A s part of their homework, my granddaughters, ages 9 and 7, were instructed to watch President Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address on television. The SONA would be discussed in class, they were told.
The two girls asked me to sit with them so we could listen to it together.
For the first 15 minutes, they were attentive. Then my older granddaughter quipped, “Ahma, he is not saying anything new. It is still the war on drugs. Hasn’t he finished killing all of them? So many died already.”
The younger one chimed in: “Ahma, I think it is wrong for the President to just kill them like that. What if it is a mistaken identity? (The person killed) cannot fight back and defend himself because he is dead already.”
That is the very reason many people object to Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, I explained to them. So far, the ones being killed are small-time drug users and pushers. Yes, the streets are quieter without people hanging around street corners harassing and victimizing passersby. But, I told them, the syndicates behind the illegal drugs trade are still out there.
“But the President is not the one going out to kill them,” said the younger one.
“But he’s the one who gave the order to kill them,” the older one swiftly countered.
From the mouth of babes.
We continued listening to the broadcast until the part when the President addressed the evil of irresponsible mining. The girls lost interest. They still do not understand what mining operations entail.
For me, one of the highlights of the SONA was the policy statement to stop the destruction of the environment due to illegal and irresponsible mining operations. I wished the strongest applause was heard when he talked about the greed of mining companies.
My grandkids became interested in the SONA again when the President started talking in Filipino. But soon, he was spicing up his speech with too many expletives.
“Ahma, why is he saying bad words?” my granddaughters said. “It is a formal occasion and so many are listening to him.”
Need I say more?
“You are excused from listening further,” I told them. “Just tell your teacher your Ahma stopped you from listening to the head of the nation using bad words in front of you.”
They then caught a close-up shot of chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo in his business suit with flower patches.
“Ahma, that is not proper attire for a formal occasion. He should wear barong like the President,” said one of my girls.
Need I say more?
If I were their teacher, I would give them an “A” for attention and perception.
Hits and misses
President Duterte talked about the war on terror in Mindanao. What I found sorely missing was his plan for the rehabilitation of Marawi after its near-total destruction. It is not surprising many evacuees were disappointed. What they wanted to hear from him was the answer to the question: “Kailan po kami makakabalik sa aming tahanan (When can we go back home)?”
The President talked about corruption.
He ranted against government bureaucracy.
I applaud him on this part and wish I could tell him my recent ordeal applying for lifetime benefits from the Social Security System and amending my PhilHealth status to lifetime membership.
These two processes are supposed to be ordinary and routine, yet government makes it so difficult for applicants. If I, with my college degree, find the process cumbersome, how much more the unlettered folk?
I recall former President Benigno Aquino III’s mantra: “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (If there’s no corruption, there’s no poverty),” and lament that slogans always sound good but unless acted upon, we may as well add them to the growing list of empty promises.
Aquino alone was conspicuously absent from SONA. The other former presidents were all there: Fidel V. Ramos, Joseph E. Estrada, Gloria M. Arroyo. Hence, Aquino’s absence is noticeable. He should know enough to separate his own persona from his position as the country’s former president.
Extended martial law
The Supreme Court on July 4 ruled in favor of the declaration of martial law in the whole of Mindanao. Congress, meeting jointly on July 22, voted to extend military rule in Mindanao and suspend the writ of habeas corpus on the island until the end of the year.
Because of this, I am not optimistic that our government’s legislative and judicial branches can effectively perform their role as fiscalizer, and provide checks and balances on the executive branch and on each other.
Duterte, of course, enjoys huge political capital, especially due to his continued high acceptance and trust ratings. And I can understand the House of Representatives bowing to the President’s wishes. But the Senate and the SC? They should do their jobs in checking the President’s excesses and not let him always have everything he wants.
I reiterate that Duterte does not need martial law to order the killing of the Maute rebels or bombing of their lairs. Neither does he need martial law to rehabilitate Marawi. Placing the whole of Mindanao under martial law is unconscionable.
Beyond the SONA
Beyond the SONA we await even a semblance of the promised inclusive growth, of real change and transformation, and, above all, the promised peace.
The failure of peace negotiations in Mindanao and the subsequent Marawi siege, and the failure of the peace talks with the leftists threaten to show yet again that fulfilling election promises remains wishful thinking.
Yet, I hope I am wrong. There is still time for the President to deliver on his promises. A native son of Mindanao with legal training, his abilities and network will be tested again and again as he tries to steer the country toward peace and prosperity.
I look forward to the day when there is no need to use creative imagination in assessing the true state of the country: when there are no war-ravaged towns, when evacuation centers are empty, when there is rice in every belly. But, hey, who am I kidding?