The yearly ritual known as the State of the Nation Address does serve a purpose, whatever the jobless, homeless and hungry millions who think otherwise may say. It does seem to be no more than a setting on which the political class can show off this year’s P50,000 terno or P20,000 barong, the way the red carpet in Hollywood’s Academy Awards serves as backdrop for the stars to shine in each year. But it also puts the current Malacanang occupant on a podium from which to announce his or her plans for the country of our sorrows in the coming year–and for those plans to be weighed on the scales of public approval.

But the current Malacanang occupant is so immensely unpopular whatever she says is likely to be dismissed outright as either so much self-serving hype, or of no consequence to anyone except herself and that band of marauders, known as traditional politicians, that has been ruining the country for decades.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo does grant, and did acknowledge, her unpopularity last Monday. She declared that she would rather be right than popular, thus conceding the validity of the surveys, which over the last four years have recorded her persistently negative approval ratings. No question about her unpopularity then. The more relevant question is whether she has ever been right.

No matter. The local officials whose names she had memorized and which she diligently mentioned, her allies in the House of Representatives and the Senate, the police and military generals on whom she has showered position, perks and favors, and her kith and kin approved of her address, at least publicly, and saw virtue where there was vice. But it’s a safe bet that most Filipinos couldn’t have cared less what she said, having decided weeks before the SONA that she would lie about the real state of the nation.

If they didn’t care about the SONA, they should have. The Arroyo address this year was interesting not only for the hype and breathtaking gall with which she predicted the country’s entry into first world status in 20 years, but also for what it hinted about her plans after 2010. Those plans inevitably and unfortunately involve the country she’s already damaged, some say irreparably.

Mrs. Arroyo didn’t exactly lie when she talked about the economic surge, but she did try to avoid the truth by failing to mention that whatever economic progress has been achieved has not reached the legions of this country’s poor. In one scary instance–when she declared that she would step down, but mentioned no year, and in the same breath warned that not only was she a strong president, she was no lame duck either–Mrs. came so much closer to telling us poor folk what to expect in the next three years and beyond, and that’s more of the same.

Not that too many people believe Mrs. Arroyo. After all, she pledged in 2002 that she would not run in 2004, only to rescind that pledge in 2003 by citing a clamor for her to run that, given her admitted unpopularity, must have come solely from her trapo allies.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Arroyo does have candid moments, among them that one in Subic when, punctuated by that awful laugh of hers, she said in a speech that she just might run for Congress in 2010. That remark provided part of the context in which to interpret her I –still- have- the- power SONA remark

Intended as a joke, her Subic remark was nevertheless fraught with possibilities, all of them dire, the direst being the prospect of Mrs. Arroyo’s continuing to inflict herself on this poor nation beyond 2010 as either prime minister or president under a parliamentary system.

Those who say that the regime attempts to rewrite the Constitution are dead in the water underestimate the powers of trapodom–powers rooted in the free flow of the money, position, perks and intimidation Mrs. Arroyo and her allies have adroitly used to keep themselves in Malacanang and Congress since 2001.

It was those powers that gave Mrs. Arroyo continuing control over the House, where the arch- trapo Jose de Venecia managed to win an unprecedented fifth term. The same powers of trapodom–coursed through the predictably disingenuous Commission on Elections–enabled the regime not only to capture the 12th slot in the last Senate elections. Thanks to the same bankruptcy of purpose and principle, and the moral and intellectual vacuity that characterize the political class whether “opposition” or “administration,” the same powers also enabled the regime and its allies to capture the Senate Presidency in a reversal of the electoral mandate that had put the “opposition” in that chamber’s majority.

The terms “opposition” and “administration” have never meant anything in the politics of this country, and both Mrs. Arroyo’s July 24th speech as well as the occasion itself demonstrated that fact more than anything else. Instead of an opposition, and despite what the public may think, what’s ended up in Malacanang and both chambers is a conspiracy of convenience–they’re all in it together–among the politicos against the very citizenry that only a few months ago had gone to the polls supposedly to express its will.

Democracy is supposed to be about the popular will. But that’s the last thing to figure in the calculations of the people who, whatever the citizenry may say, will continue to inflict themselves on this vale of tears for as long as they want to. The year 2010 may mark the end of Mrs. Arroyo’s alleged term as alleged president. But no one should nourish the hope that that will be the last we’ll ever see of her and hers.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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