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Veering off script

A Palace official told the media Sunday that President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address on Monday would be brief and heart-rending at the same time. It would be so touching, promised the spokesman, that people would fight back tears as they listened.

Many Filipinos had this expectation upon seeing Mr. Duterte alight from the presidential chopper a few minutes before he was due to speak. The address lasted much longer than the 38 minutes that was promised, and was hardly the poignant piece it was built up to be. In fact, seeming to get tired of the prepared speech that he had to read on the screen, President Duterte in no time launched into spontaneous statements, treating his speech as a mere guide.

To be sure, what came off was not as succinct, direct and inspiring as, say, his inaugural address on June 30. In fact, Mr. Duterte’s first Sona hewed closer to the ramblings he had displayed in the press conferences he called in the days leading to his inauguration. He reverted to topics he had already taken up. One could not predict where the speech was going or whether it was bound to end soon. That he engaged an award-winning director was irrelevant. Indeed if there were those who cried, they could have done so out of frustration at the address’ structure—or the lack of it.

But this is just form.

Mr. Duterte’s first Sona cannot be faulted for lacking in substance. He started with comforting words—that vindictiveness was not in his system—an obvious reference to his immediate predecessor who was conspicuously absent from the gallery. But the comfort was temporary as he enumerated the numerous and multi-faceted ills that the country faced, and how he intended to deal with them.

There were significant announcements made: sustaining the fight against drugs, lowering income taxes, declaring a unilateral ceasefire with the National Democratic Front, ensuring that the reproductive health law would be implemented in its entirety, improving the state of agriculture in the country, and pushing for the shift to a federal form of government.

Aside from these, the President also touched, among others, on the environment, the dispute with China, peace in Mindanao, infrastructure, traffic and other transport woes, and media killings.

These do not tell us that the President does not know how to focus. It instead affirms that the issues the country contends with are at the same time overwhelming and simultaneous. Change is hard to come by under this setting, but it will be occasioned, nonetheless.

The President, as shown in his Sona, is not an eloquent speaker. This is easily forgotten in the face of his decisiveness and his confidence that the fight against these ills will be sustained and relentless. We would rather observe how solutions are delivered, rather than indulge in feel-good tears.

Topics: Editorial , Veering off script , President Rodrigo Duterte , State of the Nation Address
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