A political conversation with the president

The SONA is my conversation with the President. Here are 10 questions I will bring to this conversation.

Maxine Tanya M. Hamada

Published: 8:37 AM July 20, 2013

Updated: 8:37 AM July 20, 2013

The SONA is my conversation with the President. It is a yearly political conversation that began with, and is anchored on, the Social Contract with the Filipino People of Benigno "PNoy" Aquino III in 2009 and will end with his term report and the Filipino people’s vote in 2016. 

Because of this, each SONA is a powerful conversation – that is, it is all about political, economic and socio-cultural power, specifically the balance of power in the nation, the use of power of the state and how he speaks to my power as a citizen and his boss. 

Under the Aquino administration, the SONA has consistently been followed the next day by his submission of his National Expenditure Program (NEP) or proposed budget to Congress.  One cannot be separated from the other. Aquino's proposed P2.268 trillion budget for 2014 links our money to the 2013 SONA.

So have no doubt that our trillion-peso political conversation on Monday July 22 is a powerful one. Here are 10  questions I will bring to this conversation. I will also listen to what our President will say about these 10 questions.

On empowering the people

There are huge disparities in economic, political and socio-cultural power in the Philippines. Decisions that affect our identities, families, communities and nation are still made by too few. The president knows this. His Social Contract with the Filipino people lays a clear basis of what power imbalances he commits to address.

With each SONA, he details what has been done and what is doable moving forward. I may not always agree with strategy or priority but it is always good to pick up on my conversation with Aquino from this point. As an indigenous person, a young professional, and a reform advocate, I will listen intently about what he has to say about the balance of power.

1. Are our political, economic and socio-cultural realities captured in the 2013 SONA and does he have a clearer grasp each year of how he shall address these disparities in our nation?

2. Since the last SONA, has PNoy’s government been able to succeed in addressing what it has prioritized as the most urgent imbalances of political, economic or socio-cultural power?

On the Powers of the President

The President of the Philippines has vast powers. When we elect a president, we give that person more power and influence than anyone else in the country. We have had a painful history of this power being used for personal and vested interests.

If used however in the service of the people, it is a formidable power for change. In my conversation with the most powerful individual in the country therefore, it becomes natural to ask how this power has been used to empower and not disempower our democratic institutions and the Filipino people.

3. How has the Aquino government used, and how will it use the power of the purse to finance his SONA directions, prioritize and drive his reforms, and what innovations for change can be expected?

4. How has Aquino used and how will he use his power as Commander-in-Chief for the transformation of the security sector of the Philippines?

5. How has the current administration used and how will he use his veto power within an effective check and balance with the legislature?

6. How has the Aquino administration used and how will he use his power of appointments to effectively and efficiently handle the day-to-day affairs of government and the delivery of the most urgent public services?

On my powers as the boss

As a Filipino citizen, I have constitutionally guaranteed rights, which when used collectively constitutes tremendous people power. People Power has proven to be greater than incumbent presidents – at least 3 in my count. So in this political conversation, I listen to know where citizen power is needed — whether to agree and support my President or to disagree and compel him towards an alternative. I bring the knowledge of this power and listen to how the President speaks to this power.

7. How does the President value and strengthen my power as a citizen to vote both in electoral exercises and in the decisions that affect me as an individual, as a member of an ethno-linguistic group and as a young professional?

8. How does the President value and strengthen my power as a citizen and reform advocate to organize and engage government on the most urgent reforms, whether or not we agree on strategy and prioritization?

9. How does the President value and strengthen my power as a citizen to be informed, to speak and be heard and to hold government accountable to the social contract?

Last question

Finally, each SONA political conversation I have with the President, I reserve a question to view the entirety of conversations — both previous and upcoming.  Conversations are built around trust and for me and INCITEGov, a contract of constructive engagement. So I shall close my conversation with PNoy with a step back to reflect not only on what I would have heard but also on what I brought to the conversation and the task of building the State of our Nation.

10. Where have we built trust and learned to work together in nation-building and where have we not yet built reform partnerships and why?

I look forward to the SONA for my political conversation with Aquino and strongly urge you to also list your 10 questions for the President on Monday. - Rappler.com

Maxine Tanya Hamada is the executive director of The International Center for Innovation, Transformation and Excellence in Governance (INCITEGov).