Historical Background of the State of the Nation Address

By Manolo L. Quezon III, Office of the Presidential Spokesperson

Posted at Jul 26 2010 11:51 AM | Updated as of Jul 26 2010 07:51 PM

The delivery by the President of the Philippines of the State of the Nation Address (abbreviated as SONA) is a yearly tradition wherein the President reports on the status of the nation. In it, he may also propose to Congress, before which the address is delivered, certain proposals for legislation that he believes is necessary. Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution mandates that "[t]he President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session."

The SONA as an annual practice began during the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The 1935 Constitution, as amended, states in Article VII, Section 5 that "[t]he President shall from time to time give to the Congress information on the state of the Nation, and recommend to its consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient."

The opening of the sessions of the National Assembly was fixed, pursuant to Commonwealth Act No. 17, at June 16 of every year. The first SONA was delivered by President Manuel L. Quezon at the Legislative Building on June 16, 1936.

Commonwealth Act No. 49, on the other hand, amended CA No. 17 and designated the sixteenth of October as the date of the opening of the regular sessions of the National Assembly. Since this fell on a Saturday in 1937, the second SONA was delivered by President Quezon on October 18, 1937.

With the approval of Commonwealth Act No. 244 on December 10, 1937, the date of the opening of the regular sessions of the National Assembly was again moved to the fourth Monday of every year, starting in 1938. President Quezon delivered his last State of the Nation Address on January 31, 1941, as he would already be in exile the following year due to the Japanese occupation of the country.

President Jose P. Laurel of the Second Philippine Republic was able to deliver his first and only message before the special session of the National Assembly, led by Speaker Benigno Aquino, Sr., on October 18, 1943, four days after the Republic was established. This also took place in the Legislative Building, Manila.

With the defeat of the Japanese and the re-establishment of the Commonwealth Government in the Philippines, the Congress of the Philippines, now a bicameral body, convened for the first time since their election in 1941 on June 9, 1945. During this special session, President Sergio Osmeña addressed the lawmakers at their provisional quarters at Lepanto Street in Manila, and gave a comprehensive report on the work carried out by the Commonwealth Government during its three-year stay in Washington, D.C. Furthermore, he described the conditions prevailing in the Philippines during the period of enemy occupation and an acknowledgment of the invaluable assistance rendered by the guerillas to the American forces in the liberation of the Philippines.

The last State of the Nation Address under the Commonwealth of the Philippines was delivered by President Manuel Roxas on June 3, 1946. After the establishment of the independent Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, the State of the Nation Address was delivered on the fourth Monday of January, pursuant to Commonwealth Act No. 244, starting with President Roxas' address to the First Congress on January 27, 1947.

This tradition was continued until 1972, and starting in 1949 was held at the reconstructed Legislative Building. Only once did a president not appear personally before Congress: on January 23, 1950, President Elpidio Quirino, who was recuperating at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, delivered his state-of-the-nation address to the joint session of Congress, beamed through RCS in the United States and picked up by the local radio network at 10 o'clock in the morning just in time for the opening of the regular congressional session.

From 1973 to 1977, the State of the Nation Address was delivered on the official anniversary of the imposition of martial law on September 21 of each year (official, because martial law was actually imposed on September 23, 1972), and since Congress was abolished with the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution, these addresses were delivered before an assembly either in Malacañan Palace or at the Luneta, except in 1974 when it was delivered on September 19, and in 1976 when the address was given during the opening of the Batasang Bayan at the Philippine International Convention Center.

President Marcos began delivering the SONA at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City on June 12, 1978 during the opening session of the Interim Batasan Pambansa. From 1979 onwards, the SONA was delivered on the fourth Monday of July, following the provisions of the 1973, and later, the 1987 Constitutions.

The only exceptions have been in 1983, when the SONA was delivered on January 17 to commemorate the anniversary of the ratification of the 1973 Constitution and the second anniversary of the lifting of martial law, and in 1986 when President Aquino did not deliver any State of the Nation Address.

With the restoration of Congress in 1987, President Corazon C. Aquino was able to deliver her State of the Nation Address at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives in the Batasan Pambansa Complex, Quezon City. Presidents Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Ejercito-Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo all delivered their State of the Nation Addresses in the same venue.

July 26, 2010 marks the first State of the Nation Address of President Benigno S. Aquino III. He will be addressing the Fifteenth Congress as it embarks on its First Regular Session. The President of the Philippines appears before Congress upon its invitation, for which purpose a Joint Session is held in the Session Hall of the House of Representatives. Congress issues tickets and all preparations are undertaken with Congress as the official host.

Both houses convene in Joint Session assembled, and then direct a committee composed of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, to escort the President of the Philippines to the Session Hall to deliver his message.

The lifespan of each Congress begins and ends with the election of members of the House of Representatives, that is, three years. The lifespan of a Congress is subdivided, in turn, into three Regular Sessions, each corresponding to a calendar year. The SONA, then, also marks the opening of each Regular Session of Congress.

The number of each Congress, for example the present, Fifteenth Congress, is based on the Congresses held since independence was achieved on July 4, 1946. Thus the last Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines became the First Congress. This count was maintained up to martial law. With the restoration of the bicameral legislature in 1987, it was decided to maintain the count, taking up where the last premartial law Congress left off. The Fifteenth Congress will last until June 30, 2013.