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The Philippine Republic

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The First Philippine Republic, established in 1899 in Malolos, Bulacan, took ideas from European parliaments where the magisterial role of the head of state in the legislature was to mark its opening. The Malolos Constitution of 1899 provided for the President of the Philippines to preside over the opening of Congress, as well as convey his messages to the legislature through a secretary. When President Emilio Aguinaldo addressed the Malolos Congress on 15 September 1898, he simply congratulated the formation of the first representative body of the Philippines and Asia. This is not considered a State of the Nation Address because the Constitution at the time did not provide for one. The 1916 Jones Law was the first instance where a report about the Philippine Islands was required to be submitted. However, the law only mandated a report by the Governor-General to an executive office assigned by the President of the United States. This report was in written format and on about the transactions of the Insular Government.

When the Commonwealth of the Philippines was created and a new Constitution was enacted, it provided for an annual report of the President of the Philippines to Congress on the State of the Nation. the 1935 Constitution provides for “The 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.” The first SONA was delivered by President Manuel L. Quezon on 16 June 1936 at the Legislative Building in the City of Manila. The dates of the SONA were fixed on 16 June of every year at the start of opening sessions of Congress, by virtue of Commonwealth Act No. 17. However, CA 49 changed the date of the opening of Congress to 16 October. In 1937, 16 October fell on a Saturday, and the opening of Congress was moved to 18th, when Quezon gave the second SONA. The opening date of Congress was again changed that year by virtue of CA 244, making it the fourth Monday of every year. President Manuel L. Quezon delivered his final SONA on 31 January 1941, prior to the onset of World War II. President José P. Laurel of the Second Republic was able to deliver his only message before the special session of the National Assembly, led by Speaker Benigno S. Aquino, on 18 October 18 at the Legislative Building, four days after the Second Republic’s establishment.

This is, however, not considered a SONA as the 1943 Constitution did not, as President Laurel himself pointed out, provide for the President to deliver one. With the defeat of the Japanese and the re-establishment of the Commonwealth Government in the Philippines, the Congress of the Philippines, now a bicameral, convened for the first time since their election in 1941 on 9 June 1945. During this special session, President Sergio Osmeña addressed lawmakers at their provisional quarters along Lepanto Street in Manila, and gave a comprehensive report on the work carried out by the Commonwealth Government during its three-year exile in Washington, D.C. 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 American forces in the liberation of the Philippines. The last SONA during the Commonwealth was delivered by President Manuel Roxas on 3 June 1946.

President Roxas would deliver the first SONA of the Third Republic in front of the First Congress on 27 January 1947, pursuant to CA 244. Beginning in 1949, SONAs were delivered at the newly-reconstructed Legislative Building. Only once did a President not appear personally before Congress: on 23 January 1950, President Elpidio Quirino, who was recuperating at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, delivered his SONA to a joint session of Congress. His address was beamed through RCS in the United States and picked up by a local radio network at 10 o’clock in the morning in time for the opening of the regular congressional session. The tradition of delivering the SONA on the fourth Monday of January stopped in 1972, when from 1973 to 1977, President Ferdinand E. Marcos delivered the SONA every 21 September, the date when he imposed of Martial Law (Martial Law was actually declared on 23 September 1972). Since 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 at the Philippine International Convention Center.

President Marcos began giving the SONA at the Batasang Pambansa Complex on 12 June 1978 during the opening session of the Interim Batasang Pambansa. From 1979 onwards, the SONA was delivered on the fourth Monday of July, following the provisions in the 1973 Constitution and the superseding 1987 Constitution. The only exceptions to this were in 1983, when the SONA was delivered on 17 January (the anniversary of the 1973 Constitution’s ratification 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 re-establishment of Congress in 1987, President Aquino delivered her SONA at the Session Hall of the Batasang Pambansa. All succeeding Presidents have since delivered their Addresses in the same venue. The previous SONA was delivered by President Benigno S. Aquino III on 23 July 2012, and lasted a mere hour and a half. That year’s protests around the Batasan had the highest number of casualties compared to Aquino’s previous Addresses, with four media men, 15 policemen, and 95 protesters injured. The most recent one was President Benigno S. Aquino III’s fourth and was held on July 22, 2013.

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