Yet another SONA

CHASING THE WIND - Felipe B. Miranda -
It is that time of year again. The authorities will craft yet another report on the state of the nation. Once more, Filipinos will be assured that while the country might have some problems, everything is under control, things are improving and they can trust the authorities to patriotically look after the national interests.

The official State of the Nation Address (SONA) has not changed in orientation, substance or mode of presentation across the years. Statistically monitored commendable performance and heartwarming optimism – always the best is yet to come! – are the persistent mantra of every SONA. No SONA to date has truthfully acknowledged the problems of an explosively reproductive population, the structural ills of an oft-ailing economy, the continuing fragility of the political system or the increasing breakdown in social order.

From the confident and reassuring SONA delivered last year, or from those equally comforting and stirring SONAs of three, five or ten years ago, no rational or psychological anticipation of the nation’s currently difficult conditions is possible. Nothing in these SONAs provides an explanation for the crushing burden of a now astronomical public debt. The wizards of public finance in this country have not found it necessary to explain in yearly SONAs why every Filipino – born, born-again and yet-to-be-born – has had to and must continue to embrace a life-long burden of increasing indebtedness.

SONAs also do not help in understanding the punishing regime of soaring prices people must cope with if they are to eat anything, seek shelter, take medication, use transport, get basic education or – crudely – even to merely reproduce.

SONAs have provided no enlightenment in their ever-present cry for more taxes. People are given no handle on why they must fork over an ever greater proportion of their paltry earnings to a perennially bankrupt national treasury. Without the benefit of a Ph.D. in economics, they puzzle why indirect taxation continues to victimize their nation SONA after SONA after SONA. Filipinos may not yet have a term to describe their regressive tax condition, but they clearly resent what a respected American economist has dubbed "doohnibor" economics – the practice of many government authorities of acting like Nottingham sheriffs, reversing Robin Hood, and fashioning policies that effectively rob from the poor to redistribute to the rich.

SONAs consistently fail as reliable readers of this nation’s difficult past and its ever-worsening present. Providing no real clues to why and how a nation’s problems arise, endure and worsen, SONAs literally astound as it would have the public believe that national crises – past or present – come mostly like freaky bolts of lightning from the clearest and most pleasant skies. (The exceptions are of course those that might be conveniently unloaded on some previous administration or political personality.) Whoever the currently reporting authorities are, they simply have nothing to do with provoking or worsening a nation’s miserable conditions. And yet, patriots that they are, the same authorities in their SONAs solemnly vow to assiduously work and right the situation. A most serious pledge, this tear-jerker of a promise annually publicly made. A most serious pledge to a nation that continues to suffer its most sincere politicians.

Wordsmiths craft SONAs and heart-tugging fiction regularly inspires their creations. Hyped-up SONAs provide telenovela authorities a chance to act out an oft-proclaimed compassion for their much abused people. National embodiments like Mang Pandoy and three little kids floating their wish-bearing paper boats by the Pasig – the first an old man from the poorest of the poor and the youthful threesome an invocation of innocent hope – are craftily embedded in SONAs by presidential speechwriters and pragmatic presidents work their magical concoctions for whatever they are worth.

It is a cinch that Angelo de los Reyes – the Filipino truck driver threatened with decapitation by his Iraqi captors and released only when the Philippine government terminated its ill-advised military presence in Iraq – will be of much use to national leaders whose SONAs substitute ennobling illusions for embarrassing realities. Such leaders are not much impressed by Rizal’s observation that those who are responsible for bringing a nation to ruin cannot claim glory when they later work to save it from being absolutely ruined.

There are ultimately only two kinds of SONAs, the official one manufactured and ritualistically disseminated by those in authority and the unofficial SONA that, minus the illusory rhetoric, better impresses the people that live and must survive a nation’s tragic realities. The first is an exercise in summitry, crafted and delivered by those who rise to the highest positions of governance basically by sleight of hand and by belching a lot of hot air while governing; the second is the account of people who firmly believe in "ground-truthing" and insist on honestly situating their own state of the nation in objective history.

Summiteers and hot air ballooners may monopolize the right to deliver SONAs for quite a while. However, as a people learn their historical lessons better and increasingly take to collective, organized and decisive political action, the right to define the controlling state of the nation will eventually be gained by those who, feet on the ground, directly experience the punishing lay of their violated land. For this truly enlightened and politically empowered constituency, only a truthful reading of their national condition suffices.

Until that remarkable day, however, Filipinos will have to bear with their present leaders’ SONAs. Traditionally, these have been official delineations that people past their first and not quite into their second childhood find difficult to reconcile with their nation’s undeniable realities.

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