Inspiring in a different way

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

Like most working drones in this country, I had to make do with watching a delayed telecast of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III’s first State-of-the-Nation Address last Monday. I am not complaining, though. Yes, I think that there is value to be had in declaring a holiday during the Sona and promoting good citizenship by encouraging more people to listen to the President although it also admittedly smacks of a certain degree of conceitedness. On the other hand, it really should be business as usual for the country even during a Sona.

There are distinct advantages of watching a delayed telecast of the Sona such as not having to endure the senseless chatter of the anchors and the pundits and the technical glitches. I watched the late evening cast on television and groaned inwardly because half of the coverage was on fashion, celebrity spotting, and irrelevant commentary.

“What did you think of it?” was the oft-repeated question immediately after the address. I do think that it is a good thing that people are asking this question because it means they care. I always enjoy trawling the blogosphere and listening to the radio shows immediately after a Sona not necessarily for the exact content of the reactions but to gauge the level of involvement or passion. I think divergence of opinions should be expected—to me, it doesn’t matter that people disagree, what is important is that people are talking about the points made by the President. Having said that, what follows are my own two cents about the Sona.

I had certain expectations of the address and I’ve written about some of them in this space last Monday. I expected the President to use the occasion as an opportunity to present a metaphorical road map for the future of this country under his leadership. I expected him to share his vision for the Republic. I expected him to be inspiring; to finally step up to the plate and talk about something grander, more transcendent. I expected him to be more, uhm, presidential.

On account of the advance information that had been leaked out to the press since last week, I also expected the President to use the occasion to lambast the previous administration although I had hoped that he would keep this to a minimum so as not to diminish the import of the occasion. Surely, nobody wants a Sona that resembles a trial. And given what we have seen during the campaign and during his inaugural, I expected P-Noy to be straightforward and to deliver a no-frills speech.

P-Noy spent more than half of his time talking about the sorry state of the nation. His thesis was simple: The profligacy of the previous administration is to blame for our woes. I will not question this assertion mainly because it is something everyone already knows particularly since this seems to be all this current administration wants to talk about.

My main problem with the so-called exposes was that these were on issues that seemed to have particular relevance to the present and therefore seemed extra self-serving. Former President Joseph Estrada, he with the very short memory, quipped that the exposes were on small-time corruption. He should know these things.

The expose on the Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System of MWSS were shocking indeed if one is unfamiliar with the workings of corporate boards. But when framed within the context of the current water crisis, it seemed like a deliberate device to deflect anger and pin the blame somewhere else for the fact that large swathes of households were without water for a whole week last week. The expose about calamity funds also seemed like advance justification for potential difficulties in managing the expected whammies to be wrought by forthcoming natural calamities. We know the effect of forthcoming typhoons would be more devastating because of global warning. The recent typhoon that hit a few weeks ago was relatively weaker in the larger scheme of things but it managed to plunge Metro Manila in total darkness for almost one day. Most streets already got flooded last Sunday through a downpour that was not really that heavy.

But if the point were to build a case for the administration’s campaign to reduce corruption in government, I would have to concede that the Sona was a step in the right direction. Hopefully that part of the Sona sent shivers down the spine of all the government people and all the legislators sitting on that hall last Monday. It may have been about Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, but it would be foolhardy to think that the former President did all those alleged wrongdoings alone without the complicity of a lot of people in government and in Congress.

P-Noy’s first Sona was short on wings and long on roots. But it would not be right to say that it wasn’t inspiring because it was; only in a different way. True, it could have been better if it had a more effective cohering mechanism; but what it lacked in form was made up ten times over by sheer sincerity and pragmatism. This was a Sona for the people, not for the intelligentsia.

I don’t think it is fair to expect P-Noy to be what he is not. This is obviously a man who is not comfortable with metaphors, flowery words, and attempts at profundity. In addition to using Tagalog all the way, the President used street language such as tongpats (kickback). It dawned on me that it would not be right to measure him against a standard yardstick given that he rose to the presidency through a non-traditional route anyway.

In addition to the exposes that sent some people gasping, the only line from the speech that people could remember after was Pwede na muling mangarap (we can dream again). There were the standards slogans from the presidential campaign such as tuwid na daan (straight path) but it was the reminder that we can now begin the process of aspiring for greater things that resonated after the speech. It’s probably not as inspiring and memorable, but it sure works as a good start.

I probably haven’t been watching that much television lately but it was the first time I saw P-Noy sporting that new cropped look which makes him look younger. His stylist seems to be doing a great job on the President. P-Noy, however, really needs to stop smoking because it was obvious that this habit is getting in the way of his public speaking. Overall, not bad for a first Sona.


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