The SONA vow: I have promises to keep

President Aquino’s SONA opened up with a Frostian (Robert, the poet) dilemma. There is a road that forks two ways, he began. One goes the right way, the path of the straight and true. The other one leads you astray.

He asked us all, millions of Filipinos who left what they were doing to listen to the new president, to follow the right path. And, he vowed to lead by example.

We were hooked by the intro. Then listened to the full text. For the first time in a decade, we listened to a presidential SONA with anticipation and with hope in our hearts. The messenger has changed. Ten miserable years are over. Even the hard-core skeptics like myself are now beginning to believe that Filipinos, ay pwede na muling mangarap.

We were sent back to earth (from our daydreaming ) by the reactions to the SONA from clueless, or trying-hard-to-impress, lawmakers. Ninety-nine percent was de kahon, sound bites in tired prose. In terms of ridiculousness, nothing can beat Manny Pacquiao’s take, which in gist said this : Forget about the past so we can move forward.

The Filipino Everyman can’t strangle Pacquiao for this insensitivity. He is a hero to the common man. But that reaction made even the most loyal Pacquiao fan squirm. It was the wrong time and place to invoke the embroidery of history.

How can you cover up the past that splurged on the budget to— deliberately—leave nothing to the new president ?

How can you ignore the past that played around with state funds that used to be sacred and sacrosanct, such as calamity funds?

How can you not mention reckless, costly and commission-drive rice importations that skewed and roiled up the global rice market and that drove prices to the $1,000 per metric ton level – a price unheard of since the dawn of the global rice trade?

While retired MWSS employees cannot even get their retirement pay, the agency’s board had spent years of gift and bonus-giving—all to themselves. At a rounded cost of P2.5 million a year.

Even those few seeming pro-people gestures – lower electricity cost, etc – were politically-driven measures borrowed straight from Tricky Dick’s playbook.

Pacquiao’s “forget-the-past” spiel was a grating, off-tangent one as we all tried to remember the just-recent-past so our governing benchmarks would not jump off-track from that day and forward.

After the audit of the free-spending ways of the past ten years is finally over, the massive documents and the ghastly findings would lead us to double up our appreciation of May, 2010. How did they express it then, after Tricky Dick’s exit from power: The long, national nightmare is over.

And Pacquiao does not even want us to look back, revisit and learn lessons from those nightmarish years.

This is not pop psychology. But it is a reality that the near-unanimous appreciation of President Aquino is deeply rooted in the fact that the long, nightmarish decade is finally, really, really, over. It is near-unanimous relief that intersects with the ascension to power of one who is believed to be the exact opposite, the anti-thesis, according to the Marxists, of the immediate past.

The SONA articulated a break with the past—delivered by one who is not, not even in the remotest way—identified with it. In their own unsophisticated way, ordinary Filipinos grasped the full message—and symbolism— of the road that forks two ways and President Aquino’ s choice on which of those two forks he would take.

Of, course, to some, the message failed to register. What now? After the vow to lead us to the path of integrity, to that fork on the road that would fight corruption and render honest, fair and prompt government service, critics said that President Aquino failed to present a roadmap to the a mini promised land.

The sense on the ground is that President Aquino deliberately opted not to promise big and sketch out an overarching vision

This is not even realistic. National funds had been spent up in orgies of spending, leaving the new government with almost no fresh development funds.
To talk big and lofty in a context of basic wants and essential needs (such as integrity and honest leadership) was not required.

In his conclusion, President Aquino, again returned to his original invocation of Frost, stating, in unalloyed prose, his covenant with Filipinos. It was a version of:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep. Miles to go before I sleep.


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