With the conclusion of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s hopefully final State of the Nation Address (SONA), there will be an inevitable flood of analyses, dissecting the President’s speech for various talking points. What I’d like to do here is to add my initial thoughts before reading any other analyses, before I get influenced by others’ thoughts.
As expected, the President started by enumerating the various accomplishments of the past year, focusing particularly on gains made in the economy and education. To put a personal touch, she made sure to include various individuals who had benefited from the various government programs.
In the second half of the speech, the President turned combative, and hit back at her critics without mentioning them by name, although one aware of issues would know that she referred to, among others, Senator Mar Roxas (“using bad language in public”), former House Speaker Jose de Venecia (pushing Charter Change when they could benefit, and opposing it when they couldn’t), the Makati Business Club (“corporate privilege”), and former President Joseph Estrada (“those who should be in jail”).
Of course, she brushed aside any accusations of impropriety, stating that she and her family had not benefitted from her being in power, and adding that there wasn’t any proof presented by her accusers. Of course, she forgets about ‘Garci’ and the ZTE Broadband deal, but, of course, she managed to shut one of the principal witnesses up.
What she didn’t address in her SONA was the message that critics, and possibly the Filipino people, were waiting for: that she would step down from power next year. She even made a not-so-subtle jab when she stated that she would step down from the podium, but not from the Presidency, qualifying that her term didn’t end until next year. However, it’s a statement that will probably be revisited over and over again by her critics.
While she also stated that she had not expressed any desire to stay in power beyond 2010, as Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago cheekily pointed out, it doesn’t stop her from expressing it in the future. In other words, it looks like she’s keeping her options open.
What she also ignored is the horrendous human rights record of her government, from the Davao Death Squad, to the extrajudicial killings of journalists and activists. No less than a representative from the United Nations had expressed the complicity of the government and the military in the killings, but, of course, this has been long brushed aside by a government that chooses to act with impunity.
The combativeness expressed in her SONA could be interpreted in a number of ways. It’s possible that, being a lame duck President, she’s going out with guns blazing, mindless of how she will be judged, to give the impression that she is in firm control of her sycophants and followers. However, it’s also possible that her show of bravado is a clear message that she has no intention of leaving power. That is the troubling thought, and, most likely could be a focal point for protests against her.
At any rate, it’s going to be an interesting year, as President Arroyo enters what is hoped to be her final year. The Filipino people will be watching her every move, her every statement to be able to glean what her future intentions are. And God help us if she does decide to express in the future that she desires to stay in power beyond 2010.