PGTW: Our fashionation with the SONA

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 31 July 2014, Thursday

Our fashionation with the SONA

The SONA (State of the Nation Address) – President’s report to the people, or fashion show?

The President’s fifth SONA, following the tradition set over the years, seemed a showbiz event, complete with a red carpet marked by the well-shod heels of fabulously-dressed women flaunting their couture gowns of luxurious materials.

As a fashion showcase, it elicited admiration for the creativity and talent of Filipino designers and tailors and seamstresses. The use of local fabrics, the adaptation of indigenous patterns (seen, for instance, in Senator Loren Legarda’s Mandaya-inspired outfit and Tootsy Angara’s Cordillera-flavored terno), and the beauty of embroidery, beading, and other adornments showed the maturity and high standards of the Philippine fashion industry.

Through the initiatives of intrepid designers – Monique Lhuiller and Oliver Tolentino, to name a couple – who have impressed even the jaded and discerning clientele of Hollywood, Filipinos are gaining a foothold in the discriminating world of international fashion.

Media coverage of the SONA, which is likely to be carried on some global platforms at least, and that covered a wide array of designs, will also provide the world with a further look into the artistry of Filipino fashion.

In fact, what the women wore (the lady lawmakers and the wives or partners of male lawmakers) was so important to the media that they gave prominent attention to those who walked the red carpet.

Even netizens got caught up in the fashion frenzy, passing their yea or nay on each gown. Some ladies were praised for their taste or that of their designer. Others – specifically Senator Nancy Binay – drew violent negative reactions for her unflattering cream and green Randy Ortiz outfit that was compared to a hot-air balloon and a Pokemon character.

The question we should be asking ourselves is, should there even have been any attention at all given to the dresses worn to the SONA? Should clothes even assume such significance during a public event?

The SONA is a legal requirement of the 1987 Constitution, that provides that the President deliver before Congress a Talumpati sa Kalagayan ng Bansa on every fourth Monday of July.

This is a chance for the President to report on his and his administration’s accomplishments for the past year. This is an opportunity for the public to learn the disposition of the country’s leader. This is not a fashion show.

The fashion aspect of the SONA may even have backfired on the dolled-up lawmakers, some of whom, like Binay, wore two gowns, perceived as an extravagance on their part.

A recent Social Weather Station survey notes that 12.1 million families self-rate themselves as poor, a two percent increase from the 11.5 million families that considered themselves so last March, a difference of 600,000 more families.

For the elite and powerful of this country to flaunt their wealth in the face of rising poverty among the masses is another example of their tone-deafness to what is appropriate and what is not in terms of public display.

Some lawmakers seem to disregard public sentiment or otherwise misread the situation, similar to the former First Lady and present congresswoman Imelda Marcos’s justification of her lavish ternos in the 1970s, saying that her “little people” expected her to look beautiful.

Senator Miriam Santiago, whose illness prevented her from attending last Monday’s SONA, is more sensitive to public perception. Last year, she proposed that the Senate pass a resolution providing for an official uniforms for senators to wear to national events. The proposal is still pending.

Some lawmakers of the Makabayan bloc used the SONA as an opportunity to make a political statement by wearing peach outfits, a symbol of their call to impeach the president. Among them were partylist representatives Luz Ilagan and Terry Ridon; the latter wore a peach guayabera shirt from Kamuning Market that cost him less than P1,500.

Ordinary folk dressed up too. An elderly man among the protesters ringing the Batasan area wore a shirt that said, on the front, “Mahirap kami, kasi magnanakaw sina Senador, Congressman, Governor, Mayor, Barangay Captain…” On the back it said, “God save our country.” Meaning, that the perception of leaders as corrupt is widespread, and any appeal to earthly leaders to rectify this is useless and futile.

This is not a condemnation of those who chose to dress up at the SONA. In fact, it is to the advantage of the public to see them so, in order for voters to make their assessments of these leaders and choose accordingly at the next election.

Our fascination with the SONA – both lawmakers and citizens – should not focus on fashion. What is more important is whether or not the president has anything of substance to report to the people in his speech.

And if government accomplishments fall short of promises made, not even the finest lace nor most gorgeous embellishments can cover up that failure.

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