On July 27, 2015, President Benigno S. Aquino III will be delivering his sixth and final State of the Nation Address.
The address of President Aquino III will be the 77th since 1935 and the 29th since the restoration of democratic rule under the Fifth Republic in 1987.
[READ: Interesting facts about the SONA]
The State of the Nation Address or SONA is delivered by the President of the Philippines every year. In it, the Chief Executive reports on the state of the country, unveils the government’s agenda for the coming year, and may also propose to Congress certain legislative measures. The SONA is a constitutional obligation, required by Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution:
“[T]he President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”
Moreover, Article VI, Section 15 prescribes that the Congress “shall convene once every year on the fourth Monday of July for its regular session.”
TRADITIONS AND PROCEDURE
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.
On Monday morning, both the House of Representatives and the Senate hold their respective sessions in their respective chambers and elect their officials. Thereafter, a concurrent resolution is filed stating that both chambers are ready to hear the address of the President. Sessions of both Houses are suspended.
In the afternoon, the President is met at Batasang Pambansa, either planeside or carside, by the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Sergeants-at-Arms of both Houses of Congress. The Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces will then escort the President past the Honor Guard. At this point, the military escort of the President is relieved of duty and replaced by the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House of Representatives, symbolizing the independence of the Legislature. The President is then escorted to the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO), which serves as the chief executive’s office in the House Representatives. The leaders of both chambers traditionally pay a courtesy call on the President in the PLLO.
A Welcoming Committee, appointed by and among peers in both Chambers of Congress, accompany the President into the Session Hall. Upon his entry to the Session Hall, the Speaker of the House announces the arrival of the President, who takes his position between the Senate President and the Speaker of the House. The Joint Session of Congress is thereafter called to order, followed by the singing of the national anthem and the invocation. After which, the President descends to the rostrum to deliver the SONA.
After the message of the President, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate close the Joint Session of Congress for their respective Chambers.
The life span of each Congress begins and ends with the election of members of the House of Representatives, who are to serve for three years. The life span of a Congress is subdivided in turn into three regular sessions, each corresponding to a calendar year. Thus, the SONA marks the opening of each regular session of Congress.
The number of each given Congress—for example, the 15th Congress—is based on how many congresses were held since Philippine independence on July 4, 1946. Thus, the last Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines elected on April 23, 1946 became the First Congress of the Republic of the Philippines upon independence. This count was maintained until martial law was declared by President Ferdinand E. Marcos in 1972. 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.
Historical Evolution of the SONA
A. First Republic (1898 – 1899)
The First Philippine Republic borrowed from the European parliamentary tradition, wherein the head of state ceremonially opened sessions of the National Assembly. According to the 1899 Constitution, the President of the Philippines has the duty to open, suspend, and close Congress. The Constitution also gave the President the power to communicate to Congress through messages to be read to the National Assembly (La Asamblea Nacional) by Secretaries of Government.
On September 15, 1898, President Emilio Aguinaldo delivered an address during the Inaugural Session of the Assembly of Representatives, more popularly known as the Malolos Congress. This speech was not a SONA because it was merely a congratulatory message to the Assembly instead of a constitutionally mandated report to the Legislature. The Malolos Congress only had one formal opening. By May 1899, it had been dissolved because of the unfavorable war situation.
B. From the Philippine Commission to Philippine Legislature (1899 – 1935)
In 1899, during the Philippine-American War, U.S. President William McKinley’s appointed the First Philippine Commission (known as the Schurman Commission) to survey the Philippines and examine its condition. As a result, a report on the status of the Philippines was transmitted to the U.S. President by the Commission on January 31, 1900. It recommended the swift transition from military to civil government, the establishment of local government headed by Filipinos, and free education. Thereafter, the Commission, later replaced by the Second Philippine Commission (the Taft Commission), would send annual reports for the fiscal year to the U.S. President through the U.S. Secretary of War.
The enactment of the Philippine Organic Act of 1902 in the U.S. Congress confirmed the office of the Governor General of the Philippines under the authority of the U.S. President, and set the conditions for a bicameral legislature, with the Philippine Commission to be made the upper house and the Philippine Assembly, to be filled by Filipinos through popular vote. The law also mandated the Philippine Commission “to make annual report of all its receipts and expenditures to the Secretary of War” but did not make any provision for the Governor General to make a report to the Philippine legislature.
However, that same year, the Governor General began addressing the Philippine Legislature. It became an annual address every opening session, termed as the “Governor General’s annual message to the Legislature.” However this is not considered a State of the Nation Address because it was not a requirement. The budget would then be submitted by the secretary of finance, that would be defended in the legislature.
During the Philippine Assembly’s first session on October 16, 1907 at the Marble Hall of the Ayuntamiento Building, Governor General James F. Smith, opened the assembly and delivered a speech narrating the past acts of the government leading to the establishment of the Philippine Assembly. The Governor General’s address was then followed by a speech of William Howard Taft, then serving as the U.S. Secretary of War and representative of the President of the United States. Secretary Taft’s lengthy address reviewed the progress of American administration of the Philippines and emphasized the hopes of America for the Philippines. These instances were precedents for the state tradition that became the SONA.
On October 16, 1914, the Philippine Legislature passed the Concurrent Resolution No. 12, providing that the Philippine Commission and the Philippine Assembly hold a joint session in the session room of the Philippine Assembly at Ayuntamiento for the purpose of receiving the message of the Chief Executive of the Islands, the Governor General.
With the enactment of the Jones Law in 1916, the Governor General, no longer the Philippine Commission, was required to make an official report to the Secretary of War of the United States on the administration of the territory, who would then transmit the report to the President of the United States. The President of the United States in turn would submit the report to the Congress of the United States.
A separate tradition emerged, in which the Governor General would address the Philippine Legislature at the opening of the annual session. This, however, was not mandatory. What is interesting is that the Governor General gave the message in person. At this time in the United States, the U.S. President did not give a message in person. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson would begin the current U.S. tradition of addressing Congress in person in 1913.
Both official and in the media, this tradition was simply known as the “Governor General’s annual message to the Legislature.” As the representative of a foreign power, and Chief Executive representing American authority, it was clear that his task was to uphold American policies and not serve as the leader of Filipinos. This role was taken by Filipino legislators elected by the people.
C. COMMONWEALTH OF THE PHILIPPINES (1935 – 1941)
“[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 State of the Nation Address.
The first SONA was delivered during a special session of the National Assembly on November 25, 1935. President Manuel L. Quezon mentioned in his speech that he was delivering his message in fulfillment of the Constitutional mandate to give a report of “the state of the Nation” to Congress on its opening session. Thus, the priority of his speech involved the “first and most urgent need” involving the “very existence when we become a free member of the family of nations”–the establishment of a national defense policy.
Thereafter, the date of the opening of the sessions of the National Assembly were fixed, pursuant to Commonwealth Act No. 17, at June 16 of every year. The second SONA was delivered by President Quezon at the Legislative Building on June 16, 1936, the first to be delivered before a regular session.
Commonwealth Act No. 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. As this fell on a Saturday in 1937, the third SONA was delivered by President Quezon on Monday, October 18, 1937.
With the approval of Commonwealth Act No. 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. However, there were instances when President Quezon would deliver a speech to the National Assembly, calling the legislature into a special session to enact a certain law or bring certain issues to the floor for immediate attention. This was done on July 25, 1938, when President Quezon called on the National Assembly regarding the election law and other immediate concerns. This was not a SONA since no mention of the state of the country was given in the speech. President Quezon delivered his sixth and last SONA on January 31, 1941, as he would already be in exile the following year because of the Japanese occupation.
D. SECOND REPUBLIC (1943 – 1945)
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, 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 and that his speech was not a SONA. His message before the assembly, therefore, is not included in the roster of SONAs.
E. RESTORED COMMONWEALTH (1945)
With the defeat of the Imperial Japanese forces and the reestablishment of the Commonwealth Government in the Philippines, the Congress of the Philippines, elected in 1941 as a bicameral body, convened on June 9, 1945. This was the second time the SONA was delivered before a special session. During this special session, President Sergio Osmeña addressed the lawmakers at their provisional quarters in a converted school house 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 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 Commonwealth Act No. 244, starting with President Roxas’s address to the First Congress of the Republic on January 27, 1947.
F. THIRD REPUBLIC (1946 – 1972)
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 in Baltimore, Maryland, delivered his SONA to the Joint Session of Congress via radio broadcast through RCS in the United States that was picked up by the local radio network at 10:00 a.m., just in time for the opening of the regular Congressional session.
The SONA of 1970 delivered by President Ferdinand E. Marcos on January 26, 1970 marked the start of the First Quarter Storm, a period of unrest brought about by student-led political demonstrations that took place in Manila from January to March 1970. The last SONA under the 1935 Constitution was delivered on January 24, 1972.
G. MARTIAL LAW AND THE FOURTH REPUBLIC (1972 – 1986)
On September 23, 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Martial Law. Congress was padlocked before it was due to commence on January 22, 1973 when there was supposed to be a SONA.
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 because Congress was abolished with the promulgation of the 1973 Constitution, these addresses were delivered before an assembly either in Malacañan Palace or at Rizal Park, except in 1976, when the address was given during the opening of the Batasang Bayan (appointed legislative body) at the Philippine International Convention Center. Whenever the 21st of September fell on Sunday, the SONA would be delivered the Friday before. This was the case in the tenth SONA of President Marcos which was delivered on September 19, 1975. Moreover, the term “State of the Nation” was altogether dropped in the 1973 Constitution.
President Marcos began delivering the SONA at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City on June 12, 1978, during the opening session of the Interim Batasang Pambansa. From 1979 onward, the SONA was delivered on the fourth Monday of July, following the provisions of the 1973 and, later, 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, who had declared a revolutionary government, did not deliver any SONA. However, on June 4, 1986, to mark her first 100 days in office, President Aquino delivered a speech addressing the status of the nation in the form of a panel discussion with several members of her cabinet broadcasted from Malacañan Palace.
With the restoration of Congress in 1987, President Corazon C. Aquino was able to deliver her first SONA in the Session Hall of the House of Representatives at the Batasang Pambansa Complex, Quezon City. This marked the return of the Constitutional requirement. However, the 1987 Constitution dropped the term “state of the Nation” but the name had become traditional. In her 1987 State of the Nation Address, President Aquino specifically said:
The complete leadership of this country has been chosen; the configuration of their powers and duties permanently set by the new Constitution.
An election is as much an expression as it is an exercise of the national will. We have been made instruments of this will. Our performance will bear witness to its wisdom.
It is my duty under the Constitution to apprise you now of the state of the nation—but henceforth its continuing progress shall be our common accountability.
A 32-sec newsreel showing President Quezon delivering his 1938 State of the Nation Address. (Video courtesy of Thought Equity Motion)
Liang, Dapen, Philippine Parties and Politics: A Historical Study of National Experience in Democracy. San Francisco, CA: The Gladstone Company, 1970.
Quezon, Manuel L., Messages of the President Vol. 4, Part I. Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1939.
Quezon III, Manuel; Barnes, Jeremy, et al., Assembly of the Nation: A Centennial History of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, 1907-2007. Quezon City: House of Representatives of the Philippines, 2007.
Quezon III, Manuel; Alcazaren, Paolo, et al., Malacañan Palace: The Official Illustrated History. Manila: Studio 5 Publishing, 2005.
Quirino, Jose, “How our flag flew again, June 9, 1946,” The Philippine Free Press, accessed on July 20, 2015, link.
Quezon III, Manuel, “First Session of the Philippine Assembly, October 16, 1907″, Philippine Free Press, accessed on July 16, 2015, link.
United States Philippine Commission, Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, January 31, 1900, accessed on July 20, 2015, link.
 United States Philippine Commission, Report of the Philippine Commission to the President, January 31, 1900, accessed on July 20, 2015, link.
 __, Report of the Philippine Commission to the Secretary of War, 1915. (January 1, 1915 to December 31, 1915), (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1916), p. 3
 “Gov. Gen. Francis Burton Harrison, a man who was sympathetic toward the Filipino cause, urged the repeal of the Flag Law in his 17th annual message to the Legislature.” The Philippine Free Press, June 9, 1956, accessed on July 20, 2015, link.
 Quezon III, Manuel; Barnes, Jeremy, et al., Assembly of the Nation: A Centennial History of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, 1907-2007. Quezon City: House of Representatives of the Philippines, 2007. p. 51
 Quezon III, Manuel, “First Session of the Philippine Assembly, October 16, 1907″, Philippine Free Press, accessed on July 16, 2015, link
 Keith Justice, Presidents, Vice Presidents, Cabinet Members, Supreme Court Justices, 1789-2003: Vital and Official Data, (North Carolina: MacFarland and Company, 2003), p. 11
 Quezon III, Manuel; Barnes, Jeremy, et al., Assembly of the Nation: A Centennial History of the House of Representatives of the Philippines, 1907-2007. Quezon City: House of Representatives of the Philippines, 2007. p. 51 ___, Public Laws Enacted by the Philippine Legislature during the period: October 16, 1914 to October 15, 1915, Volume 10, (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1916), p. 305
 “Historical State of the Union Messages,” National Archives of the United States of America, accessed on July 21, 2015, link