by Florangel Rosario Braid
Again, President Duterte gave another unforgettable performance in last Monday’s SONA. He delivered a speech that lasted more than two hours, more than half of which consisted of ad-libs where he demonstrated his usual derring-do attitude. He did not mince words as he lashed out at his foes, including miners who have destroyed the environment, vowed to end peace talks with the NDF, defended his unrelenting fight against the drug war, martial law, death penalty, tax reforms, federalism, and the Bangsamoro Basic Law. After his speech and before the press conference, he met with the protesters outside the Batasan.
With Brillante Mendoza’s effective use of close-ups and camera shots which showed the President in his usual fighting spirit (“I will hang you to the very depths of hell”), as well as the contrasting reaction to his ad-libs by our Filipino lawmakers and the members of the diplomatic corps, the two hours went by quickly. I understand, however, that some were dismayed by his expletives and turned off their TV sets. An analyst described the SONA address as “vintage Duterte.” For even on a formal occasion like a SONA, he is unable to shake off the image of a populist leader who mixes light banter and swear words with the serious message. I hope that the presidential staff will try to connect all that he had said he would do towards providing a “comfortable life for all” with a strategic plan.
I like his support for the environment and agree with his observation on the mining industry (the illegal miners, not the big-time and responsible ones, as the latter claim that they had nothing to do with the terrible onslaught that we have seen in several areas of the country. I had seen the video produced by ANC earlier, and it was evident that this could not have been done by small-time miners. Anyone who had viewed the documentary would grieve for families living in those communities. Unless some immediate rehabilitation is done, the communities are doomed to suffer the consequences – long-term health issues, landslides, and threats to their livelihood as it would take time and money to undertake part-time restoration of their resources.
I support the current economic program and also agree with UP Professor Magno who sees “red flags” in the form of absence of local absorptive capacity. The latter refers to our present lack of technical personnel who can implement the projects. We are very good in planning but we often fail in their execution because of this inadequacy. In the meantime, this can be addressed by having foreign countries who could provide loans and grants to bring their own people to implement the projects. This is a problem that K-12 and our tertiary and graduate education must try to address. The President recognizes this by citing the efforts of the Departments of Education, Information Technology, and Science and Technology, in meeting this demand.
We should now gear our people with the needed discernment so that they can, in the spirit of participative democracy, provide critical evaluation to the thousands of bills filed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. They include tax reforms, anti-terrorism bills, federalism, constitutional change, government reorganization, the new BBL bill, National Land Use Act, Traffic and Congestion Traffic Act, national ID system, anti-discrimination, and end to contractualization. We are relieved to learn that the death penalty has been dropped from the list of urgent bills. One controversial proposal that drew immediate adverse reaction is that of having casinos and the mining industry secure congressional franchises. This would put more pressure on the members of Congress especially since some of them have personal interests in these enterprises.
Those of us who recognize our past failures to redress social injustices to our Moro brothers and sisters are pleased to see the political will shown through support of the Bangsamoro basic law, the establishment of the first Muslim television station, and similar initiatives to lessen the existing gaps between imperial Luzon and Mindanao.
On the West Philippine Sea, the President revealed that he had agreed to joint exploration with China in the disputed waters, and during the press briefing, he also noted that he would not insist on our territorial claims because China has missiles trained on Manila. But the joint exploration plan is unconstitutional, and as Supreme Court Associate Justice Carpio has said, conducting joint development within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is prohibited by the Constitution. We trust that we will be able to arrive at some happy and peaceful compromise – a solution that does not violate the legal framework and which does not force us to go to war.
Finally, I applaud the President’s resolve in asking the US to return to us the Balangiga bells, a symbol of the mass massacre done to thousands of our countrymen in Samar by the American colonizers. Our people are the right keepers of this historical artifact, an important part of our national legacy.
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