First SONAs

July 23, 2022
BBM’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) will be delivered in two days. What are we to expect? Speculating on the subject seems like a waste of time and energy. Why not just wait till Monday? 
Normally, I would agree. But In the light of the current interest in history, and in particular BBM’s constant and admiring reference to his father’s accomplishments, I thought it would not come amiss if we reviewed Ferdinand Edralin Marcos’ (FEM) first SONA (Jan. 24, 1966). Who knows? Maybe BBM will use it as a model. That’s what I would bet, if I were a betting person.
I actually started the exercise by reviewing Du30’s, then PNoy’s, and backwards through GMA’s, Estrada’s, FVR’s, and finally Cory’s SONAs, before getting to FEM’s. If there is space, I will also give you my takes on them.
Just to give some context – FEM succeeded Diosdado Macapagal (GMA’s father) as President. Both of them were members of the Liberal Party, but FEM switched to the Nacionalista Party so he could run for President in 1965. He had wanted to run as early as 1961, but Macapagal supposedly avoided a bitter intraparty struggle by promising that he (Macapagal) would only serve for one term, and Marcos could then run in 1965. Apparently, Macapagal reneged on the promise. Historian Ambeth Ocampo would probably know the details.
When I read FEM’s first SONA, I was struck by his first sentence, because it was oddly prophetic of how his presidency would turn out: 
“Today, I come to Congress as a partner in a great enterprise. Congress is the ‘seat of reason,’ and the Executive is the ‘seat of the will.’ We are indispensable to each other. Reason without the power of will is impotent, and will unaided by reason degenerates into brute force.”
Can you see it, Reader? In 1971, when he imposed martial law, the first thing he did was to abolish Congress. And true enough his administration degenerated into brute force, what with the jailing and/or torture and/or disappearance of his critics as well as the transformation of a democracy into a kleptocracy.
Well, how did he describe the state of the nation that Macapagal left to him? The nation was in a state of crisis, he said. And it was his task to recount the “unhappy details” of such a crisis. What were they? Reading the list gave me a strange feeling of déjà vu:
1) a government with a daily deficit of P2 million (spending P6 million daily with an income of P4 million), with explicit details about its maturing obligations; government financial institutions floundering (DBP, PNB, SSS), also detailed;
2) a “ruinous election campaign which threatened to debauch the national treasury” (alluding to his predecessor, but it is interesting to note that his reelection campaign in 1970 was also accused of doing the same thing).
He continues to recount the “woeful state of our nation:”
3) “the productivity of our fields has barely inched upwards from substandard levels”’;
4) our industries face the challenge of recovery – they have stunted growth, which affects employment;
5) our country “plagued” by serious port costs and inadequate communications.
The list goes on:
6) inadequate water supply and electric power;
7) inadequate irrigation facilities;
8) difficulties in our school system – inadequate infrastructure, poor quality of instruction at all levels, inefficient utilization of output of our colleges and universities;
9) public health problems;
10) rise in criminality;
11) speed in investigations in prosecution and adjudication of cases far from satisfactory;
12) smuggling;
There’s more:
13) threats to security, coupled with inadequate state of preparedness of our military and police;
14) external threats.
Note, Reader, that no mention is made of the local communist insurgency (CPP/NPA/NDF); nor of the Moro conflict.  That is because these two internal conflicts started only during Marcos’ first term.
What is impressive in FEM’s first SONA – yes, Reader, I am impressed — is that  the detailing of the crisis was accompanied by an equally detailed outline of his administration’s plan of action, based on a Four-Year Development Plan which was being finalized at the time of the SONA, including some estimates as to how much it would cost, and how it could be financed.  This does not happen in the other Presidents first SONAs. 
But impressive or not, what is important is whether or not he delivered.  His successor, Cory Aquino, had this to say of the state of the nation she inherited from him:  
“ When I took power in this country 17 months ago, I was immediately called upon to deal with the dangerous combination of a severely distressed economy and a growing insurgency; threats which fed on each other and on the hopelessness and confusion which prevailed. Production had contracted by 11% for two consecutive years, bringing unemployment rates to double-digit levels. Twelve percent of the labor force, nearly 2.6 million workers, were unemployed. (And up to now, 750,000 join the labor force every year.) Real per capita income had been set back 10 years. New investments had dried up and business confidence was at an all-time low. Interest payments on a $26.3 billion external debt took almost half our export earnings. And as I must stress yet again, no part of this debt benefited, or perhaps was even seriously expected to benefit the Filipino people. Yet their posterity to the third generation and farther are expected to pay it.
“Poverty blighted the land. Five million families (or 59% of the total) lived below the poverty line, as compared to 45% in 1971. Dictatorship had done nothing but make more of our people poorer.
“It also made us sicker. The prevalence of malnutrition among our young and the incidence of birth fatalities had risen at alarming rates.
“In short, I inherited an economy in shambles and a polity with no institutions save my presidency to serve as the cornerstone of the new democracy that we set out to build.”
I sincerely pray, BBM, that while you may not be able to talk your father’s talk, you will be able to walk this country faster and definitely much farther than he did.  With God’s help and ours. 
Read More:
Ferdinand E. Marcos, First State of the Nation Address, January 24, 1966 
Corazon C. Aquino, First State of the Nation Address, July 27, 1987 

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