The first State of the Nation Address or SONA of any Philippine president can arguably be considered as one of his or her most important speeches. It sets the tone, direction, and position of the presidential term. It also reveals the roadmap of the government for the next six years, in congruence with the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) and the economic targets to be set by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA).
There is much to anticipate when President Rodrigo Roa Duterte takes the podium on July 25, and it’s more than just the names of the narco-mayors that he intends to reveal. The illegal drugs campaign is just one of the many pressing issues the President will discuss on Monday. Surely, the world may also be tuning in, from China to the United States of America.
But before we get caught up in this SONA fever, one good friend asked me: “What’s the importance of the first SONA anyway? It’s the first.” Exactly, I say. It is the first SONA and that is why it is important. And to further elaborate on that, here are some points as to what the first SONA is and what it is not…
1) The first SONA is not a campaign speech…
But it is an affirmation of the platform set during Duterte’s presidential campaign.
It may pick up essential points from the campaign trail, but we expect it to have some adjustments especially after being a few weeks in office. Duterte’s mandate from the people is to primarily prioritize the safety and security of the country from huge threats like illegal drugs and other crimes. Who knew how big the drug problem was right?
As such, the President has made a unified agreement with all government agencies to put the campaign against illegal drugs as the top priority. We have already seen the effects of the crackdown on drugs. More than 70,000 drug personalities have voluntarily surrendered to authorities.
Aside from that, we expect to hear something about the Freedom of Information Bill and how the President has taken the initiative to issue an Executive Order on it. It has already been enforced in the executive committee as promised. The 3-day documents processing has also started in government offices including the Cabinet. We could say that the cleaning up of government agencies has also begun.
2) The first SONA is not a progress report…
But it will report its targets in the next six years and explain the current situation of our country.
It is expected that RRD will present the current situation of the country in terms of the economy, social services, safety, security, transparency and good governance. As such, he has flagged some corrupt agencies already, namely the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the Land Transportation Office (LTO), and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), all of which have done poorly in past trust and corruption social surveys.
Secretaries of various departments are now on the job to identify the problems. One of the biggest issues is the unspent budget in different departments that was translated into savings. There are issues with procurement and turnover of documents in many agencies.
Also, we may not expect a lot of talk about the economy; but we will surely hear a lot about drugs, the police force, and the West Philippine Sea dispute. It is still unsure if he will dwell much about poverty but he may touch on federalism and the decentralization of Manila as viable interventions.
3) The first SONA is not just about the President…
But it is a consolidation of reports from various government agencies.
We can expect to hear updates and status reports from various government agencies. It will most likely be less about himself, and will focus more on the people.
As proof, Duterte’s team brought in Brilliante Mendoza to create a video presenting the realities faced by typical Filipino citizens. It may be brutally straightforward but Duterte may be cursing less.
It would be good if he could talk about the alleged elevated violence in the country and the possible abuse of the police force. Of course, it would be best if he avoids political heat zones like commenting on Senator de Lima, ex-Presidents Benigno Aquino and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The former has declined to attend but the latter was given the option to attend at the wake of her acquittal.
It would also be good if there is a snapshot of what key government agencies are planning to do aside from cracking down on illegal drugs like: senior high school, housing, the 4Ps of DSWD, rice self-sufficiency, mass transportation, internet, and so much more.
4) The first SONA is not a political show…
But it is a presentation of what the government intends to do.
Well some former presidents have used the SONA for grandstanding but it would be good to hear what Duterte plans to tell to the legislature. What bills will his presidency prioritize? Will it be death penalty? FOI? Federalism? It would be good to see the reactions of legislators and thank goodness, no more fashion shows on the red carpet especially when they’re spending tax money for expensive designer dresses. Some hope that he would back Congressman Tiangco’s proposal to remove special plates and the “No work, no pay” policy.
5) The first SONA will not be about performance…
But it will be about promises and setting the vision.
It’s common that we are all so tired and exhausted of promises of politicians. But the SONA is an exception because this is his opportunity to publicly declare his vision and objectives and we can hold him accountable for it.
Duterte should clearly paint his vision for the nation, much like what Marcos and Ramos exceptionally once did. The President should declare his vision, the single thing that will tie up everything else he had stated in his SONA. And of course, the SONA should always go back to the people. Because at the end of the day, we will all ask again, “What will I benefit from the government?”