SONA, Then and Now

The President’s yearly State of the Nation Address is highly anticipated by Filipinos, here and abroad. Today’s SONA has become a gathering of politicians and people who are concerned about the future of the country -- all eager to know what the President has accomplished and where the nation is headed.

For some time, it has also been associated with a fanciful display of glitz and glamour among politicians and their spouses. But aside from this, there are many other interesting facts that marked its 82-year history.

So, how good is your knowledge about the SONA, then and now? To give you a glimpse of the past SONAs, here are some tidbits of information that you may want to know.

Why do we have SONA?

Much like an annual planning in a company, the SONA was instituted in order to review the status of the nation and troubleshoot any problems or issues.

The 1987 constitution requires the President to “...address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.” This provision was carried out from the 1935 Constitution which states 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."

7 Interesting Facts About SONA, Then and Now

1. First President to do SONA

President Manuel Luis M. Quezon delivered the first SONA on June 16, 1936 at the Old Legislative Building (Now National Museum of the Philippines) in pursuant to the constitutional provision. It was in this SONA that Pres. Quezon, the “Ama ng Wikang Pambansa”, called for the legislative body to “take steps for the formation of a national language based on one of the existing native languages."

On the other hand, other sources point to his November 25, 1935 SONA when he first delivered a speech to the First National Assembly on National Defense.

2. The Naming of SONA

According to Manolo Quezon, ancestor of Pres. Quezon and a presidential historian, the practice of naming the Presidential address as SONA started in January 1947 during Pres. Manuel Roxas’ first “Message on the State of the Nation.” It was in this SONA that the establishment of a central bank was first conceived. Since then, the Presidential address to the congress was called “State of the Nation” and was yearly observed every month of January.

3. SONA delivered inside a Schoolhouse at Lepanto Street

There was once a time when the SONA was delivered in a place not as resplendent or stately as the Legislative Building. The previously mentioned 1947 SONA of President Manuel Roxas was delivered inside a schoolhouse at Lepanto Street, Manila (now Loyola Street, Sampaloc Manila).

Back then, the war has just ended and the first Republic has just been inaugurated. Much of the city’s buildings and establishments were decimated during the Battle of Manila (1944-1945) thus an interim legislative office was installed in a schoolhouse at Lepanto.

The Old Legislative Building destroyed by Airstrike during World War II

[The Old Legislative Building destroyed by Airstrike during World War II. Source]

4. SONA amidst War

Jose P Laurel is the president who delivered a message to the Legislative body only once -- and that amidst World War II. This is the Last SONA to be delivered in the Old Legislative Building before it was destroyed by an airstrike. The House Speaker back then was Benigno Aquino, Sr., grandfather of the 15th President of the Philippines.

On the contrary, some sources do not consider Jose P. Laurel’s message to the congress as “State of the Nation Address” as it was delivered under a different constitution.

5. Longest SONA

We all know that the State of the Nation Address is one of the longest speeches by the President that is yearly televised across the country. While President Rodrigo Duterte’s first SONA spanned 1.5 hour and contained around 9,500 words, it pales in comparison to the 1969 SONA of President Marcos which is recorded to have a staggering 30 thousand words. That is three times longer than President Duterte and just a few hundred words below the word count of George Orwell’s novelette, “Animal Farm”.

President Marcos was such an orator that he delivered 7 of the top 10 longest SONAs in Philippine history. On the other hand, the shortest SONA delivered was that by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2005.

6. SONA from the USA via Radio

The only president to deliver a State of the Nation Address without appearing personally to Congress was Pres. Elpidio Quirino. He was then ill and in hospital confinement at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US. But he did his duty to deliver an address to the Filipino nation through RCS radio. It was picked up by local radio stations in the Philippines at 10am in the morning of January 23, 1950.

7. The First and Only President who delivered SONA in the Filipino language

All throughout the history of delivering SONA, only President Benigno Aquino III delivered his SONA in Filipino. He cemented his name in the history as the first and so far the only President to do a SONA entirely in the national language.

Do you have other interesting facts about SONA that you want to share? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below.


Selected Sources:

ABS CBN News. "Is PNoy's 2015 SONA the longest ever?" ABS CBN News. 27 July, 2015. (accessed June 21 2017, 2017).

Chua, Michael Charleston B. "BEYOND TRIVIA: The “Saysay” of the SONA." It's Xiao Time. July 25, 2011. (accessed 21 2017, June ).

PCDSPO. "Historical Background of the State of the Nation Address." Official Gazette PH. July 22, 2011.  (accessed June 21, 2017).

Presidential Museum and Library PH. "Temporary Congress Building at Lepanto Street, Manila." Flickr. 1946. (accessed June 21, 2017).

Quezon, Manuel L. "Manuel L. Quezon, Second State of the Nation Address." Official Gazette PH. June 16, 1936.  (accessed June 21, 2017). "Brillante Mendoza's SONA 2016 direction gets mixed reviews." Rappler. July 26, 2016. (accessed June 21, 2017).

Roxas, Manuel. "Manuel Roxas, Second State of the Nation Address." Official Gazette PH. January 27, 1947.  (accessed June 21, 2017)