State of Our Nation

by Jego Ragragio as originally posted at Blog Watch, Philippine Online Chronicles

sona 2014

This is the story of everything else that happened before, during, and after the State of the Nation Address, or SONA for brevity. It begins with a major network running an online poll. This poll did not ask what the people expected or wanted to hear during the SONA. This poll did not ask what they thought were successes or failures of this administration in its 4th year. No. This was a poll on whom the people thought would be the “Fashion People’s Choice” of the SONA. Let me repeat that: This network ran a poll, asking its audience who they thought was the best-dressed guest or attendee of the SONA. As if it was of some great importance.

president noynoy aquino on DAP

To be fair to this network, they were not the only ones preoccupied with attire. Statements and press releases flew left and right, with people announcing what and who they were going to wear. Yellow. Orange. Red. Black. Peach. Anything but yellow. Even the flag. As if these meant something substantial, something symbolic, beyond “us versus them.”

On the day itself, the annual tradition of protesters trying to break through police barricades to get to Batasan had begun. You’d think, after decades of performing this two-step, the militants would know by now how this would play out. They assemble at their legally designated rally area, they bring out their P20k effigy, they make their statements, then they burn their P20k effigy (did I mention that effigies cost an estimated P20k to build?), then they march towards the Batasan, and then they clash with the police and get nowhere near Batasan anyway. (To be fair, a small contingent managed to sneak through and staged a lightning rally, and were later joined by Makabayan lawmakers who’d walked out. That rally dispersed peacefully. More on the walkout later.) But in an ironic twist of fate, on the day that protesters brought in their largest numbers yet (their own estimates went as high as 17,000 strong), no actual clashes were recorded. It was said that cooler heads prevailed – or perhaps heads were cooled by water cannons? In any case, it is a noteworthy development that, aside from expensive tinder and questionable rally management tactics, the 2014 edition of Militants vs Police featured the use of boltcutters by the protesters to get past the initial barricades – surely a worthy investment of their supposedly limited, member-contributed funding.

If self-styled oppositionists walk out of a State of the Nation Address in protest, and nobody cares except themselves, is it still a protest? Makabayan lawmakers and special guest Mae “Juana Change” Paner were all decked out and color coordinated – and even posed for pictures on the much-maligned Red Carpet. But when President Aquino was finally introduced, they walked out of Batasan, and joined the lightning rally folks outside. So, I guess they just went to Batasan for the photo-ops?

Speaking of Juana Change, it was reported that Paner was visibly upset when she learned that President Aquino has openly called various critics “against the people.” She claimed that critics such as herself are part and parcel of a democracy. It’s a good thing she qualified her statement with “such as herself,” because President Aquino clearly qualified the kinds of critics he was referring to. Perhaps a case of “batu-bato sa langit.” Besides, what person in his right mind would say “Great job!” to rabid critics?

Others close to Paner claimed that she was upset because the PSG had harrassed her for bringing a fan with the words “DAPat Tuwid” written on it. Last I checked, the PSG are neither hired not paid to be nice, guest or no guest. If she thought that the PSG would not confiscate it and question her about it, then she is either naive or in the wrong line of work. Assuming, of course, that she innocently believed that such a thing would be allowed inside the SONA venue. Considering her prior experience in protest actions and her communications background, such an assertion is an extremely tough sell.

Still, Paner undeservedly took the brunt of the criticism for the trash left behind by protesters in the wake of their yet-again foiled attempt to get to Batasan, among other things. She was called many things she did not deserve, and her friends understandably came to her defense. But when Vice Ganda took the swipe at the protesters, the backlash was for some of those same people who rushed to Paner’s defense make equally offensive remarks about Vice and his looks. To this awkward scenario, I can only offer a shrug off my shoulders.

After the SONA, there was the usual litany of “Lies! All lies!” from the usual suspects, but a surprising number of people gave positive feedback. In fact, the litany of “Lies!” only really picked up the day after the SONA. Perhaps the “widespread disapproval” and “public unrest,” much ballyhooed by the militants, are greatly exaggerated.

Speaking of lies and exaggeration. It is puzzling that while some nevertheless criticized the SONA as full of “lies,” practically no one tried, or has tried, to fact-check its contents. At best, people tried to fact-check the names behind the anecdotes shared during the SONA, and to fact-check some of the statements on Yolanda relief efforts. Beyond that, zero. Nada. Zilch. Zip. No earth-shattering counterpoints backed by data, just impassioned opinions passed off as fact. I find it very peculiar , if not downright bizarre, for people to call someone a liar on the one hand, but to actively avoid providing facts to back the claim on the other. The honest way of saying it would be, “You’re a liar, President Aquino, because I SAID SO, and that is the only fact I need to justify my position!”

I do not expect the “Kontra-SONA” this Monday to be any better.

Now there is talk of coup attempts and destabilization plots allegedly by retired generals and servicemen. Oddly, about a week ago,  no less than AFP Chief Lt. Gen. Catapang expressed full support for President Aquino – and the DAP. And they wonder why some people are pissed off.

The narrative above may appear hodge-podge. It probably is. But that is what I see. A hodge-podge of people trying to stand for what is right, but completely disagreeing on what “right” is. A hodge-podge of critics trying really hard to backseat-govern the country. A hodge-podge of people who think the fashion and color displayed during the SONA is in any way relevant to the event or to nation-building in general. A hodge-podge of people who value personalty over data, personality over fact, person over institution.

As far as I can see, that is the state of our nation.