Monday, July 27, 2009

The Last State of the Nation Address..or is it?

Once again, the President faces the Senate and the House of Representatives to deliver her State of the Nation Address which is basically a message to the Filipino people. It is a ritual prescribed by the Constitution, an event anticipated by some and ignored by others.

This is the ninth SONA of President Arroyo that I will attend since I was given by the people of Muntinlupa the privilege to represent them in Congress. I have never missed a SONA during my three terms in the House of Representatives primarily because it is held during the opening of Congress’ Regular Sessions, not because I am eager to show my presence to the President to earn brownie points.

I also see it as my Constitutional duty to be officially present to listen to the President’s report which has bearing on the work I do as a legislator. With all due respect to other legislators who choose to boycott the Joint Session of Congress as a form of expressing their opposition to the President, I think there is no harm in being present during the SONA since in the first place, it is held in our turf and hearing her speech will not change my stand on issues and my assessment of her performance.

We all have our own idea about what we expect to hear from the President, although most will say that they expect her to gloss over what she believes are her administration’s accomplishments. I am pretty sure that the agencies of government have churned out all the statistics, data and information to present an overwhelming list of accomplishments.

What do we expect to hear from the President in this, her last SONA?

I am pretty sure we will be treated to a multi-media presentation of the President’s accomplishments—the thousands of kilometers of roads constructed, the hundreds of classrooms erected, the millions of scholars sent to school and jobs created, the huge amounts of investments that came into the country, etc., etc.

It would be foolish for us to expect that she will admit her failures, the shortcomings and abuses. Of course, we will hear none of those during the SONA. But whatever she reports to the nation, I believe the people have the ability to tell what is fact and what is bull***t and make an honest assessment if their lives have indeed improved over the past years.

Expecting what she will say is different from wanting her to say something.

AS for me, what I want her to say is that she will end her term on July 30, 2010 and that she will participate in that sacred ritual of democracy—the peaceful transfer of power from her administration to the next.

Amidst all the rumors and buzzing in the coffeeshops and political circles that she intends to hang on, I think the best response from her is to reiterate that she will leave the presidency as scheduled in her term and as prescribed by the Constitution. She should say so, and say it categorically.

I cannot help but cite the last State of the Nation Address of former President Cory Aquino, where she said, “On June 30, 1992, the traditional ceremony of political succession will unfold at the Luneta. The last time it was done that way was in 1965. I shall be there with you to proudly witness the event. This is the glory of democracy that it’s solemn moment is the peaceful transfer of power.”

Those words conveyed in no uncertain terms President Aquino’s intention to leave the Presidency at the end of her term and leave a legacy that was the dream that of her husband and she fulfilled---the restoration of democracy.

But the last sentence of President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address in 1991 is one that I think will diminish of not eliminate the tarnish in President Arroyo’s administration if she borrows it verbatim: 

“Maraming Salamat sa inyong lahat at PAALAM.”

President Aquino was brave enough to say goodbye, in a manner that evoked so much depth and meaning, one year before her term expired. She was brave enough to face what others say is a self-inflicted relegation to a lame duck presidency.

But it was not only a display of bravery, it was also a manifestation of humility which recognized that someone else is also fit to run the country and the willingness to step down is actually a step up towards maturity in the country’s leadership.

I do not agree with the proposition that for the president to acknowledge or reiterate the termination of her term in one year as a ticket to becoming a lame duck president. In the first place, the people already knew the day the president assumed office that her term will end in six years.

Avoiding a categorical statement on what is an inevitable event will not diminish the president’s powers. Even if she declares that she is stepping down at the end of her term, she still retains all the powers that she assumed at the beginning of her term.

The issue of a lame duck presidency only becomes relevant if seen from the eyes of one who has a political agenda beyond the end of the term. The dispensation of political favors and the exaction of political subservience is the only basis for the apprehension about a lame duck presidency.

More than the litany of self-congratulations, I would like to hear the plans in the remaining months of this administration for the preparation of the transition to the next administration.

I wish to hear how the administration will ensure that the elections will push through with minimal disruption and maximum integrity and credibility. I wish to hear how the administration will begin and pursue the process of wrapping up and helping the next administration hit the ground running. I wish for these things, but some say it’s just wishful thinking.

Perhaps it is. But perhaps this wish will come true. Soon, we will know.

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