Historical Background of the State of the Nation Address

July 25, 2011 marks the second State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Benigno S. Aquino III. He will be addressing the 15th Congress as it embarks on its Second Regular Session. There have been 71 SONAs. This address will be the 72nd in history and the 25th of the Fifth Republic.

The delivery by the President of the Philippines of the SONA is a yearly tradition wherein the President reports on the status of the country and may also propose to Congress, before which the address is delivered, certain proposals for legislation that are believed to be necessary. Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution mandates that “[t]he President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”

The SONA as an annual practice began during the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The 1935 Constitution, as amended, states in Article VII, Section 5 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.” Thus, the annual address to the legislature became known as the SONA.

The opening of the sessions of the National Assembly was fixed, pursuant to Commonwealth Act (CA) No. 17, at June 16 of every year. The first SONA was delivered by President Manuel L. Quezon at the Legislative Building on June 16, 1936.

CA 49, however, amended CA 17 and designated the 16th of October as the date of the opening of the regular sessions of the National Assembly. Since this fell on a Saturday in 1937, the second SONA was delivered by President Quezon on October 18, 1937.

With the approval of CA 244 on December 10, 1937, the date of the opening of the regular sessions of the National Assembly was again moved to the fourth Monday of every year, starting in 1938. President Quezon delivered his last SONA on January 31, 1941, as he would already be in exile the following year because of the Japanese occupation of the country.

President Jose P. Laurel of the Second Philippine Republic was able to deliver his first and only message before the special session of the National Assembly, led by Speaker Benigno Aquino Sr., on October 18, 1943, four days after the Republic was established. This also took place in the Legislative Building, Manila. However, Laurel, who was one of the delegates who drafted the 1935 Constitution, pointed out in his Address that the 1943 Constitution did not provide for a report to the legislature on the state of the nation. His message before the assembly, therefore, is not included in the roster of SONAs.

With the defeat of the Japanese and the reestablishment of the Commonwealth Government in the Philippines, the Congress of the Philippines, now a bicameral body, convened on June 9, 1945—the first time since their election in 1941. During this special session, President Sergio Osmeña addressed the lawmakers at their provisional quarters at Lepanto Street in Manila and gave a comprehensive report on the work carried out by the Commonwealth Government during its three-year stay in Washington, DC. Furthermore, he described the conditions prevailing in the Philippines during the period of enemy occupation and an acknowledgment of the invaluable assistance rendered by the guerrillas to the American forces in the liberation of the Philippines. This was President Osmeña’s first and only SONA.

The last SONA under the Commonwealth of the Philippines was delivered by President Manuel Roxas on June 3, 1946. After the establishment of the independent Republic of the Philippines on July 4, 1946, the SONA was to be delivered on the fourth Monday of January, pursuant to CA 244, starting with President Roxas’s address to the First Congress on January 27, 1947.

Starting in 1949, the address was held at the reconstructed Legislative Building. Only once did a president not appear personally before Congress: On January 23, 1950, President Elpidio Quirino, who was recuperating at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, delivered his SONA to the joint session of Congress that was beamed through RCS in the United States and picked up by the local radio network at 10:00 a.m., just in time for the opening of the regular congressional session.

The January tradition was continued until 1972. From 1973 to 1977, the SONA was delivered on the official anniversary of the imposition of martial law on September 21 of each year (official because martial law was actually imposed on September 23, 1972), and since Congress was abolished with the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution, these addresses were delivered before an assembly either in Malacañan Palace or at Luneta, except in 1976 when the address was given during the opening of the Batasang Bayan at the Philippine International Convention Center.

President Marcos began delivering the SONA at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City on June 12, 1978 during the opening session of the Interim Batasan Pambansa.

From 1979 onward, the SONA was delivered on the fourth Monday of July, following the provisions of the 1973 and, later, the 1987 Constitutions. The only exceptions have been in 1983, when the SONA was delivered on January 17 to commemorate the anniversary of the ratification of the 1973 Constitution and the second anniversary of the lifting of martial law, and in 1986, when President Corazon C. Aquino did not deliver any SONA.

With the restoration of Congress in 1987, President Corazon Aquino was able to deliver her SONA in the Session Hall of the House of Representatives at Batasan Pambansa Complex, Quezon City. Presidents Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo all delivered their SONAs in the same venue.

On July 26, 2010, President Benigno S. Aquino III delivered his first SONA. It was the first SONA in history delivered entirely in Filipino. Past presidents have either delivered entirely in English or included some portions in the local language, starting with President Manuel L. Quezon, who used the single Tagalog word “kasamas” in the first SONA in 1936—the address wherein he proposed the creation of Filipino, the national language.

The president who has delivered the most SONAs was Ferdinand Marcos, who held power from December 1965 to February 1986. He has delivered 20 SONAs. Second to him is President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who stayed in power for nine years and delivered nine SONAs.

The President of the Philippines appears before Congress upon its invitation, for which purpose a joint session is held in the Session Hall of the House of Representatives. Congress issues tickets, and all preparations are undertaken with Congress as the official host.

Both houses convene in joint session assembled, and then direct a committee composed of members of the Senate and the House of Representatives, to escort the President of the Philippines to the Session Hall to deliver his message.

The life span of each Congress begins and ends with the election of members of the House of Representatives, that is, three years. The life span of a Congress is subdivided, in turn, into three Regular Sessions, each corresponding to a calendar year. The SONA, then, also marks the opening of each Regular Session of Congress.

The number of each Congress—for example, the present 15th Congress—is based on how many Congresses were held since independence was achieved on July 4, 1946. Thus, the last (which was the Second) Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines became the First Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. This count was maintained up to martial law. With the restoration of the bicameral legislature in 1987, it was decided to maintain the count, taking up where the last pre-martial law Congress left off. Thus, the last Congress under the 1935 Constitution was the Seventh Congress, and the First Congress under the 1987 Constitution became the Eighth Congress. The 15th Congress will last until June 30, 2013.

This entry was first posted on July 23, 2010, and was revised and reissued on July 22, 2011 for the second SONA of President Benigno S. Aquino III. For a full list of SONAs, please click here.