience’s interests and in this way, creates real meaning.

Her talk of changing systems of government and a move for federalism was a brazen play for political support from local government units by way of stroking their inflated self-image as competent leaders and spreading wide open the funky but well lubricated possibility for them to Lord it over in the provinces and cities, after gaining executive and legislative powers.

Her talk of her administration’s major accomplishments is an anemic and tepid discussion of intangibles. I’d call them a house haunted with phantom accomplishments dressed up in the flesh of statistics culled from the ephemeral fields of genetically modified data that had been sown in a seed of convenient assumptions and nurtured with a broth of formulas that enhanced and ensured it bore the fruit of politically favorable results – never mind if it was inedible or potentially lethal.

In plain and simple words, all I heard was pure gerbil gibberish, worthy only of being stuck up somebody’s ass and being expelled with catastrophic force, enough to knock the Earth out of orbit.

Her speech makes up for a fine show for the nearly 20 million adult Filipinos (about ¼ of the Filipino population) do not have jobs and are wondering, how on the hell they are going to put food on the table tomorrow.

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