State of the Nation Address: Traditions and History

On July 23, 2012, President Benigno S. Aquino III will deliver his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) during a joint session to mark the opening of the third regular session of the 15th Congress of the Philippines.

There have been 72 SONAs, and the forthcoming address of President Aquino III will be the 73rd since 1936 and the 26th since the restoration of democratic rule under the Fifth Republic in 1987.

The SONA delivered by the President is a yearly tradition wherein the chief executive reports on the status 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, as written in 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


Session Hall of Batasan Pambansa during the 2011 SONA of President Benigno S. Aquino III.

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 Batasan 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 to 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 present 15th Congress—is based on how many congresses were held since Philippine independence was recognized by the Americans on July 4, 1946. Thus, the last (which was the First) Congress of the Commonwealth of the Philippines became the First Congress of the Republic of the Philippines. This count was maintained until martial law was declared by President Ferdinand 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.

The current 15th Congress will last until June 30, 2013.

Historical Evolution of the SONA


President Manuel L. Quezon delivers his 1940 message to the National Assembly in front of its Speaker Jose Yulo and United States High Commissioner Francis B. Sayre.

The First Philippine Republic borrowed 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 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 practice of giving an annual report on the state of the Philippines was first enshrined in the Jones Law of 1916. The legal measure prescribed the Governor-General of the Philippine Islands to report to an executive office on the administration of the territory, which would then transmit the report to the President of the United States. According to the Jones Law, the report shall include the transactions of the government of the Philippine Islands to be submitted annually and as regularly as may be required.

Commonwealth of the Philippines

The SONA, as an annual practice we know it today, began during the Commonwealth of the Philippines. The 1935 Constitution, as amended, stated in Article VII, Section 5 that

[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 SONA.


(Top) President Macapagal, third from right, poses between Speaker Villareal and Senate President Marcos after delivering his 1963 SONA; (middle) President Quirino in 1949; (below) President Roxas delivers his SONA in 1946.

The date of the opening of the sessions of the National Assembly was fixed, pursuant to Commonwealth Act (CA) No. 17, at June 16 of every year. The first SONA was delivered by President Manuel L. Quezon at the Legislative Building on June 16, 1936.

CA 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 second SONA was delivered by President Quezon on Monday, October 18, 1937.

With the approval of CA 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. President Quezon delivered his last SONA on January 31, 1941, as he would already be in exile the following year because of the Japanese occupation.

Second Republic

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 Sr., 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.

Restored Commonwealth

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 and now a bicameral body, convened on June 9, 1945. 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 CA 244, starting with President Roxas’s address to the First Congress on January 27, 1947.

Third Republic


Ramon Magsaysay is flanked by Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez Sr. and Speaker Pro Tempore Daniel Romualdez during the 1956 SONA delivered at the Legislative Building, Manila.

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.

Martial Law and the Fourth Republic


President Ferdinand E. Marcos delivering the 1972 SONA in the Legislative Building in Manila.

The January tradition was continued until 1972. 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 Luneta, except in 1976, when the address was given during the opening of the Batasang Bayan at the Philippine International Convention Center.

President Marcos began delivering the SONA at the Batasan Pambansa in Quezon City on June 12, 1978, during the opening session of the Interim Batasan 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.

Fifth Republic


President Corazon C. Aquino’s 1987 SONA was published in the now defunct Malacañang Journal. The photo shows her on the rostrum of the Batasan Pambansa, with Speaker Ramon Mitra and Senate President Jovito Salonga.

With the restoration of Congress in 1987, President Corazon Aquino was able to deliver her SONA in the Session Hall of the House of Representatives at the Batasan Pambansa Complex, Quezon City. Presidents Corazon C. Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and Benigno S. Aquino III all delivered their SONAs at the same venue.

Trivia: Presidents and Their State of the Nation Addresses

On July 26, 2010, President Benigno S. Aquino III delivered his first SONA. It was the first SONA in history delivered entirely in Filipino. Past presidents have either delivered entirely in English or included some portions in the vernacular, starting with President Manuel L. Quezon, who used the single Tagalog word “kasamas” in the first SONA in 1936—the address wherein he proposed the creation of Filipino, the national language.

On July 25, 2011, during the second SONA of President Benigno S. Aquino III, an English translation of the address was delivered in real time for the benefit of the Diplomatic Corps. Thus, on his second year in office, President Benigno S. Aquino III has introduced two new innovations in the SONA tradition: the delivery of the address purely in Filipino and real-time translation.

The President who has delivered the most SONAs was Ferdinand E. Marcos, who held power from December 30, 1965 to February 26, 1986. He delivered 20 SONAs. Second to him is President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who stayed in power for nine years and delivered nine SONAs.

Two presidents did not deliver SONAs because the Constitutions during their time made no provision nor requirement for a report to Congress: Aguinaldo and Laurel.

The president who delivered the least number of SONAs was President Sergio Osmeña, who delivered only one SONA upon the restoration of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1945.

President Ferdinand Marcos was the only President who did not deliver SONAs in front of Congress. He did this in 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1977.

President Elpidio Quirino was the only President who delivered a SONA via a radio broadcast, which was aired live in Congress while in session. At the time, he was confined at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States.

Upon her ascension to the Presidency in 1986, Corazon C. Aquino did not deliver a SONA, making it the only year since 1945 wherein a SONA did not take place. From 1942 to 1944, the years of the World War II occupation, there were no SONAs delivered.


A 32-sec newsreel, showing President Quezon delivering his 1938 State of the Nation Address. (Source: Thought Equity Motion)