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San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet

A veritable fanatic of the Internet. His avocation is teaching while his main vocation is practicing the much maligned law profession. Currently teaching Constitutional Law at the FEU Institute of Law and a guest lecturer at the De La Salle University teaching "Freedom and Regulation in Cyberspace" in the Graduate Program of the Department of Communication. He is married to his beautiful Ateneo law school classmate and is blessed with a daughter and a son.

Location: San Juan, Metro Manila, Philippines

Monday, July 23, 2007

SONA Protocol

As a guest commentator for ANC yesterday, I was requested to watch the President's third to the last SONA address. Much will be said about the substance of the SONA or the lack of it. I, however, will not touch on those but would point out the protocol or the absence of it during SONA.

In terms of protocol, the whole ceremony and the pre-SONA address went without a noticeable hitch. Two years ago and right after the resignation of the Hyatt 10, President Arroyo, in a fit of obvious pique, acknowledged the presence of former president Fidel V. Ramos ahead of then Senate President Drilon who had asked for GMA's head as well. That was a deliberate gaffe intended to insult Drilon. For many, it seemed innocuous. For those who knew, it was a president who was just starting to get even.

In last year's SONA, on the other hand, it was the turn of Speaker Joe de Venecia to commit a most egregious gaffe not to any one particular person but the to the very symbol of our nationhood, the Philippine flag. He was so engrossed with the President's arrival that he immediately introduced the President even before they sang the National Anthem. People steeped in customs and tradition of parliamentary governments would have balked at such ignorant display of protocol.

Which brings me to what is the proper protocol of the pre-SONA ceremony.

Why is the Batasan floor like a barangay talipapa while the President enters it with a gaggle of groomed geezers strutting around her? Watching the tv, it would seem the solons acting like sycophants crowding around her while she walks by, giving those hapless fools a smile, a handshake, an ear just to let the fools know they have been acknowledged.

I think the proper decorum should be for the both Houses to convene first. To be convened would require the solons to take their respective places and to have order in the chamber. Then, should not someone other than the Speaker, such as crier or a Doorkeeper in the case of the US House proceedings, announce in a very formal manner, the arrival and entry of the President to its floor?

Symbolically, the disorganized hustle and bustle of the solons before and while the President is entering reflects the lack of formal and substantive order in the business of government. The marketplace ambience symbolically reflects the lack of respect for the President. And no matter how one detests this incumbent president, the solons, whether administration or opposition, must learn to honor the office of the President, never mind the holder. In august halls like the Batasan and in formal gatherings like the SONA, swords are sheathed and left at the door.

Lastly, for all the years as a Republic, haven't someone come up with a music that is distinctively identified with the President when he enters or exits, like the US' "Hail to the Chief"? Perhaps, Manolo can enlighten us in this regard.

And then, can someone tell the House the proper position of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and his associates justices? Yesterday, I saw Chief Justice Puno seated beside FVR and I heard the President mention that this is the first time she saw a Chief Justice attend the SONA.

If that is true, I wonder why the justices are not in attendance considering that this is perhaps the only time in the year when the three branches of government sit side by side with each other, proudly aware of their respective roles in a presidential form of government, but giving due respect to the most powerful branch of government without abdicating their constitutional duties. In a sense, it is the only instance of sleeping with the enemies, given the spotty record of the Executive before the Judiciary in landmark cases.

Over-all, I think the protocol should be revisited, reviewed and revised to give due importance to all the personalities concerned, detestable or not. Lastly, I sincerely think that we need to rediscover the value of observing protocol if only to show to the Filipino people that the solons they voted into office have not converted the hallowed halls of Congress into a den of thieves.

At least, not yet and not on the first day of office as Congresmen and Senators.