What’s needed in the President’s 2012 address

Josephine Acosta-Pasricha, PhD
In his campaign speeches during the 2010 election, Mr Aquino was able to set up and build a moment of change. But in his two previous SONA speeches, he does not bring the change forward and deliver a Dream Philippines.

PRESIDENT'S ADDRESS. President Aquino speaks before Congress in 2011. AFP photo

I have done content analysis on the two SONA speeches of President Benigno Simeon Aquino. Will the third SONA speech be on the same level or will it evolve to the Second Order of Change?

A content analysis of presidential speeches can be done by making inferences through objectively and systematically identifying the specific and concrete characteristics of messages:

1) Who says it?

2) What is said?

3) To whom?

4) Why?

5) To what extent?

6) With what effect?

This scientific method through statistical analysis, raw totals, percentages, standardized scores, small input files and artificial intelligence can determine the verbal tone and political deliverables of presidential speeches. This is already being done on US presidents from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama. For example, it has been discovered that the top presidents in “communality” are Abraham Lincoln, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Thus, we put forth 3 arguments in a comparison of SONA I and SONA II as delivered by Philippine President Benigno Aquino III on July 26, 2010 and July 25, 2011.

First, both State of the Nation Addresses have no compelling coherent vision. In his campaign speeches during the 2010 election, Noynoy Aquino was able to set up and build a moment of change. But in these two SONA speeches, he does not bring the change forward and deliver a Dream Philippines.

For one thing there is really no vision. We cannot close our eyes and Dream Philippines 2016. There are no visuals or rhetoric to hold us. This is the standard test of how effective a vision is. You close your eyes and you can see it, you can image it. Anybody who has made vision and mission statements can notice clearly its absence.

In fact, what is painted is a framework of corruption. Both speeches are bookended by corruption in the past governance and continuing even up to the present? (Aquino’s indictment of his own government?) Why should a vision for a country be always framed by corruption? I say this even if I am a victim of graft and corruption. All Filipinos are victims of graft and corruption.

Second, there is no great initiative for transformational leadership and change management. There is no overarching policy. There is only an invitation for the people to be honest and incorruptible. The health care reform seems to be only for the 1.6 million families given CCT in exchange for regular maternal check up of pregnant mothers, vaccination of babies, and school aged children attending classes. One can see that this is being done only because of the MDGs and the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The statistical data of 1.6 million, nay even 2 million families registered, multiplied by an average of five members in a family is a drop in the bucket of 94 million Filipinos, 60% of whom are absolutely poor.

Third, SONA I and SONA 11 are very similar in framework and content. SONA I is more effective than SONA II.


When we analyze the variables, the standard test of presidential speeches, both fail.

1) Certainty or caution. Resoluteness, inflexibility, completeness, tendency to speak ex-cathedra. There is no sense of certainty; in fact, there is uncertainty and no completeness in results or outcomes. The corrupt may or may not be brought to justice immediately. What about tax evasion, drug trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, graft and corruption, extrajudicial killings?

2) Abstraction rather than realism. Pragmatism which means tangible immediate and recognizable matters that affect people’s everyday lives. This is the element of open systems thinking and strategic management. The dream of a better Philippines is in the abstract lost in a haze. While the specific and concrete examples are more realistic but chosen at random, like the ghost bridge that ends in a ghost school where ghost teachers work.

3) Pessimism more than optimism. Overconfidence or hubris. Endorsing persons, groups, concepts or events highlighting positive entailments. How is the president taking us and to what future? The persona does not capture the moment. He does not respond to the crisis of the moment, the issue of the day, the debt crisis in the United States of America and Europe, the falling markets, the rising interest rates, the sinking dollar. What is his domestic and foreign policy in the context of global and international events. A foot on Recto Bank is a foot on Recto Avenue? But the Chinese are already there, not just a foot, but a country.

4) Passivity rather than activity. Elements of movement, change, implementation of ideas and policies, avoidance of inertia, germane to strategy concepts and behavior. There are no actions, few active voices, in the speech. When delivered in Filipino specially, with its usual passive voice, the result is a culture of passivity.

5) Communality or individualism. Communitarian discourse of organizations, projects, actions as a joint venture. Agreed upon values of a group or a people, rejecting idiosyncratic modes of engagement.

There is no sense of community or commonality. In fact, there is a gap between the people and the president here, in spite of the profuse thanks the president gives to the cardinals and bishops, jeepney drivers, the nurse and his Filipino teacher, artists, policemen, soldiers, street sweepers, firemen, colleagues in government.

It is the peremptory salute to the house, honoring the home, but it does not hit the beaver. (I have heart for you! Do you?) Does this mean that both SONA have been written by the same set of speechwriters?

Or there is really no change in governance from 2010 to 2011? Perhaps, wang-wang as a metaphor is to blame. Wang-wang fails in positive/affirming psychology. SONA 2011 is no high point. This is not communicative action. This is not performativity.

There is no rhetorical moment that can galvanize a people into action and draw them into a binding commitment to a straight path towards the twin goals of poverty alleviation and economic prosperity, that is basic to any country, to all countries. We walk away from the speech without takeaways, nothing to bring home, no home work to do.

SONA 2011 is no “Leadership Moment.” Rather, it is leadership by the seat of one’s pants. Will SONA 2012 be any better?


Vision: ‘Palitan ang kwento ng Pinoy’ (Change the story of the Filipino, in change management parlance, re-storying and re-historying the narrative of the Filipino)

Mission: Twin goals of Poverty Alleviation, and Economic Growth and Prosperity Process: Daang Matuwid (Reclaim ethics and morality from public and private sectors)

Structure: Actions Plans Food on every table.

Jobs and/or business for every father and mother.

Education and good health for every Filipino child.

Infrastructure for every locality.

Peace, security, transparency, accountability and good governance for the country. – Rappler.com

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