In previous administrations, Filipinos wondered about what this or that lawmaker, or lawmaker’s wife, would wear at the State of the Nation Address. This was just about the most non-substantive thing that people could get excited about.
The rest of the attention was focused on being able to sit still through the speech, keeping track of what the president would say and whether the recitation of things done and yet to be done fit well with the vision that that president had laid out for the country.
But now, welcome to a Rodrigo Duterte presidency.
The focus will be the president, as it should be, and the speech, as it has always been. The main difference however is that Filipinos do not really know what to expect. It will be the manner, not the content, of the Sona that is sure to make headlines. After all, did not Mr. Duterte’s underlings said he would be “speaking from the heart”?
The Palace engaged a popular movie director for the production, for the benefit of those who will watch the Sona on TV. We wonder what difference would such direction make; has text of the speech been made available to the stage managers so they would know what to do on certain points?
Then again, even if there were an advanced copy of the speech, it’s likely the President would not even read it to begin with. In past addresses, Mr. Duterte made a show of looking at the prepared text and then, after a paragraph or two, launching into his own words. And didn’t the Palace say just recently it was in need of better speechwriters?
It would not be so bad if the President were the type that went from Point A to Point B, but as we know all too well, he is made of different stuff. Given that, there is no discounting the possibility that he would pick out one or two from the well-dressed people in the audience and, well, talk about them in an unflattering way, whether they deserved it or not.
What the people at least want to hear is how jobs can be created, how they will feel empowered despite the dwindling value of the pesos in their pockets, how they can feel safe in this environment of crime and impunity. We want to hear why there is an inordinate rush to change the system of government and how this would result in a better quality of life for Filipinos across the country, not just for the more prosperous areas. Most of all, we want to be assured that those who will decide on this great change will not be the ones to benefit from it.
We really do not know what to expect from the President’s speech, but while we can anticipate the worst, we cross our fingers and hope it would at least be a performance where we don’t get the urge to flip the channel. Now that’s us, speaking from the heart.