“Tuwid na daan” (the straight and narrow path) is to PNoy as “strong republic” is to GMA. It may also be likened to Ramos’ notion of “global competitiveness” or Estrada’s “radical restructuring” or his mother Cory’s framing of “democracy” expressed in such buzz words as “kabisig” or “people powered capitalism.”
It is what I would consider the “god term” in Pinoy’s rhetoric. It appears to be the key theme of his important presidential addresses—that which defines his mental representation of the “state of the nation” and consequently, his presidential leadership (I refer to this mental representation elsewhere as “schema.”).
So what exactly is the “tuwid na daan”? As the president’s most important speech after a year in office, the second SONA articulates what this “god term” is all about.
It probably doesn’t take a trained critical analyst to realize that in PNoy’s rhetorical formulation in his second SONA, the “tuwid na daan” is achieved through the repudiation of the “wang-wang” mentality. In the speech, “wang-wang” (blaring siren) serves as a metonym of corruption or decadence in the various spheres of (public) life. A rejection of such mentality, according to the president’s speech, is an element of subversion, purification, and rebirth—terms that I borrow quite liberally from the works of rhetoricians Walter Fisher and Kenneth Burke.
Using anti-wang wang as his SONA’s organizing trope (or central metaphor), PNoy introduces to his audience such broad frames of the state of the nation (i.e., where the nation is and where his presidency intends to bring it) and then some specific details to substantiate or layer those frames.
I shall attempt to tease out PNoy’s formulation through the following discussion organized based on the three analytical categories: subversion, purification, and rebirth.
Anti-wang-wang as subversion
Subversion is the destruction or negation of old practices or remnants of the past, usually conceptualized as one in a state of decadence. This is evident in passages that contrast the policies of the present with those of the past—usually a favorable representation of the present dispensation vis-à-vis an unfavorable representation of the previous term. Contrary to prevailing perception, this penchant for contrast isn’t unique to PNoy’s presidential rhetoric. It is a common feature of post-Marcos presidential text and talk. Consider the following extract from the second SONA:
- Pagpasok ng bagong Ombudsman na si dating Supreme Court Justice Conchinita Carpio-Morales, magkakaroon tayo ng tanod-bayan na hindi magiging tanod bayan ng mga nagwang-wang sa pamahalaan…Tapos na rin po ang panahon kung kalian nagsasampa ang gobyerno ng malalabnaw na kaso. Kapag tayo ang nagsampa, matibay ang ebidensiya, malinaw ang testimonya, at siguradong walang lusot ang salarin.
In the extract, PNoy contrasts the newly appointed Ombudsman, a former SC Justice and a known ally of the Aquino presidency, with the (unnamed) former Ombudsman, known to be close to the previous administration. It is a classic case of “us” and “them”, of positive self-representation and othering. The above statements that use expressions of negation like “hindi” and “tapos na” easily communicate a subversion of past practices while being upbeat about the practices of the present.
There are more examples of contrasting practices of the past and present leadership in the speech, but let me now move on to a related frame: purification.
Anti-wang-wang as purification
Along with subversion is purification, that is, the cleansing of the body politic, which, in PNoy’s term, consequently leads to a smooth journey towards the desired destination. Purification can be gleaned from the following extracts:
- Habang nanatili sa pwesto ang mga utak wang-wang na opisyal, naiiwan namang nakalubog sa kumunoy ng kawalang-pag-asa ang taumbayan.
- Sana masabi na natin na tapos na ang utak wang-wang, pero nakikita po natin ang latak ng ganitong kaisipan na pilit bumubulahaw sa aliwalas ng ating biyahe sa tuwid na landas.
- …masasayang ang lahat ng ating narating kung hindi tuluyang maiwawaksi ang kultura ng korupsyon na dinatnan natin.
The cleansing of the body politic to PNoy means purging the government of corrupt officials (those whom he describes as “utak wang-wang na opisyal” as shown in 2 and 3). Thus, he cast as important such legislative measures as GOCC Governance, ARMM Synchronization, and the like.
The 4th extract suggests that subversion and purification are inextricably linked: the culture of corruption left by the previous term has to be subverted or eradicated (“tuluyang maiwaksi”) so that whatever achievements the government has will not go to waste (“masasayang ang lahat ng ating narating”). That corruption leads to the squandering national accomplishments implies its contaminative effect. To PNoy, its removal is urgent.
Anti-wang-wang as rebirth/ renaissance
So what comes next after purification? The consequence, Fisher and Burke would tell us, is revitalization or rebirth. The following extracts show what purging the body politic from wang-wang brings forth:
- …muling nabuhay ang kumpiyansa ng mga namumuhunan sa ating energy sector.
- …ang tapat at mabuting pamamahala ay nanganganak ng mabuti ring resulta.
- Tinutuldukan na po natin ang wang-wang: sa kalsada, sa gobyerno, sa kalakhang lipunan. Ito po ang manganganak ng kumpiyansa na magdadala ng negosyo; ito rin ang sisiguro na ang pondo ng taumbayan ay mapupunta sa dapat nitong kalagyan: Imprastruktura na titiyak sa tuluyang pag-angat ng ekonomiya at pagmumulan ng trabaho, at serbisyong panlipunan na sisigurong walang maiiwan.
Rejection of wang-wang is conceptualized in #1 as an investor confidence builder (“muling nabuhay ang kumpiyansiya ng mga namumunuhan”); in #2, it is communicated as “ang tapat at mabuting pamamahala” (good governance) which is metaphorized as a life source for anything that is good. Extract 3 provides more conceptualizations: anti-wang-wang as booster of business confidence in the country and a guarantee that funds will go to infrastructure and social services. Anti-wang-wang, in other words, is a socio-economic life source; a vital element in enabling the Philippines to move forward.
The goal and direction set forth by the anti-wang-wang Aquino government is then expressed in the following:
Ngayong tayo na ang nagtitimon sa gobyerno, malinaw ang direksyong tinatahak ng ating bayan. Isang bansa kung saan ang pagkakataon ay abot-kamay; kung saan ang mga nangangailangan ay sinasaklolohan; kung saan may saysay ang bawat patak ng pawis, bawat sandali ng pagtitiis, at bawat butil ng hinagpis na dinadaanan natin. Kung may gawin kang mabuti, may babalik sa iyong mabuti. At kung may gawin kang masama, tiyak na mananagot ka.”
The extract emphasizes virtuousness (“Kung may gawin kang mabuti, may babalik sa iyong mabuti”) as the essential element of PNoy’s national leadership.
But what after the rebirth?
I think that the more important question right now, though, is: for what larger purpose is this rebirth? I am afraid that the answer isn’t that apparent in PNoy’s second SONA.
Ferdinand Marcos, whose presidency PNoy’s mother repudiated, also had noble visions for the country. In the Marcosian formulation, constitutional authoritarianism, or martial law as we know it, was the impetus for the New Society (reconceptualized as New Republic after 1981). That was grand and glorious except that what came out to be something “new” in society was the emergence of repressive policies that curtailed resistance against the government’s import-dependent, export-oriented industrialization policy.
Such economic policy, it must be noted, persisted even during the post-Marcos era. The Cory Aquino presidency couched it in the language of people power, thus, the term “people powered economy” or “people powered capitalism”. It intensified under the Ramos presidency what with its commitment to GATT-WTO and its embrace of trade liberalization, privatization, deregulation, and tariff reduction policies. Estrada rejected the “rhetoric of reform” (he found it “wimpish”) and went for a more macho-sounding “radical restructuring”, but his policies were actually no different from his predecessor. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a staunch advocate of globalization, made sure that her “strong republic” and localized “war on terror” served the ends of neoliberalism.
Is PNoy merely perpetuating an old paradigm? The second SONA appears carefully crafted to avoid any direct allusion to such dominant discourse. My hunch is that the answer lurks in the interstices of his less prominent presidential texts and talk.
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“SONA 2011: Anti-wang-wang as an element of subversion, purification, and rebirth“, is republished with permission of Gene Segarra Navera.
Photo credit: President Benigno Simeon Aquino III delivers his 2nd State of the Nation Address (SONA) during the joint Senate and House session of Congress at the Plenary Hall, House of Representatives Complex, Constitution Hills, Quezon City Monday July 25, 2011. In the photo are Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. (Photo by: Benhur Arcayan/ Malacanang Photo Bureau).