One of the things that can gather every Filipino around their living room, stop jeepney and tricycle drivers from their pamamasada, fill karenderyas with customers, and make street vendors turn on their radios even for just a couple of hours is President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address.
Last July 25, 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his first ever State of the Nation Address as President of the Republic and indeed, his first SONA proved to be a ray of hope to all Filipinos hungry for radical change. Considering the state our country was in when he started his term, all his plans seemed to be just what was needed; practical and possible.
This theme of this year’s SONA is A Comfortable Life for All. With profanity and jokes inserted here and there, the President was his usual self during his speech.
In his two-hour speech, the War on Drugs never left the picture, the current state in Mindanao, Mining, Education, Infrastructure, and many more.
During his campaign, he promised that he will bring change to the Filipino people. A year later and a question hangs in the air: Has change really come?
Key issues tackled
Despite the never-ending criticisms on the War on Drugs, which is the President’s favorite subject since he started his campaign and which was also a major subject in his first State of the Nation Address; the second State of the Nation Address proved to be no different.
“The fight will be unrelenting….The fight will not stop until those who deal with it [drugs] understand that they have to stop because the alternative is either jail or hell,” said the President.
Solving the Philippines’s drug problem has always been Duterte’s key promise ever since his campaign. Despite failing his own self-imposed deadline of 3-6 months by asking for an extension, he seems to be getting more unstoppable each day. According to Human Rights Watch, As of January 2017, the PNP confirms that the War on Drugs has exceeded the 7,000 mark.
Duterte pushes for Death Penalty and wants death for drug convicts. He says that capital punishment is the only course of action and adds that it is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth”. Although he receives strong criticisms from Pro-life groups, he still urges the 17th Congress to hasten the imposition of the Death Penalty.
Duterte also calls out mining companies for irresponsible mining and warns them of the consequences such as steep taxes if they neglect to rehabilitate the land where they hold their operations.
“Either I will raise the taxes, ang kita niyan i-reserve ko (what I get there I will reserve) to compensate for those who are suffering. You have to come up with a substitute; either spend to restore the virginity of their source or I will tax you to death.”
Regarding education, although he was quite skeptical about it before he assumed office, he states that he is fully committed to implement the K-12 basic education system.
During his SONA he said, “In our bid to accelerate human capital development, we should ensure lifelong opportunities by enhancing quality of and access to education and training programs”
He also mentions Mindanao and the crisis in Marawi that has caused the declaration of Martial Law.
“I declared Martial Law in Mindanao because I believed that that was the fastest way to quell the rebellion at the least cost of lives and properties”, he said
While Duterte discussed a lot of key issues, he got off track once again and spoke of things that did not concern the state of the country.
He tells his critics that their time is better spent if they will join the administration in the fight against illegal drugs and criminality instead of questioning his decisions and methods in running the country. He tells them to stop raising the concerns against Human Rights violations committed in the war against drugs.
He also slams journalism and the media, especially Rappler. According to the 1987 constitution, media entities should be 100% Filipino-owned and he claims that the online media outlet is under foreign ownership.
He, however, praises ABS-CBN for its documentary on the pros and cons of mining and Ted Failon for coming up with the idea.
About three months ago, he said that Sison can come home to the Philippines and that he will give Sison freedom. He also offered to pay for Sison’s hospitalization if he allows. However, during his second SONA, he spoke of Sison in a completely different tone.
“I am here to bully you and to kill you because there’s a war going on between us and you are killing my soldiers,” he said. “Maybe, I will kill you if I have the chance,” he tells Sison.
Of course, the SONA wouldn’t be complete without Duterte lashing out on his fiercest critic, Senator Leila De Lima.
“Binibigyan niyo ng importansya si De Lima. [You give De Lima importance] You were all here, you heard the witnesses, you saw the video. Is she a credible woman? Can she be a moral person?” Duterte said.
Like any of his other speeches, he never allows the chance of warning his critics go to waste.
The president also threatened to bomb Lumad schools in provinces. He says that these schools only teach children to defy the government. He warns these institutions that he will use the Armed Forces and the Philippine Air Force to drop explosives on them.
“Umalis kayo diyan. Sabihin ko diyan sa mga Lumad ngayon, umalis kayo diyan. Bobombahan ko ‘yan. Isali ko ‘yang mga istruktura ninyo,” he said.
Officials weigh in on the SONA
“Ako po naniniwala ako na sa pagpapatupad ng anti-drug campaign, sa pag-aayos ng peace and order, hindi pa rin dapat labagin iyong karapatang pantao,” [I believe that in the carrying out of the anti-drug campaign, in creating peace and order, human rights must not be violated.] Vice President Leni Robredo said.
The Vice President stresses the importance of the 1987 constitution as a safeguard to prevent human rights abuses.
“Ito naman iyong sandata ng mahihirap natin na mga kababayan laban sa pang-aabuso ng mga nasa kapangyarihan,” she said. [This is the weapon of our poor countrymen against abuses committed by the powerful.]
Although the President and Vice President do not agree on the War on Drugs and Human Rights issues, Robredo commended Duterte on the implementation of the Reproductive Health Law and the concern for responsible and legal mining.
Senator Leila de Lima, who is still detained in Camp Crame for drug charges said that the SONA did not really give an account of the Philippines’ real predicament.
“Duterte’s second SONA turned out again to be another venue for unloading his resentments and rants on certain sectors, especially his critics,” De Lima added.
De Lima, who is a known critic of the President said that his speech reflected more of his mental condition and not of the country’s state. She also recalls Duterte’s where he called her an immoral woman and where he slammed former US President Barack Obama and the independent media.
“Do you think you even have the moral values and credible standing, after that garbage of a speech you have unloaded before us and the foreign diplomatic corps?”
Duterte’s allies in the congress, on the other hand, expressed nothing but support for the President and his plans for the Philippines.
“Umpisa pa lang gustong-gusto ko na sapagkat ‘yung ‘di ko narinig ng ilang taon, ‘yung tungkol sa illegal drugs, ‘yun agad ang pang-una niya eh. Kaya ibig sabihin noon relentless, tuloy-tuloy ‘yung laban sa illegal drugs,” [I immediately liked it because he talked about the topic of illegal drugs first, something that I haven’t heard in how many year. It means the drug war will be relentless, it will continue.] Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III said.
Where is the promised change?
During his campaign, he had very specific promises for the Filipinos; to eradicate the drug problem within 3-6 months, end contractualization, resolve the traffic crisis in Metro Manila, improve housing, and capitalize on education to name a few. These very same reasons are what drove 16 million Filipinos to believe that maybe Duterte is “The One.”
Unlike his first SONA where no protesters were seen shouting on the streets, this time, it was different. Protesters from different sectors of the society raised their voices in the hopes that the President may hear their outcry for his unfulfilled promises and the objections against his anti-people and anti-national policies.
“If there is a promise that Duterte took seriously it is his war against drugs. Yet his war against drugs is a war that he cannot finish without indiscriminately treading on human rights and eliminating drug criminals, mostly poor, by extrajudicial killings,” Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy explained.
Rallyists started marching from the Batasang Pambansa ahead of the SONA. Militant groups marched towards Commonwealth Avenue carrying banners and flags showing disappointment for the present administration’s lack of genuine land reform. Members of Kadamay also joined the demonstrations.
People showed their opposition of the 5-month Martial Law extension and Human Rights issues linked to Extrajudicial Killings. Labor groups filled the streets, demanding for regularization and just compensation.
Effigies of Duterte were burned and caricatures were created to mock the administration’s failed plans.
Along Commonwealth Avenue, 2,500 pairs of slippers were laid on the ground to symbolize the thousands killed in Duterte’s war against drugs. In Davao City, fake coffins were also laid along Roxas Avenue to represent the victims of political killings under Duterte’s administration.
Protests were held in Cebu City and General Santos City as well.
In Davao City, different protesters, from farmers to lumads, filled Freedom Park with their voices and hunger for change and justice.
Sheena Duazo, Secretary-General of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and also an Ateneo Alumni spoke in behalf of all the other rallyists.
“Although naa’y positive, pero tan-aw namo mas daghan gihapon sa mga saad ni Presidente Duterte last year ang wala pa natuman. Even para sa amoa, taas taas na panahon na ang one year unta para ma-achieve to niya ang iyahang mga gipang-saad.” [Although there were positive outcomes, we still believe that a lot of what President Duterte promised last year still remains unfulfilled. For us, one year is already a long period of time for him to accomplish what he has promised.]
Duazo said that while Duterte’s progressive plans look promising, they feel worried about the domination of the military especially in Duterte’s cabinet. With this kind of governance, Duazo wonders if the nation is really headed the right direction.
She also expresses concern about how the Martial Law extension was decided upon by solely relying on the military’s recommendations without even asking the ordinary people.
When asked about Duterte’s most valued fight against drugs, she said that although it is true that there are drug abuses in the Philippines, she believes that the root cause of all this is economic crisis. She says that the administration should focus on economic reforms and give Filipinos access to education and to more employment opportunities.
Comfortable life for all?
As our lawmakers, the very same officials the people elected and the product of our democracy, fill the seats of the Batasang Pambansa, applaud every expletive that comes out of the President’s mouth, laugh at all his condescending jokes while the marginalized and those living in the fringes of the society fill the streets with voices that only echo disappointment and anger, one couldn’t help but ask: Is this the state of the nation we want? Is this the nation we have become? Is this the change we have been promised?
Is the kind comfort this administration envisions include grieving families for the victims of extrajudicial killings and cardboard injustices? Teachers who use their voices for protests instead of their students? Farmers who till lands they can’t own just so we could have something to eat?
Two hours and six minutes that gathered the nation for what they believed was a glimpse of hope, glimpse into the five years left of his term, and five years of what will become of our lives under his watchful eyes.