Taking it on

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

President Bongbong Marcos delivering his first State of the Nation Address on July 25, 2022 | Photo by
RTVMalacanang via Wikimedia Commons

Now that the SONA is over, ordinary citizens can plan their lives with less distractions. For those who have monitored SONA after SONA these past several years or the last few decades, there is a pattern to them. The worst is that they become a boring tool for propaganda, meaning a recitation of selective accomplishments to obfuscate a national failure. At best, once in a while, a SONA can be visionary and inspiring, driving pride in the hearts of the citizenry and motivating them to take actionable steps against the most difficult challenges.

In other words, there is a pattern promoting a fallacy – that government is the superstar, that government is the messiah, and that people can depend on the government to take care of them. In a democracy, this fallacy attempts to subtly bring back central power to government and weakens the principle of an empowered people.

Not all SONAs, of course, but almost all anyway. The primordial quality of a meaningful SONA is truthfulness and inspirational. The rest are elements that comprise and affirm the truthfulness that stirs the hearts and minds of the citizenry. The reportorial aspect of a SONA contains details that, if the public does not know them already, just further clarify. The report covers the past year’s efforts which, if uneventful or vague in understanding the people, simply had little impact.

The vision part of the SONA is expected of a new administration. Visions do not change year after year, or they do not qualify to be visions. There may be marching orders, but they are not visions, just instructions. They have value only if they are clear, doable, and measurable. Visions, however, are far and in between because they are sourced from the leader’s depth, wisdom, and courage.

The core of nation-building’s responsibility, productivity, and accountability rests on the people. The greatest leader will not do what needs to be done for a nation to become strong. At most, the leader will open the people’s imagination toward a collective grandness they never saw before and, with their charisma, will inspire citizens to take on sacrifice and perseverance to achieve that vision. In a democracy, of course, in a democracy – of the people, for the people, by the people.

“Not all SONAs, of course, but almost all anyway. The primordial quality of a meaningful SONA is truthfulness and inspirational. The rest are elements that comprise and affirm the truthfulness that stirs the hearts and minds of the citizenry.”

A SONA was just given, as most of us here know. I am trying to put my ears closer to the ground, hear in conversations, read on social media, and watch mainstream news programs, hoping to discover a new vision and captivating and inspiring. It has only been a few days, so I will wait for common highlights to emerge from the ground. The key marching order is to ensure that the public and private sectors are locked in on it.

Meanwhile, in the absence of that common understanding expressed audibly and visibly as a whole people, I would suggest that Filipinos take on their roles and tasks. Driven or inspired by visions or charismatic leaders or not, citizens have their duties and responsibilities to their families, their communities, their nation, or to God if such is their belief. Citizens answer for that, not leaders, not givers of SONAs.

If citizens are content to stay in place, they need not strain themselves beyond their established routine. But those who want to be somewhere else in the quality and quantity of their lives must do more than usual. We take on what we know or move mindlessly through sheer routine, expecting and doing the same things that brought us here, not where we may want to be.

So far, and expectedly so, I have heard a common refrain, as in a song, from rich and poor people – and all in between. From those who have, they complained about difficulties affecting businesses today in this global moment disrupted by Covid-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is a familiar story of prices shooting up and supplies contracting or delayed. Yet, they also know that the purchasing power of their markets is shrinking.

Those who do not have or do not have enough talk of inflation, not from an economic understanding, but from their daily experience of buying food and other essentials. They are cutting meals, cutting shopping, cutting movement – affirming the fear of businesses about lower market demand from purchasing power. They are also looking at their job security and the inability of their incomes to keep up with runaway prices. So far, that is what I hear and see from the ground and all sorts of media.

“There may be the need to undergo deeper pain and frustration before we, the people, realize that we have to take care of ourselves more than the government takes care of us. “

Strange, but when surveys are done about people’s sentiments, most will say they are satisfied, contrary to all their public noise. Sentiment tracking must learn to assess the answers they get versus what the same people or market segment actually feel and say outside the interviews. Soon, when cutting meals translates to incidences of hunger, I hope survey firms will dive deeper into satisfaction answers from the same affected sectors.

There may be the need to undergo deeper pain and frustration before we, the people, realize that we have to take care of ourselves more than the government takes care of us. It is not that many have the tools or resources to do so but that they are hardly thinking of doing so. They are not lazy, they work hard and are willing to work harder, but they cannot get beyond the traditional way of looking for opportunities. They end up being unduly dependent on the government – even when the government itself is scrambling to resolve difficult economic challenges.

Beginning with those who want and can, let us rethink our ways and revisit our determination. We start with ourselves, define our roles, contribute our share, and more if possible.

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