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Style over substance

July 26, 2019

MA. ISABEL ONGPIN

THE State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday which opened the legislative year and the formal entry of newly elected legislators into Congress left me at a loss for words.

But still I will struggle and attempt to put some considered judgment on the event.

My first reaction is that style trumped substance, meaning the style became the central element instead of the substance which is the more important part. Usually style should be an indicator, a clue, a decoration even, to emphasize the matter at hand, which in this case is the direction of the society’s expectations and needs that are essential to be reflected in new legislation. Style should complement substance, not outdo it. The opening of Congress is a time to see and hear legislators who will be the main actors, begin their act. The President’s role is ceremonial, to be there at the opening, to state what legislation his program of government needs, and then everyone gets down to the agenda presented.

The bickering and maneuvering for the speakership before the opening were a dizzying set of moves for which a myriad number of causes and effects were obvious but not clear. One will never know what compromises, rewards, future benefits were given to each of the aspirants to come to the shaky time-sharing proposal that finally emerged, a cause for concern regarding how the program of legislation will be carried out under the circumstances of ambitions, interests, and motivations, all apparently self-serving. The subsequent style of the opening did not help overcome the unseemly manner in which the speakership was settled.

With the above in the recent past, the rite of the legislative year opening gave way to an audience dressed for a ball. I am an advocate of using our indigenous fabrics for any occasion. I am also an admirer of Filipino fashion designers and their imaginative use of Filipino textiles. But I do think there is a time and a place for ballroom fashions and that is not quite the opening of Congress. In this event those who take part and the circumstances present should denote the serious business of legislation and the work that needs to be done to accomplish it. It is not the time for ballroom fashions. I am sure our talented fashion designers could come up with business attire using indigenous fabrics. Suits jackets, pants, etc. would be more appropriate than billowing gowns of costly material. I think both the legislators and the audience should adopt a dress code that reflects the seriousness and universality of legislative work. Use ballroom gowns and other high fashion elements for vin d’ honneur or other such events like state visits and appropriate national celebrations, not for Congress openings.

Note that I am stuck in a discussion of the style of the event rather than the substance which makes for an awkward equation of why and what the opening of Congress is for. Here is where style trumps substance, taking attention away from the relevant to replace it with the irrelevant. Even if one knows better, it still intrudes and weighs heavily.

In fairness, some very good legislation was made in the last Congress — the Bangsamoro Law at last, the Universal Health Care Law which is about to be implemented for the benefit of all, the law against harassing women or demeaning them which is modern, correct and should be a game changer, and the National Museum Law which will improve our national museums in organization, finances, expansions and opportunities. These are significant accomplishments but they get lost in the peripherals of a fashion show, clumsy decisions on the speakership and the President going off-script in his address causing puzzlement, uneasiness and nervous laughter from an audience caught off-guard by unserious remarks. It is unfortunate that the recent worthy accomplishments in legislation were not given more importance or even mentioned. It may have changed the tone of seeming frivolity and ostentatiousness to appreciation and better expectations.

Thus, was that Sal Panelo in a magician’s suit (Hi Sal!), and some women in off-shoulder gowns, others in full-blown ballroom regalia, while the President and his family were in simple business attire? Please emulate the latter for being more appropriate.

I think it is time to simplify. Having cinema or entertainment directors call the shots on the style of the event, fine, but they need to be restrained rather than show business-loud. It is becoming a waste of taxpayers’ money. Did the Philippine Philharmonic have to be the orchestra to provide the ruffles and flourishes and the ensuing pop music? It should have been an ordinary music group that fitted the event, not an orchestra for serious concert music which should have been rehearsing for their next concert.

So, what is left to those who viewed this event was its inappropriate style, not its genuine substance. All the pity for the loss of an opportunity to orient legislators and the public to the substance that is vital — the making of legislation for a progressive nation.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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