"The speech did not fail to disappoint many of us hopeless optimists."
After listening with tempered expectations, President Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address did not fail to disappoint many of us hopeless optimists who were waiting for a real assessment of the crisis as the context of how, as the country’s leader, he plans to steer us out of this mess.
In this mood, I would like to share some snippets of powerful thoughts shared during the latest online session of think tank Stratbase ADRi by another gathering of distinguished personas and their elegantly frank post SONA impressions.
Judge Raul C. Pangalangan, former International Criminal Court (ICC) Judge and also a Stratbase ADRi trustee noted that the circumstances of PRRD’s SONA was special because it was delivered while under ICC investigation for the human carnage on the war on drugs, the destabilizing aggression of China in the South China Sea, and the global crisis of COVID 19.
Judge Pangalangan said, “We’ve got the biggest crisis of all, the pandemic which threatens our health and our economy, but it is also an opportunity for well-meaning Filipinos to forge a solidarity unknown in ordinary time and possibly even if fleetingly bring forth the fictive nation that cuts across the lines of social class that divide us today.”
When Judge Pangalangan expressed his anticipation of the panelists’ talks, I felt that he cleverly commented on what PRRD should have presented in his SONA—how we can balance the current challenge to public health, with the long-term challenge of saving jobs and creating jobs.
Professor Emeritus and Former President, Asian Institute of Management (AIM), and former Education Secretary Dr. Edilberto de Jesus gave a strong commentary on PRRD’s approach to the drug war. He said that though ending criminality, corruption and the drug trade was a brilliant campaign agenda, these election winning commitments will, after all the bravado, not be fulfilled.
Dr. de Jesus said, “The drug trade was too diverse, too complex, too costly to simply address by bribing the drug traffickers and it was too complex to try address simply by force because what he could do in Davao as a mayor, it was more difficult to do when he had to deal with other centers of power.”
“Actually, when you look at the Duterte administration, his most outstanding accomplishment is maintaining a high trust and approval rating in the five years of his administration,” Dr. de Jesus said.
INCITEGov Chairperson Ms. Mardi Mapa-Suplido gave a scathing description of PRRD’s rule when she said, “We live amidst a unique, authoritarian brand of populism that has eroded our democratic institutions in ways we’ve never seen before.”
She said that the country’s ranking in the Global Democracy Index has dropped for the 4th year in a row and scores on civil liberties and functioning of government are even lower.
“That report observed how this pandemic has led to even greater withdrawal of civil liberties on a massive scale and fueled an existing trend of tolerance and censorship of dissenting opinions,” Ms. Mapa-Suplido said.
Mr. Richard Heydarian, ADRi Non-Resident Fellow and Chairholder in Geopolitics in the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, for his part considers Duterte’s populism a “reverse fairytale.”
Heydarian said that “A lot us, although skeptical, tried to give him the benefit of the doubt, it was almost euphoric in the sense of there was a change in the air and as any reverse fairytale, the start could be exciting, the start could be very encouraging but it tends to end in catastrophic tragedy.”
On the President’s popularity he opined, “Let’s not get too carried away with Duterte’s approval ratings. I believe he’s popular but whether he’s 70, 80, 90 percent approval rating, in the climate of fear I think we have to interrogate those numbers, and this has nothing to do with the credibility of survey agencies.”
Stratbase ADRi president Prof. Dindo Manhit’s statement underlined the urgency to mitigate the ravaging consequences of the pandemic crisis. Citing the latest findings of ADRi commissioned surveys with Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, 2022 candidates should focus on platforms that would address all too familiar concerns of poverty, quality of life, (and) higher cost of living, which are all linked to the current difficulties of underemployment and lack of opportunities. Health, having enough food to eat and education remain on top of the core concerns.
“So where is this promise of addressing inequality? Where is this promise of uplifting the lives of Filipinos? We cannot simply blame it on the pandemic per se,” Prof. Manhit said.
In a few days the country’s most productive region will again be under lockdown that according to NEDA will cost the economy hundreds of billions. Hopefully our resilience as a people will pull us through this protracted crisis and 10 months from now when we choose our next leaders, we will have learned from all the hard lessons and not make the same mistakes.