In her first State of the Nation Address, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo put a spotlight on three boys from the slums of Payatas who turned their handwritten letters into paper boats (bangkang papel) containing their wishes for better education, decent jobs for their parents, and a livable home for their families.
It’s how Arroyo described her vision for the Philippines after taking over from Joseph Estrada in 2001, one that she said would prioritize the concerns of the Filipinos with the end goal of eradicating poverty.
SONA OF PAST PRESIDENTS:
Seventeen years later, former President Rodrigo Duterte also took on poverty during his third SONA, using the lens of illegal drugs and criminality, uttering one of his most famous quotes that puts premium on human lives rather than human rights.
Delivered every fourth Monday of July before a joint session of Congress, the SONA outlines the Philippine president's plans and programs for his next 12 months in office. The statements they make and the orders they give will form part of the government’s priorities to address the most pressing issues of the country, according to a political analyst.
“The SONA will have to provide specifics, like how does the administration assess the current situation of the country,” University of the Philippines political science professor Ma. Ela Atienza told reportr in an earlier interview.
As President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. takes his turn to deliver his first SONA on July 25, Reportr looks back at some of the most memorable quotes by past chief executives in their SONAs that, in one way or another, shaped the country’s political landscape and history.
Ferdinand Marcos Sr.: Report to the Nation After One Year of Martial Law, Sept. 21, 1973
“We worked hard to be where we are today. Each one of us has a personal testimony. But there is a common experience we share as a people and as a nation that survives to record the real change in our country. This experience is our collective effort in laying the foundations of a new society.”
In his message to the Filipino people exactly one year after he signed Proclamation No. 1081, Marcos Sr. presented the achievements of the declaration of martial law during its first year, citing improved economy, industrial development, and the defeat of communist rebels.
He also spoke about the advantages of the then newly ratified 1973 Constitution, which devolved executive powers to the prime minister with the president serving as head of state. From 1978 to 1981, Marcos himself became the president and prime minister at the same time.
Corazon Aquino: First SONA, July 27, 1987
“This day completes the circle of our democratic achievements. Now Philippine democracy rests solidly upon the three pillars of freedom: the President, the Supreme Court, and Congress…. Join me now in expressing our congratulations and deepest gratitude to those who have this day by God’s grace given to the nation the fully ripened fruit of freedom: ang ating mga kababayan, ang mamamayang Pilipino.”
Delivered a year after the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship, Aquino’s first SONA focused on the restoration of Philippine democracy and recognized the power that emanates from the Filipino people themselves, and not from a single authority.
Corazon Aquino: Fourth SONA, July 23, 1990
“Earthquakes can destroy the strongest man-made structures; but they can never shatter the faith of the Filipino.”
Aquino dedicated her fourth SONA to the victims of the 1990 Luzon earthquake, which took place just seven days before her speech. Over 1,000 people died in the tragedy which destroyed primarily the cities of Baguio and Cabanatuan.
Fidel V. Ramos: First SONA, July 27, 1992
“We stand on the threshold of destiny. The end of my term will coincide with the centennial of our declaration of independence…. One hundred years of sacrifice and struggle. The ghosts of a generation of founding heroes shall step from their monuments to demand an accounting of the legacy they left behind.”
In his first SONA, Ramos jumped forward to his last year in office and pondered how the nation’s heroes would assess the country's situation a century after they fought for freedom from Spanish rule. Ramos is the last president before the Philippine centennial.
Joseph Estrada: First SONA, July 27, 1998
“Statistics claim that the number of poor people has gone down in the past decade. I wonder if the people believe these statistics. Wala sa akin ang mga statistics na iyan. Poor is poor—walang pera, walang pagkain, walang bubong, walang dignidad, at lalung-lalo na, walang pag-asa.”
Estrada’s maiden SONA was the first to be mostly in Filipino. In his speech, he focused on his campaign promise of ending poverty, as manifested in his popular tagline: “Erap Para sa Mahirap”. He also stressed the need to fight corruption to help jumpstart the economy.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo: First SONA, July 23, 2001
“Napakalinaw, napakasimple ang hiling ng mga anak ng Payatas: Trabaho. Edukasyon. Sariling tahanan. Idagdag na rin: pagkain sa bawat mesa. Ito ang mithiin ng masa. And this, in common sense and plain talk, is the core of my vision.”
Arroyo illustrated her administration’s vision by presenting three poor boys from Payatas who were dubbed as the faces of poverty in the country.
Jayson, Jomar, and Erwin wrote their wishes in a letter that they folded into a paper boat and set afloat through Pasig River going to Malacañang. The three children received educational and financial assistance from the government.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo: Fourth SONA, July 26, 2004
“Why was Angelo Dela Cruz saved? Because I stuck to my oath. Since I first became President in 2001, my declared foreign policy focus has been to protect the vital interests of the nation, including our 8 million overseas Filipinos. And I cannot apologize for being a protector of my people.”
Arroyo opened her fourth SONA declaring Angelo Dela Cruz, an OFW who was kidnapped in Iraq, had been freed and returned to the Philippines. His kidnapping forced Arroyo to withdraw Filipino soldiers from a U.S.-led multinational coalition participating in the Iraq War, drawing international criticism.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo: Ninth SONA, July 27, 2009
“To those who want to be President, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it. Do it hard, do it well. Don’t pussyfoot. Don’t pander. And don’t say bad words in public.”
These words from Arroyo drew laughter and applause at the Batasang Pambansa as it appeared to be a jab at former Sen. Mar Roxas, who was reportedly running for president at that time, for cursing at an anti-Charter change rally in Makati the year before.
Benigno Aquino III: Second SONA, July 25, 2011
“Malinaw ang pahiwatig natin ngayon sa buong mundo: Ang sa Pilipinas ay sa Pilipinas; kapag tumapak ka sa Recto Bank, para ka na ring tumapak sa Recto Avenue.”
As early as 2011, Aquino III showed the government’s seriousness in asserting sovereignty over disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea. His administration led the filing of an arbitration case against China, which the Philippines won at the end of his term in 2016.
Rodrigo Duterte: First SONA, July 25, 2016
“Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly, that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in Court. And if the evidence warrants, they will have their day of reckoning too.”
Duterte warned criminals to stop their activities or they will have their “day of reckoning”. His administration drew local and international condemnation for his bloody war on drugs that killed over 7,000 individuals, according to Amnesty International.
Rodrigo Duterte: Third SONA, July 23, 2018
“The war against illegal drugs is far from over…. If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of [your] demonstrations, your protests, which I find, by the way, misdirected, then you got it all wrong. Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives.”
Duterte hit human rights groups for criticizing his campaign against illegal drugs. Former Sen. Leila De Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte’s drug war, has been detained over allegedly trumped-up charges while at least 40 other human rights defenders have been killed after being tagged as terrorists.