SONA: When the president criticizes and shames

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Every July, the incumbent Philippine president delivers the State of the Nation Address (SONA).

Most of the time, the president highlights achievements and improvements done in the past year, lays down policies and priorities in the coming years, and commends officials who have performed well.

But it's not always positive as citizens ought to know the problems and challenges that confront the country as well. Sometimes, too, the SONA becomes a venue for the president to expose the inefficiency, incompetence, corruption, and anomalies in government.

We reviewed post-EDSA SONA moments when the president openly criticized and dropped names of a few government officials, agencies, political groups, and personalities. Here's what we found.

Corazon Aquino

During her term, coup attempts became prevalent. For a long time waging a war against government, the New People’s Army (NPA) was singled out by Aquino during her 1988 SONA.

“I wish we could still pursue the path of peace. Yet until the NPA and their friends come to trust their doctrines to the ballot box rather than the armalite, government has no choice except to defend our people with the gun," Aquino said.

The NPA is the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

In her 4th SONA in 1990, she said that while the Armed Forces of the Philippines, in general, remained true to its mandate of protecting Filipinos, some of its members continue to “hang the sword of Damocles over our [Filipino] people.”

Joseph Estrada

ERAP'S SONA. Former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada's first State of the Nation Address. Photo from Presidential Museum and Library official Tumblr account

ERAP'S SONA. Former president Joseph Ejercito Estrada's first State of the Nation Address.

Photo from Presidential Museum and Library official Tumblr account

A big part of his 3rd and last SONA in 2000 was focused on Mindanao and the apparent hostilities in the region caused by rebels such as the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

In one of his statements addressed to the MILF, he said, “May I give the MILF some unsolicited advice. Secession in the Philippines is an impossible dream. There simply is no space in our geography, in our demographics, and in all our national mentality for forcibly carving another state out of the present Philippine territory.”

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo

GMA'S SONA. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivers her 7th State of the Nation Address. Photo from Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau)

GMA'S SONA. Former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo delivers her 7th State of the Nation Address.

Photo from Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau)

When the topic on electricity was touched on during her second SONA in 2002, Arroyo dropped the names of two big electric companies in the country.

“To [National Power Corporation] NAPOCOR and Meralco, I ask you: Stop bickering and instead work together to give price incentives to large users so that excess power can be utilized, economic activity can be encouraged, and jobs can be created," Arroyo said.

While enumerating her administration’s achievements during her 6th SONA in 2006, one of which was infrastructure, Arroyo mentioned then Makati 1st District Representative Teodoro Locsin Jr.

Maayos na ang kapaligiran sa riles ng tren sa South Superhighway. Masaya ang mga pamilyang hinatid namin ni Vice President Noli de Castro sa kanilang bago at permanenteng relokasyon. Teddyboy Locsin said it hadn’t been done before, and couldn’t be done at all. Well, Teddy?" Arroyo said.

(The area near the railway on South Superhighway has been fixed. The families Vice President Noli de Castro and I brought to the new and permanent relocation sites are happy. Teddyboy Locsin said it hadn’t been done before, and couldn’t be done at all. Well, Teddy?)

Benigno Aquino III

PNOY'S SONA. Former president Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his 6th and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) during the Joint Session of the 16th Congress at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives Complex in Constitution Hills, Quezon City. Photo by Rey Baniquet/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

PNOY'S SONA. Former president Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his 6th and last State of the Nation Address (SONA) during the Joint Session of the 16th Congress at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives Complex in Constitution Hills, Quezon City.

Photo by Rey Baniquet/Malacau00f1ang Photo Bureau

Of all the presidents since 1986, Benigno Aquino III has had the most number of “shaming” moments.

Aquino’s first SONA in 2010 alone began with criticism against the Arroyo administration, followed by outright criticism against officials of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

In the end, he said: “We cannot remove them from their positions quickly because they are among the midnight appointees of former president Arroyo. We are investigating all of these things. But if they have any shame left, they should voluntarily relinquish their positions.”

He also mentioned the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) because of anomalies in funded projects.

“These projects make no sense: unstudied and unprepared for, sprouting like mushrooms,” Aquino said.

With its excessive purchase of rice, the National Food Authority (NFA) was also at the receiving end of criticisms from Aquino, who said, "Is this not a crime, letting rice rot, despite the fact that there are 4 million Filipinos who do not eat three times a day?”

The CPP-NPA, and its political wing, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), were also mentioned by Aquino. He said, “Are you prepared to put forth concrete solutions rather than pure criticism and finger-pointing?“

In his second SONA in 2011, he cited the Philippine National Construction Corporation (PNCC) officials as an example of those who reward themselves despite not providing decent service.

“This [wang-wang] was the attitude that allowed GOCC [Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation] officials, like those in the Philippine National Construction Corporation, to pay themselves millions of pesos in bonuses, even as they failed to render decent service and plunged their respective agencies deeper into debt,” Aquino said.

Before ending his speech, he mentioned the officials of Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation and their excessive use of funds for commodities such as coffee. He joked, “Baka po kahit ngayong iba na ang pamunuan ng Pagcor ay dilat na dilat pa rin ang mata ng mga uminom ng kapeng ito. Hanapin nga po natin sila, at matanong: nakakatulog pa po kayo?

(Despite the change in leadership in Pagcor, it's possible that those drinking this coffee still have wide awake eyes. Perhaps we can look for them and ask: are you still able to sleep? 

Government agencies, some of which have been mentioned before, such as Pagcor, Philippine National Police, were in Aquino’s 3rd SONA in 2012 as well.

During Aquino’s 4th SONA in 2013, he mentioned the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) and its former head Augusto Syjuco Jr* for his alleged corruption during his term, saying that, “perhaps when he finally has his day in court to face the cases filed by the Ombudsman, Mr Syjuco will finally learn to count.”

The Bureau of Immigration’s failure to prevent the Reyes brothers from leaving the country was also part of his speech. The two – ex-Palawan Governor Joel Reyes and his brother, ex-Coron Mayor Mario Reyes – are suspects in the murder of known environmentalist and broadcaster Gerry Ortega.

Aquino also criticized corrupt members of the Civil Service Commission and the National Irrigation Administration for their “make do” culture.

He also did not fail to mention the apparent corruption in the Bureau of Customs by referring to its personnel. “And here we have the Bureau of Customs, whose personnel are trying to outdo each other’s incompetence. Instead of collecting the proper taxes and preventing contraband from entering the country, they are heedlessly permitting the smuggling of goods, and even drugs, arms, and other items of a similar nature into our territory.”

As in his previous SONAs, the President mentioned Pagcor and the PNP.

Most of Aquino’s last SONA in 2015 was spent looking back on the problems his administration “inherited” from the Arroyo administration, citing corrupt government agencies, an ousted chief justice and ombudsman.

Rodrigo Duterte

Duterte, during his first SONA in 2016, did not name and shame any individuals but criticized institutions.

As expected, the Davao strongman slammed human rights defenders, particularly the church, for hitting his alleged violations regarding the war on drugs. 

"Pati 'yung pari, ha? Pati si Pope tinamaan. Let us be clear with each other. I am for the comfort and the welfare of the Filipino. Kayo namang hindi pa bungog diyan, hindi pa pumasok 'yang mga droga. Eh kung ayaw ninyong mamatay, ayaw ninyong masaktan, huwag kayong umasa diyan sa mga pari, pati human rights [advocates], hindi nakakapigil 'yan ng kamatayan," he said.

(Even the priests, including the Pope. Let us be clear with each other. I am for the comfort and the welfare of the Filipino people. You people, the drugs haven't even come in yet. If you do not want to die or get hurt, do not depend on the priests or even the human rights [advocates], they cannot prevent your death.)

He also hit the media for allegedly not being in favor of his "changes" and campaign against illegal drugs: "Eh tapos nandiyan ka nakabulagta and you are portrayed in a broadsheet na parang Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. Eh 'yan 'yang mga 'yan, magdadramahan tayo dito."

(Then when [the drug suspect] is sprawled [on the street], you're portrayed in a broadsheet as Mother Mary cradling the dead cadaver of Jesus Christ. We're being melodramatic here.)

Duterte, in his second SONA in 2017, mentioned and criticized a lot of people. (READ: [OPINION] Enemies and expletives: Staples in Duterte’s SONA)

He openly warned critics of his administration and said that "efforts will be better spent if you use the influence, moral authority and ascendancy of your organizations over your respective sectors to educate the people on the evils of illegal drugs instead of condemning the authorities and unjustly blaming for every killing that bloodies this country."

He also singled out key personalities and groups, such as Senator Juan Edgardo Angara, Jose Maria Sison, and even Rappler.

The President claimed that Rappler is "fully owned by Americans," but Rappler corrected this, saying that it is 100% Filipino-owned (READ: Debunking lies about Rappler) 

Unnecessary?

Some experts say that shaming government officials and agencies is unnecessary when delivering SONAs. Instead, presidents should focus on presenting solutions on pressing issues that have not been answered yet.

Incoming Education Secretary Leonor Briones had been quoted as saying it is unfair to single out only few “corrupt institutions…as there are other agencies known for illegal practices” as well.

But while being called out by the president does cause shame on the part of government officials leading the agencies, it also prompts them to perform better. (READ: Customs: A year after SONA shaming)

An example would be Aquino citing improvements of government agencies after singling them out for failed governance or corrupt practices.

Known to be frank and direct to the point, will President Rodrigo Duterte once again single out non-performing government officials and agencies when he delivers his second SONA on Monday, July 24? – Rappler.com

Editor's Note: In a previous version of this story, "Augusto Syjuco Jr" was mistakenly referred to as "Miguel Syjuco", the novelist and Rappler contributor. We have made the correction.