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The Good And Bad Parts Of President Duterte’s First SONA

The Good And Bad Parts Of President Duterte’s First SONA

It’s safe to say that President Duterte’s first ever State of the Nation Address was everything we expected it to be—he mostly talked about drugs, he continued to show disregard for human rights and alienate the local media, he also said some progressive things, and he definitely rambled away from his reportedly 38-minute scripted speech. It wasn’t the tearjerker Secretary Andanar said it would be, however.

Here’s a quick breakdown of the good and the bad, from the full text of his speech. Please bear with us, as it’s quite long:

“We cannot move forward if we allow the past to pull us back. Finger-pointing is not the way. That is why I will not waste precious time dwelling on the sins of the past or blaming those who are perceived to be responsible for the mess that we are in and suffering from.”

That’s good, in theory. The only bad part is that Sen. Bongbong Marcos totally hijacked this for his own little pity party. You might have a lot of people fooled, Senator, but you haven’t fooled the greater part.

“Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly, that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in court. And if the evidence warrants, they will have their day of reckoning, too.”

So far, so good. Everyone says this, but Duterte’s brand of political will is a little more believable. Let’s hope this will come true.

“I heard the people on the streets complain that justice had become illusory; that equity and fairness and speedy disposition of cases had deteriorated into hollow concepts fit only for masteral dissertations. It was, and still is, very sad indeed . . . I was determined then as I am now determined and better positioned to wage war against those who make a mockery of our laws, including those who make life for us all miserable.”

This is all well and good… in theory. He’s not lying about justice taking forever in this country, but that doesn’t mean he has the right to bypass the law and take matters into his own hands. Or for other people to do the same, in his name. Which leads us to…

“I wish to assure everyone though that vindictiveness is not in my system. Just like you and I, all, equal treatment and equal protection are what I ask for our people . . . With this, my administration shall be sensitive to the State’s obligations to promote, protect, fulfill the rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable, and social justice shall be pursued, even as the rule of law shall prevail at all times.”

Let’s jump ahead real quick, because this is in contradiction with this passage:

“But human rights cannot be used a shield or an excuse to destroy the country–your country and my country.”

So he’s saying that he’ll uphold the rule of law, equal treatment, equal protection, and every other human right available… unless you’re part of the problem. AND NOBODY SAYS HUMAN RIGHTS WERE DESTROYING THE COUNTRY.

And his definition of the problem?

“‘Yung mga bagay na illegal at masama at hindi tama, huwag mong gawin (The wrong, illegal things, don’t do them) . . . Kung ayaw ninyong mamatay, ayaw ninyong masaktan, huwag kayong umasa diyan sa mga pari pati human rights, hindi nakakapigil yan ng kamatayan. So huwag ninyong gawin. (If you don’t want to die, if you don’t want to get hurt, don’t trust priests and human rights, they won’t stop death. So don’t do them.) He who is the cause of the cause is the cause of them all.”

Yo… that’s incredibly, incredibly reckless. We get it, drugs are bad, addiction is a bad thing, but that’s not the major problem we have with his war on drugs. Either he doesn’t see or refuses to see that the due process determines who actually is a criminal and who isn’t—and don’t even get us started on murder, which isn’t the solution to the problem. At all.

Fortunately (and/or bafflingly) he also says this:

“We will also prioritize the rehabilitation of drug users. We will increase the number of residential treatment and rehabilitation facilities in all regions of the country. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will facilitate the preparations for the use of military camps and facilities for drug rehabilitation.”

We hope this promise isn’t just for those who didn’t happen to “fight back” during raids and entrapment operations. Skipping all the way ahead to the end of the SONA, he says this, and it’s probably the worst thing he could say about the whole drug war issue, because it’s kind of telling about the whole thing:

“The drug lords that you desperately want to strangle are not here. Wala mga bilyonaryo dito. The ones that you catched, running after, are just the lieutenants. They do it with technology. They’re cooking it in the international waters.”

So… what he’s basically saying is that these killings of alleged pushers and addicts is pretty much all for show, because we’re not really getting anywhere with the big fish. If they’re just getting rid of mules and pushers (if they are indeed who the police claim they are) then how is it helping get rid of drugs? By discouraging distribution? How does this fix the root of the problem?

“How can I solve the problem now by arresting? . . . It’s a free for all enterprise for the criminals at this time. If I had just the plan . . . sabi ko, sabi ko sa military kapag nakita ninyo, pasabugin mo na. Maski nag-surrender ‘yan. (I told the military, if you see them, blow them up. Even if they surrender.) Show no mercy to them because they’re not doing any mercy to us anyway. Bakit ako…Iyan ang problema. (Why me? That’s the problem.)”

That’s really, really reckless, man. Somebody has to tell him to chill—he’s too angry about this whole drug thing for some reason that he’s seeing them as people not worth mercy. And innocents are getting dragged into this mess, and fanatics are willing to buy all of the police’s stories of fighting back. It’s highly contradictory with what he says about rehabilitation, ending up being really confusing. Which of his feelings about drugs, exactly, do we believe?

Moving on, let’s go back real quick to a part we skipped over:

“Thus to our religious bishops, leaders, priests, pastors, preachers, imams, let me assure you that while I am a stickler for the principle of separation between Church and State, I believe quite strongly that there should never be a separation between God and State.”

Although there might not seem like a difference between the two for some people, God and the Church are two distinct things, and we like that he made the distinction. The Church is run by man, while God is God. Men of the cloth shouldn’t be meddling in political affairs. You’ll see why a little later on.

“My administration shall implement a human approach to development and governance, as we improve our people’s welfare in the areas of health, education, adequate food and water, housing, environmental preservation, and respect for culture.”

Okay, cool. Hope you can show us more concrete ideas, because as much as we’re interested, these are all broad promises.

“The full force of the AFP will be applied to crush these criminals who operate under the guise of religious fervor. The AFP shall enhance its capability to search and engage these rogue and lawless elements.

We have to strengthen our coordination with Indonesia and Malaysia to suppress the kidnappings in the waters of our neighboring countries. We will strengthen our counter-terrorism programs by amending various laws on human terrorism, terrorism financing and cybercrime.”

That’s all well and good. We just hope that these amendments, especially to that of cybercrime, don’t encroach on freedoms. We already know that the Cybercrime Law is a vague mess of a statute.

“We will vigorously address the grievances that have been time and again expressed not only by the Bangsamoro, indigenous peoples and other groups for security, development, fair access to decision-making and acceptance of identities.

Enduring peace can only be attained only if we meet these fundamental human needs of every man, woman and child.”

Sounds good. We agree.

“All of us want peace, not the peace of the dead but the peace of the living. We express our willingness and readiness to go to the negotiating table, and yet we load our guns, fix our sights, pull the trigger. It is both ironic and tragic–and it is endless. Well, we extol the bravery and heroism of our soldiers. Kayo, the rebels, do the same for the rebels and fighters. What I see instead are the widows and the orphans and I feel their pain and grief. And no amount of cash assistance or the number of medals can compensate the loss of a human life. Sorrow cuts across every stratum of society. It cuts deeply and the pain lasts forever.”

But… why does this not apply to drug criminals? Are they subhuman?

“That is why, I reach out to you, to all of you today. To our Muslim brothers, let us find, let us end the centuries of this mistrust and warfare. To the CPP/NPA/NDF, let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere. And it is getting bloodier by the day.

To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide an enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately and call on our fellow Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly.”

This seems sketchy, but it’s a tactic we can get behind. Making the first move in good faith might actually be a good first step in ending this conflict. It’s a little contradictory with his stand against the Abu Sayyaf, but they commit more acts of terrorism, so it’s understandable that there’s lesser tolerance for them.

“On the macroeconomic management, my administration will continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies, and even do better.

We will achieve this through prudent fiscal and monetary policies that can help translate high growth into more and better job creation and poverty reduction. By the end of my term, I hope–I hope and pray–to handover an economy that is much stronger, characterized by solid growth, low and stable inflation, (strong) dollar reserves and robust fiscal position.

On taxation, my administration will pursue tax reforms towards a simpler, more equitable and more efficient tax system that can foster investment and job creation. We will lower personal and corporate income tax rates and relax the bank secrecy law.”

The first part of that is more broad promises that need concrete follow-ups, but the tax and bank secrecy parts are really interesting. People want lower income tax because they don’t get to take home their full salaries. The only problem here is that it mostly benefits the middle-class and up, as the lower-class don’t really pay much taxes (if they pay taxes at all). At least the upper-class don’t seem too happy with the bank secrecy law.

He follows that last part with this really interesting line:

Eh na-Presidente ako eh. Ayoko sana makielam dito sa mga ito, pero hayaan mo na. (I became President—I didn’t want to meddle with these things, but let it go.)”

There’s more to that than meets the eye.

“At the household level, there must be sufficient income for all Filipinos to meet the basic food and non-food needs for their families. We shall continue to attract investments that will generate thousands of jobs each year—jobs that are suitable for the poor and less skilled members of the workforce.

Reforms to ensure competitiveness and promote ease of doing business will be mandatory. Reacting to these needs, the restrictions to the economy will be needed to make more investments to come and to develop labor-intensive industries such as manufacturing, agriculture and tourism shall be pursued.

We must also invest in human capital and ensure equal access to economic opportunities . . . And if employment is not an option, for instance in extremely rural neighborhoods, entrepreneurship would be advocated.”

Again, great. Just needs concrete plans behind the ideas. But we skipped the best passage of that part, because we wanted to emphasize it:

“The implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law must be put into full force and effect so that couples, especially the poor, will have freedom of informed choice on the number and spacing of children they can adequately care and provide for, eventually making them more productive members of the labor force.”


“We shall also enhance local business environment by addressing bottlenecks in business registration and processing, in streamlining investment applications processes and in integrating the services of various government offices.

Government Financing Institutions (GFIs) shall come up with out-of-the box financing packages to capacitate our small and medium entrepreneurs.”

We’re also cool with this. Despite its bad rap for being soulless at the higher levels, there is a place for good capitalism. This would (and should) be at least a better option than, I don’t know, turning to selling drugs? This is what you need to do to fix the drug problem.

“In the field of tourism, we shall construct more access roads and tourism gateways to service centers and tourist sites.

Road development projects shall complement with our thrust to provide modern agriculture infrastructure by expanding and improving the construction and rehabilitation of roads and irrigation, and establishing modern harvest and post-harvest facilities to minimize losses.

We shall also conduct a nationwide soil analysis to determine areas most suitable for rice farming to optimize production with the use of effective soil rehabilitation and fertilization.

We shall strictly enforce fisheries laws, particularly on illegal fishing and promote aquaculture along river banks and in backyards.”

Sounds good. Agriculture and aquaculture does need to be shored up—this should be our bread-and-butter, after all.

“On the other hand, we will accelerate infrastructure spending by improving national roads and bridges and implementing the Mindanao Logistics Infrastructure Network and other road network master plans. We shall pursue inter-island linkage projects.”

Gotta agree with this, too. Make most of the archipelago accessible, and we do need better roads.

“The revival of the operation of the Pasig River Ferry Service System is a viable solution for the severe traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

This serves as an alternative mode of transportation for passengers particularly those coming from the east side of Metro to reach specific destinations within the cities of Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Pasig, Taguig, Marikina and Quezon City.

Our anti-colorum campaign and out-of-line apprehension, including the removal of (illegal) terminals, shall also be intensified, and my God it will be done immediately. Immediately.

To address lack of road infrastructure in Metro Manila, usage of existing roads should be maximized. Thus, there is a need to cooperate and coordinate with LGUs to map out secondary routes and to consult various stakeholders, including the public transport operators.

Many in government opine realistically–and I would have to agree–that the worsening traffic situation could be logistically addressed if Congress would also accord emergency powers to the agencies concerned.”

While there are a lot of issues that need to be addressed on the roads of Metro Manila (like how PUVs operate) we hope that the administration uses both this and the promotion of entrepeneurship and better job opportunities to eliminate the necessity of moving to Manila from the provinces. A good part of Manila traffic is due to people having to come to the city in the first place for better opportunities. We’re not saying we don’t want them here, but if we want to fix the issue of congestion here, we have to build other places up first.

“You know my advice to you is maintain a federal system, a parliament, but be sure to have a president. Hindi na ako niyan. (It won’t be me by then.) I’m disqualified and by that time I would longer be here. But, I can commit today to the Republic of the Philippines and its people: If you hurry up the federal system of government and you can submit it to the Filipino people by the fourth, fifth year, proseso ‘yan eh. (It’s a process.) You call for a referendum and after that call for a presidential election, I will go . . . But you just have a president.”

While the federal system isn’t perfect, we’re impressed by his humility (or the fact that he plain DGAF) to not remain in the job should we finally put the system he wants in effect. You can’t say that for every president. The rest of this passage is a lecture on how the new government should be.

“I have also ordered the DFA to streamline documentary requirements and passport applications and open additional Consular Offices in strategic places to decongest Metro Manila sites [applause] and avoid queues that have caused hardships and suffering to passport applicants.”

Wonderful! Death to red tape.

“I have also directed the newly-created DICT, Information and Communication Technology, to develop a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optics cables and wireless technologies to improve internet speed.

Wi-Fi access shall be provided at no charge in selected public places [applause] including parks, plazas, public libraries, schools, government hospitals, train stations, airports and seaports.”

ALSO YES (if it happens).

“We shall intensify our war against human traffickers and illegal recruiters that prey on our migrants.

To help ensure that the hard-earned money of the Filipinos overseas are put into productive use, a mandatory financial education for all migrants and their communities will be pursued with incentives to encourage entrepreneurship among them.

I may now also ask on Congress to consider drawing up bills consolidating and merging agencies and offices having to do the Overseas Filipino to have a department that shall focus on and quickly respond to their problems and concerns.”

Also on the right track.

“To help avoid squatter-like conditions in relocation sites, we urge utilities like Meralco and electric cooperatives to exercise their social corporate responsibility by making direct connections to relocation sites and depressed areas.”

Think it’s more surprising that they have to be nagged by the President to do this.

“As long as I sit here as President, there will be there no demolitions without relocations. Hindi talaga ako papayag. (I will not allow it.) . . . Government will expropriate. I will make use of the expropriation powers.”

One more thing we hope he can deliver on. He also touches on the issue of not honoring the Paris Agreement if it means sacrificing industrialization:

“I have directed the concerned regulatory agencies to prioritize the issuance of required permits for power development . . . Let us be very clear on this: We need to industrialize. We need the power and, therefore, the emissions would also be considered. You just can’t say it: ‘I established five economic zones here’. And you start to say that, ‘you are spewing so much carbon footprints’ . . . I cannot just agree on anything that will delay. I’m only good for six years . . . Now, I’m sure that the heavy machineries would come in and even the power, cheapest is coal.”

Here’s an idea: why don’t we just pour money in science and technology to figure out cleaner ways we can power our industries? If we can use the sun to power a huge-ass mall, why can’t we do the same for a factory? We’re no energy experts, but we’re in the 21st century, and pretty sure there really are better ways to do this. He seems to be a little short-sighted on this—because what good is industry if we’re underwater anyway?

He wraps up the SONA with some more broad promises we’ll need to watch out for, but we’d also like to emphasize this:

“Consistent with our international obligations, in keeping with national mandates, this administration vows to protect women’s rights and human rights abuses against our women . . . thus, I order all agencies and oversight bodies and local government units down to the barangay level to fully implement the Magna Carta for Women.”

That’s all well and fine, but he has to realize that making rape jokes and catcalling are also part of this abuse he’s fighting against. It’s great if he’s turned over a new leaf, but he’ll have to lead by example so that the worst of us figure it out too.

“To our Lumad brothers . . . The government has issued you the Ancestral Certificates Domain Title covering vast tracts of land especially in the Island of Mindanao. You have the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act, and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to protect you and to assist you.”

If they can put it into real effect, that would be great.

He finally gets back to the script in the ending, and it’s one hell of an ending:

“But we should not despair. Like someone wrote: It is when the night is darkest, that dawn breaks.

We are imbued with resiliency that has been tested and proven. More difficult times as in the past. We have a bond to act together. We have to help each other. For then and only then can we truly prevail.

And the Filipino, disciplined, informed, involved, shall rise from the rubbles of sorrow and pain. So that all the mirrors in the world will reflect the face of a passion that has changed this land.”

If anything, it highlights the difference between scripted Duterte and rambling, unfiltered Duterte. And my God, it’s quite the distinction. What did you think of the president’s first SONA?

[ and Rappler]

Photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer


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