Monday, July 26, 2010

Sana (wishful thinking)

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

At 4 this afternoon, Benigno Simeon Cojuangco Aquino III, the 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines, will deliver his State of the Nation Address to a joint session of Congress.

It is P-Noy’s first Sona. Naturally, there’s been a lot of discussion on what his address should or would be about. There’s a lot of expectations given how this President has come to symbolize change and redemption.

Previous presidents have used the Sona as an opportunity to brag about accomplishments and to present a road map for the future. P-Noy has only been on the job for a couple of weeks so there’s not much in terms of accomplishments yet. Will his first Sona be an unveiling of his vision for the country? That is the question that is in most people’s minds.

By tradition, the State of the Nation Address is a formal affair and is supposed to be a no-frills address like an inaugural speech. But we are a people with boundless creativity and not even the Sona had been spared from artistic interference; and I am not just talking about the fashion mishaps that are bound to get ample media attention today.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo introduced innovative touches meant to provide drama to an otherwise staid affair although some people strongly argued that the so-called innovations were really smoke and mirror tricks meant to draw attention away from the stink of the administration. In short, the innovations were meant to deflect focus from the lack of substance.

And so there were those children from Payatas, the garbage site, and that metaphor about paper boats. And then there were those various people —I remember boxer Manny Pacquiao was one of them—who were invited to the affair and then asked to stand up at various points of the speech as living “visual aids.” And then there were those mnemonic devices (BEAT D ODDS, remember?), and those dreadful Powerpoint presentations. A friend couldn’t help but groan about the very amateurish way in which those powerpoint presentations were crafted —they looked like they were done by someone who had just learned how to use the program.

Sonny Coloma of the Communications Group has been quoted in various newspapers as saying that P-Noy’s first Sona would be a no-frills address.

What has gotten people’s attention, however, was the speculative drivel that’s been going around that P-Noy’s first SONA would once again be a full-scale indictment and condemnation of the previous administration. There has been a lot of loose talk about how the President would do a Mike Enriquez a la Imbestigador and use the address as an occasion to explode yet another round of major anomalies supposedly committed by the previous administration.

P-Noy himself gave concrete indications about the kind of, as well as the volume of stench, he would let loose at the opening of the 15th session of Congress. For many days now, the Palace had been very busy showing righteous indignation over the fact that the previous administration had already spent most of the government’s budget for the year.

Demonizing the previous administration is something that’s been going on for quite sometime now and quite frankly, it’s beginning to take its toll on the people. We’ve had bad news for a long time already, isn’t it about time we get a whiff of some good news? Isn’t this a good time to lift our sagging spirits, inspire us with some visionary leadership, perhaps even ennoble the people into believing that there is hope for this country despite the sorry state that we find ourselves mired in?

We already know that Arroyo poured government resources into her district in Pampanga—every President does that to his or her hometown, not that such a practice should be legitimized. We know that the previous administration exemplified greed, opportunism, graft and corruption, etc. The point is that there’s supposed to be a Truth Commission that’s supposed to uncover all these and be responsible for making sure that those who are guilty are made to pay. The point is that we also want to know what this administrations intends to do to change the system that breeds corruption. The point is that there’s a limit to how much we can beat a person or a group after we have emerged victorious.

Mercifully, the Palace has since then backpedaled furiously and tried to downplay the hate and vitriol angle.

The bright boys have tried to provide a more politically correct context to what the President intends to do this afternoon. It would simply be an exercise in “truth telling,” Coloma was supposed to have said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda clarified that there is no intent to embarrass or shame the previous President—it would just be an enumeration of the problems inherited by the current administration. In other words, P-Noy will not be whining and complaining like a spoiled brat. He will just be Uncle Scrooge, perhaps?

P-Noy and his administration need to realize that at a certain point they have to stop blaming the previous administration for the country’s woes, particularly since this administration seems to have the misfortune of being beset by major problems early on that it really cannot attribute to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo such as the water crisis (fortunately it had started to rain heavily as I write and hopefully the rains are pouring where they should be).

Moreover, P-Noy and his administration need to start becoming messengers of hope. Unfortunately, P-Noy does not come across as a strategic thinker and visionary. He seems more of a realist and a hands-on manager. That’s well and good for the first few months. But at some point, this President needs to learn that the problems besetting this country require bolder, more encompassing solutions that require strategic thinking and collaborative approaches. For these, he would need to transform into a captain of the ship and a steward of change from a fault-finding, penny-pinching union leader.

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