First off, a couple of impressions.
One is that P-Noy has just cemented his position as the best speaker among all the postwar presidents. Including Magsaysay, including Marcos, including Erap. He doesn’t go for bombast, he goes for heart-to-heart. And with it manages to hold the attention of an audience for a long period of time. Last Monday’s Sona was as long as it got—I myself felt it was too long. But I didn’t see anyone, including stalwarts of the opposition, yawning his mouth off. Maybe they were looking for things to criticize, as P-Noy himself suggested they were wired to do. But they were listening. That is no small feat.
His advantage is that he writes his own speeches. I doubt his predecessors ever did. He gets inputs from his staff, but in spite of the egregiously tactless, and quite wrong, claims of some of them that they are to be credited (or blamed) for the crafting of his speeches, he does it himself. The major ones, specifically, like the Sona. Last Monday’s, as indeed his previous two, carried the stamp of his personality and his thinking. That’s what gave them sincerity. That’s what made people, whether they were determined to believe him or not, listen.
Two is the stroke of brilliance of apprising the people of the state of their being in Filipino. I said it last year when the power of Filipino as the language for the Sona became patent. That power has been unleashed even more today. I doubt the audience at the Batasan, never mind the far bigger one watching TV, would have hung on to P-Noy’s words if those were in English. The use of Filipino is a humongous message enough in itself, affirming as it does P-Noy’s pitch that his Sona is a “report kay Boss.” P-Noy’s boss is not the foreign diplomat, he is the driver, laborer and housewife listening to him on TV or radio. You do not report to that boss in English, you report to him in the language he understands.
It was a dazzling sight, the foreign guests looking at the world with furrowed brows while concentrating on the translation in their earphones. Which is as it should be. In the past, it was the audience out there, if not inside the Batasan, that looked at the world with furrowed brows wondering what the hell their president, real or fake, was talking about. If, as in the case of P-Noy’s immediate predecessor, they wondered at all; if, as in the case of P-Noy’s immediate predecessor, they listened at all. But talk of things being lost in the translation: If P-Noy’s predecessors’ Sonas sent any clear message at all, it was that the state of the nation was that Filipinos were second-class citizens in it.
There were many highlights in P-Noy’s speech, but the one I thought pretty much summed things up was the part where he said his critics were always asking: “Can you eat anticorruption?” To which his answer was: “But of course.”
His government’s accomplishments were proof of it. Of course you can quibble with some of the items in his laundry list, which indeed the usual suspects promptly did. Reductions in unemployment are always a tricky thing, which depend on your definition of employment. The sudden spurt of growth seems to have come from the spurt of government spending after it had held on to the money like a miser last year. The question now is whether that can be sustained after that stimulus goes. And the claim that if the weather permits we could be exporting rice next year rests on one very big if in these days of El Niño and La Niña.
But even with these, you have got to be impressed with what government has done in virtually every department, particularly those that directly impact on the poor. In education, government has removed the backlog in classrooms and textbooks and raised the budget for schools and state universities. In agriculture, government has banished the “unlimited rice” mentality (P-Noy’s words) of importing rice in limitless quantities, and brought the country to near-sufficiency in rice production. In health, 85 percent of all Filipinos now enjoy Philhealth, allowing them to care for their sick without having to worry where their money would come from.
True enough, you have a decent government, there are no limits to what you can do. There are no limits to how high you can rise from your prostrate—and hungry—state. Yes, you can eat anticorruption.
But more than that your body can eat anticorruption, your soul can devour it, too. Never underestimate the power of justice. That is what gets a country going, that is what gets a people surging.
In the end, the power of P-Noy’s Sona last Monday lies in that it gives you a sense that, whether by small steps or by leaps and bounds, this country is finally moving forward, or indeed finally moving on, the favorite mantra on the past regime. It gives you the sense that things are changing, that the rotten ways of the past are disappearing, that this is truly a country under new management. It gives you the sense that if a new energy, a new outlook, a new spirit is taking hold of the bureaucracy as well as the citizenry, we can do with a lot more “Noynoying.”
It stands to reason. If corruption is self-perpetuating and sinks the country in its bog, then decency is self-perpetuating, too, and lifts the country on its wings. If corruption breeds a culture, a culture of impunity, of gulangan, of lying, cheating and stealing, then decency is a culture, too, a culture of possibility, of bayanihan, of doing, aspiring, and transcending. Yes, you can eat decency, in the same way that you can eat honesty and integrity and pride in being a Filipino, in more ways than with rice and patis.
What is the state of the nation? P-Noy left the Pinoy in no doubt about it last Monday.
The state of the nation is an altered state.
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