July 30, 2020 (3:19 PM)

9 min read


HUMANE APPROACH. Director of Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy (APILA) Atty. Romeo Cabarde Jr., along with other experts and student leaders of Ateneo de Davao University, critically assesses the oxymorons and ironies of the president’s SONA during the TULUBAGON 2020, July 27. Screenshot taken from AdDU FB Live

Professional and student panelists pointed out ‘oxymorons’ and ‘ironies’ in President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday in Tulubagon, a SONA analysis organized by Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Agham Pampulitika ng Ateneo (SAMAPULA).

Admin that is for human rights, an ‘oxymoron’

In his penultimate SONA, Pres. Duterte said his administration “will not dodge its obligation to fight for human rights” and “[has] always believed that freedom from illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption and criminality is itself a [human right]”.

Atty. Romeo Cabarde Jr., Director of Ateneo Public Interest and Legal Advocacy (APILA), said “there was an oxymoron there” as Duterte still remained in his usual narratives and rhetoric of killing criminals.

Gwyneth Vasquez, Editor-in-Chief of Atenews, said the message “seemed off” as the country was branded the most dangerous country for journalists in Southeast Asia in 2018.

She was referring to a Southeast Asia Media Report published two years ago by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). It stated the Philippines “remains the deadliest peacetime country for journalists”.

This does not include, the student journalist added, the 22,983 extrajudicial killings (EJKs) recorded by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on 2018. She believed these are not the exact numbers, suggesting more killings might have occurred.

The figures she cited are the number of deaths PNP recorded since the war on drugs, but these were tagged as “homicides under investigation” that did not necessarily have anything to do with the drug war, according to a Philstar article.

Brian Unabia, SAMAPULA Speakers Bureau Director, found Duterte’s claim that illegal drugs destroy families as ‘ironic’ as the families of the EJK victims of war on drugs were also left devastated.

“We should not celebrate [Duterte’s] strongman approach, rather we should be focusing on how we are able to strengthen institutions in a more palatable, in a more humane approach,” Unabia said.

“Buhay muna bago lahat”, but reiterates death penalty

Duterte said he prioritized life over other considerations. However, in the same speech he also called for the revival of death penalty by lethal injection, which had been abolished in 2006.

All the panelists expressed dissent and asserted it will never deter crimes.

Tetchie Aquino, Mindanao representative of the Philippine Political Science Association, said it is not the answer to the criminality and drug problem.

SAMAHAN President Renz Lacorte said capital punishment will not solve the justice system. “We need to reform the justice system [instead].”

Meanwhile, Unabia said he believes death penalty “can be easily co-opted and will exacerbate the problem” especially in a “flawed” justice system.

End discrimination, ‘contradictory’

Unabia also called the President’s pronouncement to “end the discrimination of persons” ‘contradictory’ as the more than a decade-old Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) bill is yet to be passed into law.

Meanwhile, Vasquez slammed Duterte who claimed that his administration is for diversity and inclusion, calling it ‘ironic’ as she recalled her study from before on misogyny and sexism.

In a separate interview, she said she found out, after studying Duterte’s sexist and misogynist language in his presidential speeches through textual analysis, that his tirades “go beyond the actual words that are recorded in his speeches.”

“Far from being ‘natural’ in his way of speaking, his attacks on women serve a political purpose which has helped stabilize his populist image,” she explained.

‘Martial law in Mindanao ended without abuses’ debunked

The student panelists refuted the President’s claim that there were no abuses in the enforcement of martial law in Mindanao.

“This is not reflective of the facts,” Unabia said, noting the Lumad schools that have been red-tagged and closed by the military. “It invalidates the kinds of struggles that indigenous peoples have experienced.”

Meanwhile, Vasquez, an Anthropology student, expressed disappointment that Duterte did not mention the displacement of indigenous peoples because of China-funded mining projects, government’s infrastructure programs, and the Southeast Asian games which had displaced Aeta indigenous communities

Lacorte also called the claim ‘sketchy’, hinting psychological and societal abuses might have occurred, not necessarily physical ones.

‘Problematic’ military, police lauding

Vasquez called ‘problematic’ how the President “glorified” the role of law enforcers, saying it will “only embolden them to do what [they want].” She brought up the recently surfaced footage of a Filipino police officer kneeling on a man’s neck and stomach.

“Parang ‘di sila napakikinggan,” she further criticized the increasing salaries given to the police force even when teachers were also clamoring for a raise yet were not granted. 

Lacorte said there are military strategies that are not working and effective, although he did not further specify what military strategies he was referring to.

“Perhaps we can redirect on the part of the militaristic approach to a more progressive, scientific approach especially in handling COVID,” he added.

Cabarde said Duterte’s heavy-handed leadership “is very obvious”, noting how he relied so much on the military as his source of support for his administration.

Several members of the Cabinet of the President are formerly in the military. Some of them are leading the pandemic response.

On the other hand, SAMAPULA Director Neil Pancho said he “prays” Duterte will fire Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III whom he called a “baggage” to be replaced with the retired Philippine Army General Eduardo Año.

Cabarde disagreed and asserted the need for medical men in matters related to public health. 

Duterte’s foreign policy, another oxymoron

Aquino called Duterte’s stand on the issue of West Philippine Sea “a bit of an oxymoron”.

“When [Duterte] did say that he’s not very welcoming on the [military] bases here—which of course I agree, we do not need [them]—he also did acknowledge China is militarily more superior than us,” she said.

“Coming from a realist perspective: you don’t like bases but your enemy has the military power and then you are now hoping for diplomacy to be used, [that’s quite difficult],” she said, adding that that is perhaps why Duterte was asking assistance from the neighboring countries like the ASEAN.

No federalism in SONA

Similar with last year, President Duterte in his recent SONA did not discuss federalism, which was once his advocacy.

In a speech on June last year he admitted federalism may not pass on his watch because Filipinos do not support it.

During the pre-SONA discussion, Pancho cited federalism as one of the administration’s “unfulfilled” promises, attributing it to institutional roadblocks.

“Federalism is dead,” he said twice, “simply because senators are not willing to discuss it.”

Political analyst Ramon Beleno III hinted it may not be a total revision of the 1987 Constitution but a “piecemeal” amendment.

In the post-SONA discussion, Aquino concurred and noted how the President stressing the importance of local government units (LGUs), particularly of barangays, is one of the goals of constitutional reform.

“Although federalism is really in the heart of [the movement], we do hope that the approach now is not really ‘change the constitution’ but to have surgical amendments and look at areas where you need to improve,” she said, adding strengthening of LGUs is one way to start federalism.

Lacking specifics

All panelists commented lack of specificity in different issue areas in the SONA.

Atty. Cabarde said he did not see much detail for social recovery from the COVID pandemic, saying he is “in a quandary” and “confused” for the country’s direction in the following months.

Lacorte echoed the attorney’s observation and contrasted it to the ‘good plans’ he heard from other executive departments and offices.

He also made the same comment with regards to Duterte’s foreign policy.

Regarding plans on the conduct of classes, the SAMAHAN President said he is hearing more plans from the Department of Education (DepEd) than the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). He hopes CHED’s narrative will be more mainstream.

While he appreciated Duterte’s attempt to provide a concrete structure for economic recovery, Lacorte stressed the speech should have delved more on socio-economic and socio-political aspects.

Mildred Estanda, Chair of Economics Department, disclosed the economy was “doing well” pre-COVID and liked how agriculture was mentioned in the SONA.

However, she criticized how it was crudely discussed. “Medyo nahilawan ko ato.”

“[B]ecause with COVID this is our opportunity to use agriculture as our vehicle to recover from this slump in the economy. We are projecting an [economic] decline of about 3 to 5 percent. We need recovery programs. I hope the government could have focused more on agriculture,” she said, adding the speech was not clear about it and focused more on laws that are macro.

Estanda liked the idea of the government giving P66-billion agricultural stimulus package for the recovery of the agriculture and fisheries sector.

“This is good, it served as a buffer. But these are mostly used for consumption of the consumers. Wala masyado sa manufacturing to enable production and later on help recover the economy. I hope sana na mention niya going back to the local: localization trying to boost the local industry,” she said.

“Sana nga na mention niya yung VCO,” she said, referring to recent news on Virgin Coconut Oil, a local product extracted from fresh coconut meat and known to have anti-viral properties.

Last week, local researchers in COVID hotspot Cebu City reported a “very positive result” in VCO’s capability to prevent and manage the disease.

“[VCO] is really a potential resource or income later on for the government…but there was no affirmation from the president there,” she said.

“There are factors that are beyond our control, what we have are the resources in our country,” she said.

Positive comments

Aquino said she appreciated the President regularly going back to the basic unit of community—family—and to the need to improve the local government units (LGUs), particularly the barangays and how peace and order is associated with it.

She also appreciated the stressing of the need of improving telecommunication and infrastructure, particularly on communication.

Cabarde said he liked the consistency of the administration’s ‘DNA’—its anti-crime, anti-corruption, and anti-drug campaigns, as well as Duterte’s target on the oligarchs and concern for environmental protection.

The APILA Director said the recent SONA is better than the previous one because of “very minimal expletives” from Duterte, saying he was happy listening to him but not until he called out opposition Senator Franklin Drilon.

“This presidency, whatever he does, as regards to the pandemic, will define the rest of his administration and that will be his legacy. Whether he succeeds together with the people or his entire team or fails, will definitely be a benchmark for the opposition come in 2022 elections,” Cabarde said.

End the silence of the gagged!

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