THE ritual repeats itself yet again today for the President and the press.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for the eighth time in her presidency’s life, will deliver her state of the nation address before senators and members of the House of Representatives sitting in joint session at the Batasang Pambansa. Relatives, friends and guests of the lawmakers, and a motley mix of supporters and critics, will secure courtesy seats at the gallery.

By the hundreds, rival camps will mount contrary rallies outside. A multitude of reporters, photographers and television crew will set up stations inside and outside the session hall to document the event.

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It is a typical SONA day, and we are likely to report in typical fashion — count how many times the crowd burst in applause and giggle, time the speech, describe the gowns, estimate the size of the rallies, track the security incidents, list and put a price tag on the projects the President will rattle off in a series, and solicit comments on the speech from a sampling of political leaders and militants.

If she should stage a sideshow (i.e. bring to the gallery three boys who sailed paper boats of their dreams, or summon to stand in attention the generals who had helped rescue government from putschists), we would file a sidebar for additional color and spunk.

In truth, it is difficult to report on the President’s SONA with more vigor from year to year. Covering the SONA has turned into a boring chore to many reporters. In large measure, it has become just another ritual for the President to boast of the great things she has done, and the greater things she promises to do, for the nation.

That the President does so starting 4 p.m. in rather kilometric prose — SONAs stretch on for an hour or longer — our patience runs thin and our anxiety shoots up as our deadline nears.

In prior years, we’ve built our coverage of Arroyo’s SONA on the usual angles.

Her SONA themes:

  • In 2001, she outlined “the core of my vision,” including providing “trabaho, edukasyon, sariling tahanan… pagkain sa bawat mesa.”
  • In 2002, she talked about her dream of “A Strong Republic (that) takes care of people and takes care of their future.”
  • In 2003, she summoned citizens to support “the war against terrorism…corruption…ill-health…drugs…and destabilization.”
  • In 2004, she pledged to take “a new direction: people first.”
  • In 2005, she devoted more than half of her speech making a pitch for Charter Change, aspired to balance the budget and launch “other initiatives to the lasting benefit of our people.”
  • In 2006, she launched her blueprint to “enhance the competitive advantage of the natural Super Regions” that entail rolling out 87 major infrastructure projects — roads, bridges, ports and airports, irrigation facilities and farm-to-market roads.
  • In 2007, she promised to “invest…invest…invest” in the Super Regions, agriculture, education and agrarian reform.

How long she spoke:

  • In 2007, Arroyo’s 55-minute SONA was interrupted by applause 92 times (according to the Office of the Press Secretary) or at the incredulous rate of one every 35 seconds.
  • In 2006, according to a GMANews.TV research, Arroyo’s SONA was all of 4,269 words; in 2005, 1555 words; in 2004, 2,697 words; in 2003, 3,339 words; and in 2002, 4,455 words.

Her sideshows:

  • In 2001 Arroyo brought to the Batasan gallery Jomar, Jason, Erwin, young boys from the urban poor community of Payatas in Quezon City, and promised to fulfill their dreams of education, food, housing and jobs.
  • In 2004, Arroyo presented Angelo dela Cruz, an overseas Filipino worker who was rescued from his Taliban captors in Iraq.
  • In 2006, she was accompanied by Ginoong Ama Balunggay and his grandson Jacob from Tabuk, Kalinga, in the Cordillera Administrative Region. She said Balunggay had received a land title from government, and this he had decided to turn over to his grandson. She also invited news celebrities at the time: two of three mountaineers who made it to the summit of Mt. Everest, 2006 Tourism Queen International Justine Gabionza, boxing icon Manny Paquiao, and the Filipino athletes who won medals in the Southeast Asian Games.
  • In 2007, she called out the names of 56 politicians (senators, congressmen, local officials) to thank them for the bills they passed or the projects they supported.

Her gowns:

In 2004, Arroyo wore a green terno at a pre-SONA address to businessmen, and a pale yellow terno at the Batasan. In 2005, she donned blue-violet terno, and in 2006 and 2007, a red terno.

This afternoon, Press Secretary Jesus Dureza gave the press an elaborate briefing on the gown that he said would “capture the theme of her SONA…the Filipino’s self-reliance, care for the environment, concern for the poor and vulnerable as well as the country’s stability as a nation (set) to become a First-World country.”

How and whether a gown could do that much is something Dureza does not find incongruous at all. In this SONA, Arroyo supposedly “wishes to project the significance of the world-class capacity and quality of Filipino products made through government support.”

Hence, Dureza said her she will wear to the SONA today “a pale pink gown, with fixed panuelo or shawl collar…a contemporary Maria Clara outfit” designed by fashion designer JC Buendia.

If we are to believe Dureza, this gown could well be Arroyo’s best SONA ever. In its fiber is woven the supposed story of so many good traits and wishes of the Filipino people — self-reliance, concern for the poor and the environment, and a stable country on its way to joining the ranks of the First World.

Six yards of this magical fiber — that sells for P600 per yard, according to Dureza — have been used for the gown Arroyo will wear to her penultimate SONA.

The fiber was reportedly processed by the Philippine Textile Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology using blended silk from Misamis Oriental and pineapple fiber from Aklan, and designed by Manila’s crafstmen. For natural color, the fiber was dyed using the bark of the indigenous plant Sabang.

1 Response to Covering the SONA ritual


SONA 2008 - the contents

July 29th, 2008 at 4:57 am

[…] Covering the SONA ritual It is a typical SONA day, and we are likely to report in typical fashion — count how many times […]

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