My July 26, 2015 column.
President Benigno S. Aquino III will deliver his last State of the Nation Address tomorrow. Once again, the political, the personal, and showbusiness will collide in a grand spectacle that will be enlightening, exasperating, but definitely entertaining. 
We expect the President to drumbeat the achievements of his Presidency, and it is not farfetched to imagine that it will be a long, long list. He will take credit for a lot of things, including those that were started long before he became President (such as the conditional cash transfer program which is being touted as the reason behind the reduction in the number of those who are hungry) and those that would have turned out well regardless of who was sitting in Malacañan Palace. He will be silent on a lot of promises that didn’t get done, and will gloss over the many failures of his administration. The SONA is the President’s version of reality. He is not expected to commit self-flagellation. Thus, everything that is reported in the SONA must really be taken with the proverbial grain of salt.
We expect the Liberal Party to transform the occasion into the equivalent of a miting de avance, a veritable show of force. Given how Senator Grace Poe has spurned the party’s ardent pursuit for her to form an alliance with them and ultimately help catapult Mar Roxas into the presidency, the Liberal Party needs to rally the troops and show the whole world that not only are they the party in power, they are the party to beat in 2016. And the SONA is probably one of the very rare occasions when a political party can legitimately piggyback on an event of national significance.
Because we live in a country where devotion to political personalities—and political families —is actually common, we also expect the yellow brigade to come full force, hang on to every word the President says, break into applause at the slightest provocation, and at the end of it all, rave about the whole performance. There will be people who will count the number of times the speech is interrupted by applause, whether spontaneous or instigated by the peanut gallery.
Of course there will also be a circus outside the House of Representatives. The usual suspects will chant slogans, burn effigies, and deliver what they would claim to be a more factual state-of-the-nation address. They might even be joined by some legislators looking for an opportunity to make a political statement that might just merit mention in the various reportage about the event.
But tomorrow’s event will primarily be remembered not for what the President or anyone else said, but for what people wore to the event.
The annual SONA has become the country’s most spectacular fashion show. It is concrete proof of the merger between politics and showbusiness. But even more telling, it is irrefutable evidence that the people in this country who can afford to splurge on the most expensive clothes are mostly politicians. Getting elected into office must really be lucrative. Most of the legislators will have not just one outfit prepared for tomorrow, they will also be dressing up their whole family, all of whom will be there struggling to stay awake and look interested.
The questions that beg to be answered, though, are: Why are all these people dressed like they are going to the opera or to a ball? Why are the women dressed in elaborate ternos, some with trains that take up a lot of space and make walking difficult? Worse, what drives these people to wear clothing that must be so uncomfortable? The presidential sister who must not be named in this column remarked in public television recently that she was in a very bad mood because the gown she is supposed to wear tomorrow is so stiff and difficult to wear. Given all these aggravations, why do people bother with the frivolity?
I understand that it’s a formal affair and that people dress up as a sign of respect for the President (or at least the chair he is sitting on), but why can they not just dress up in business attires? The various fashion statements are actually distracting and reduce the significance of the event, so that red carpet during the SONA really has to go. It’s time to go back to the basics and reclaim the simple elegance of previous SONAs when the whole focus of the occasion was the President’s report, not the various sideshows and circuses that compete for attention. But then again, maybe that is the reason why these distractions are there to begin with—there’s not much we can expect from the President’s SONA anyway.


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