Buencamino writes political commentary for Action for Economic Reforms. This article was published in Business Mirror, July 26, 2006 edition, p. A6.

Mrs. Gloria Arroyo displayed a map of her Enchanted Kingdom and slipped out the back door. That’s all there is to say about the SONA delivered last 24 July 2006.

Unfortunately, my editor does not like empty white spaces on her paper, so with great reluctance and trepidation, I will fill in the blank space.

I regret not believing Ignacio Bunye when he warned a reporter that, “The SONA will not be a political speech. It will be a highly rhetorical speech.”

For once, Bunye did not lie. The SONA was a highly rhetorical speech. Just like every other political campaign speech ever delivered.

But I’m not sure what to make of Bunye’s remark. Rhetoric means, “artificial eloquence; language that is showy and elaborate but empty of clear ideas or sincere emotion”. And rhetorical means, “using or characterized by mere rhetoric, or artificial eloquence; showy and elaborate in style.”

I hope Bunye was not putting down Mrs. Arroyo. But what damage has cha-cha advocate Raul Lambino wrought to the people’s initiative? In preparation for the mention of Charter change in the SONA, he ran a full-page ad in a Sunday paper proclaiming that Sigaw ng Bayan belonged to the Evil One’s legions.

Lambino’s ad said, “We in Sigaw ng Bayan have never hidden our identities and our specific interests. We’re local officials, professionals, small businessmen, office workers. OUR NAME IS LEGION, FOR WE ARE MANY.” (Emphasis mine.)

The sentence in capital letters was lifted almost verbatim from the Gospel of Mark.  It refers to an exorcism performed by Jesus. “8 For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ 9 And Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’”  (Mark: 5: 1-18.)

I saw Lambino and, I think, Romela Bengzon applauding wildly when Mrs. Arroyo mentioned Charter change. They were not alone, their fellow clappers were legion.

Going back to the SONA. When Mrs. Arroyo displayed her map of the Enchanted Kingdom, I immediately looked for the “You are here” caption. I wanted to know where I was. I couldn’t find me. All I saw was “You will be here.” So, what is the State of the Nation? A promise. Just like the one Mrs. Arroyo made to the little paper boat makers from Payatas five long years ago.

Mrs. Arroyo claimed she achieved the first phase of her master plan. I understood that to mean she had finished redefining classroom shortage, unemployment, housing, poverty, rural electrification, water delivery, health care, nutrition, and a whole slew of other problematic quality of life measurements.

Next, she announced that phase two of her plan was about to start. I took that to mean convincing the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to follow her example and to change their measurement standards so that the Philippines wouldn’t remain permanently stuck as number 84 in the annual UNDP Human Development report.

Eighty four out of more than 150 countries is not a bad ranking, but it doesn’t look good when compared to Cuba, which managed to reach number 53 despite a 40-year American-led economic blockade. Cubans have better health care, nutrition and cleaner water, among several other quality of life indicators. Consequently, their life expectancy is longer than ours. I hope Mrs. Arroyo’s brush with acute infectious diarrhea taught her a thing or two about longevity and clean water.

The Powerpoint show was not bad. Senator Ralph Recto said it taught him geography. That’s one way of looking at it. The other way is to view the map as a Rorschach inkblot. One can see in it what one wants to see in it.

I’m glad Mrs. Arroyo invited beauty contest winner Precious Lara Quigaman to the SONA.  She was the only good positive I could find. So thank you, thank you, thank you and thank you again. For Lara’s presence and nothing else.