MANILA -- When President Benigno Aquino III delivers his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday, he will be addressing a nation reeling from steep prices of commodities and services, high unemployment rate, increased criminal activity, a struggling agricultural sector, a problematic transportation infrastructure, the slow pace of the rehabilitation of areas destroyed by super typhoon Yolanda, the pork barrel scandal and the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Aquino will be speaking before a plenary hall full of allies, mostly lawmakers who benefitted from DAP, some of whom are also being investigated for the pork barrel scam and who themselves will be poised to hear three impeachment complaints filed against Aquino over the DAP and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed with the United States.
The EDCA has been seen as a way to blunt China’s advances in its maritime disputes with the Philippines over the West Philippine Sea.
Many of those in the hall will also have a moist eye on the 2016 presidential elections that will pick Aquino’s successor.
Outside the halls of Congress, there will be protests against Aquino’s rule, as he hits one of the lowest points of his four-year-old presidency as reflected by the recent drop in his public approval ratings.
His Communication Secretary, Sonny Coloma, said the President may rally the people around him as he tackles the country’s most pressing issues head on in his speech.
“Kung ang pagbabatayan ay ang mga nakaraang SONA ng Pangulo, maaaring tingnan ito bilang isang pagkakataon na kung saan siya ay magpapaliwanag hinggil sa mga mahahalagang programa sa reporma na itinaguyod ng kanyang administrasyon bilang pagtupad sa social contract with the Filipino people. Sisikapin ng Pangulo na maipaliwanag sa mga mamamayan ang iba’t ibang aspeto ng mga mahahalagang programa sa reporma at himukin silang makiisa sa mga ibayong pagpupunyagi para matamo ang mithiin ng bansang Pilipinas," Coloma said.
A requirement of the constitution from any incumbent president, the SONA is the President's opportunity to make a progress report to the nation and announce his plans for the coming year.
The SONA usually opens the regular session of Congress, and precedes the submission of the next year’s national budget.
Next year’s budget is expected by analysts to be an election budget -- coming effectively during the year when alliances and campaigns for the 2016 elections will begin.
In 2008, when Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo delivered her penultimate SONA, she too was embattled.
Hounded for years by the "Hello Garci" scandal, the fertilizer fund scam and the NBN-ZTE deal, Arroyo still touted her achievements and justified the imposition of the value-added tax -- which she credited for keeping the economy afloat.
Asked if the speech will also feature an audio-visual presentation like last year’s SONA, Coloma said this year's SONA will probably be the same.
"Tuwing magtatalumpati ang Pangulo, lalong-lalo na sa malaking audience katulad ng Kongreso at ng gallery sa Batasang Pambansa, at dahil ito ay bino-broadcast nationwide sa buong sambayanang Pilipino, ay sinisikap niya na maging madaling maunawaan ang kanyang pagtatalumpati. Kaya siguro hindi na malalayo ang paraan ng kanyang pagtatalumpati doon sa mga nakaraan nang SONA," he said.
Coloma said the Chief Executive is in high spirits despite the recent controversies rocking his administration.
"Sa pagkaalam ko po siya ay nasa ...in high spirits po, ano. Siya ay naghahanda ng kanyang pagtalumpati sapagkat para sa kanya ito ay mahalagang pakikipag-usap sa kanyang mga boss. Kaya pinaghahandaan po niya nang husto ang kanyang pagtatalumpati para maging kapaki-pakinabang po ito sa mga mamamayang Pilipino," he said.
Coloma added: “ Hindi po natitinag ang determinasyon ng Pangulo. Determinado po ang Pangulo na ipatupad ang kanyang programa de gobyerno at mapaglingkuran sa pinakamainam na paraan ang mga mamamayang Pilipino."
"Siya po ay malugod na humaharap sa kanyang mga responsibilidad at kinikilala niya ang kahalagahan ng pagkilos sa pinaka-epektibong paraan dahil kulang na sa dalawang taon ang nalalabi sa kanyang termino na magtatapos sa ika-30 ng Hunyo 2016."
Coloma said Aquino worked on the speech himself.
"Yung balangkas ng kanyang sasabihin, ‘yung mga detalyeng nais niyang ipaliwanag, siya mismo ang pumipili ng mga ito. Kaya siya rin ang nag-aayos o naghahanay ng mga paksa na nais niyang talakayin," he said.
Coloma revealed that the SONA will have a technical report, which will discuss the details of the speech in the Official Gazette, although he insisted that the speech will be simple.
Meanwhile, Coloma called on protesters to keep their mobilizations peaceful.
"Ang mga mamamayan naman po ay merong karapatang magpahayag ng kanilang saloobin sa ano mang isyung kinakaharap nila at bahagi po ito ng demokratikong proseso. Ang panawagan lang namin ay panatilihing maayos at maging masunurin sila sa batas sa kanilang pamamahayag," he said.
In his last three public speeches, Aquino was in a combative mood towards the Supreme Court, which had struck down the DAP.
He had also rejected the resignation of the DAP’s alleged architect, Budget Secretary Butch Abad, much to the chagrin of many critics and allies.
Proponents of the impeachment will be among the audience of the SONA, and they will be wearing their convictions on their sleeve, literally.
Gabriela party list Rep. Emmy De Jesus and Luz Ilagan bared plans to wear peach Filipinianas, while Kabataan Party List Rep. Terry Ridon’s rendition of the “impeachment outfit” is a traditional guayabera in deep peach, which symbolizes the party-list’s resolve to impeach the President.
Ridon also announced on Sunday that they will be using #NoynoyPH as the protest hashtag for the fifth State of the Nation Address of the embattled chief executive.
The hashtag is similar to those assigned to typhoons during a storm watch.
On the flipside, Aquino’s House Speaker Sonny Belmonte stressed a need to re-focus on economic gains and opportunities for continued development
“The attainment of all-inclusive growth remains a challenge for us all,” he declared, adding that based on the latest forecasts, the nation will continue to expect a buoyant economy in the wake of recent natural calamities.
Belmonte also laid out a possible legislative agenda.
The brief list includes: measures to strengthen and enhance the functions of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas; draft updates on the Tariff and Customs Code to facilitate and curb abuses and corruption in the Bureau of Customs; propose amendments to the Foreign Investment Act to facilitate the lowering of minimum paid-in capital for foreign equity, and removing divestiture requirements for foreign investors; pursue a Competition Policy to complement ongoing market-oriented reforms and institutionalize an effective domestic competition regime at all industry levels.
He,likewise reiterated his commitment to pass the proposed Freedom of Information Act to “foster greater transparency and accountability in the government.”
The House also intends to pass the General Appropriations Bill on time “to facilitate the time roll-out of programs and projects of the government” Belmonte assured.
After this speech, Aquino will deliver his final SONA next year.