By Amelia H.C. Ylagan
“I get to punch a senator in the face,” Keith Thurman said of Manny Pacquiao days before their welterweight championship boxing match on Saturday in Las Vegas. It was a TKO, even before the undefeated 30-year-old American WBA (Super) Welterweight World Champion climbed into the ring to exchange fisticuffs with Filipino boxing icon and reigning WBA (Regular) Welterweight World Champion, boxing’s only eight-division world champion, 40-year-old Senator Emmanuel “Manny/Pacman” Pacquiao.
It does not even matter who won the match. Somehow Thurman hit a deathly metaphorical blow to the Filipino psyché that allowed itself to descend to crass physical spectator sport, insisting on recognition at that lowest, most violent arena, when the Filipino soul and intellect can compete and be known for dignified higher excellence. There is an indefinable deep hurt with each jab to sensibilities as Pacquiao is pummelled and trashed in an animal fight — he is more than “our bet,” he is our Senator. Thinking and feeling Filipinos wish he would stop boxing and making millions of dollars, and just be a Senator. Some may have blasphemed his honor by hoping Pacquiao should finally lose and end his duality.
But perhaps the Filipino should look into himself and discern a most disconcerting parallel of the Pacquiao syndrome with the descent of the collective consciousness into compromised values and the violence upon tradition and principles. “How did we manage to descend so low?” veteran journalist and rights fighter Vergel Santos asked in an opinion piece on Rappler, “Duterte’s word replaces the Constitution” (July 20). “When President Duterte said, on national television, that the Constitution is nothing more than toilet paper, yet provoked in us little more than sparse and momentary lip protest, he got us where he wanted us…,” Santos said. We were led in the descent into deterioration, and we allowed it.
“Tapos na ang boksing,” the boxing match is over. Just like Senator Pacquiao’s dignity and ours was lost before the bout was won, there will have been a decision forced on the Filipino people that after the pummelling over the past year, all is well with the country, economically and politically. The fourth State of the Nation (SONA) address of President Rodrigo Duterte for his third year of incumbency will be held today, July 22, at 4 p.m., at the Batasang Pambansa before the Legislative and Judicial bodies co-equal with the Executive, and some 3,000 guests. The SONA will be covered live on national television and radio.
Three Cabinet clusters, Mr. Duterte’s “managers and trainers” as in a boxing match, have been preparing for the SONA with a series of fora to drumbeat his achievements in his first three years. Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said on TV that the first forum, called “Patuloy na Pag-unlad” (Continued Development) by the Economic Development and Infrastructure Cluster, was held on July 1 in Manila. On July 10, it was the Human Development and Poverty Reduction Cluster and the Participatory Governance Cluster’s “Patuloy na Malasakit at Pagkakaisa” (Continuing Care and Unity) forum in Cebu City. “Patuloy na Katatagan” (Constant Stability) by the Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Disaster Risk Reduction Cluster and Security, Justice and Peace Cluster was held on July 17 in Davao City. The President’s SONA will be short, Panelo said.
Unlike other presidents before him, the President need not talk about legacy in his mid-term SONA, political science professor Hansley Juliano of the Ateneo de Manila University says (BusinessWorld, June 26, 2019). Duterte will rant, “appealing to his purported mass and propertied bases, keeping them consolidated and personally loyal to him. This demagoguery is consistent with nearly every 21st century non-democratic regime in the world today, and Duterte’s, needless to say, is no exception,” Prof. Juliano predicts. “The Duterte presidency’s persistent disregard of the separation of powers has only been boosted by the midterm election results. More justices of the Supreme Court are slated to be appointed this term. Super majorities are nearly guaranteed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives — especially with the loss of significant fiscalizing voices from the sectoral/party-list bloc,” Prof. Juliano laments.
But first let us see who will be Speaker of the House of Representatives. Today, in the morning (before the afternoon SONA), Congress will meet to choose the Speaker. In a CNN Philippines talk on July 20 with anchor Pia Hontiveros, political analysts Manolo Quezon and Ed Tayao tried to predict who will be Speaker — and the implications of what a “surprise” it will be, if Mr. Duterte’s term-sharing choice of Allan Peter Cayetano and Lord Allan Velasco will not be ratified by the majority of the House. Both analysts decried the loss of the “sacred” separation of powers in democratic governance by Duterte’s “breaking the taboo” and anointing the Speaker.
Mr. Quezon spoke candidly of the three candidates and their characteristic traits and standing, three factors for the House to consider. Martin Romualdez is the “thoroughbred” from political dynasties. Quezon thinks “Romualdez might crash in like a GMA (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo).” Lord Allan Velasco is an “unknown” who has no track record and no cache of loyalties from peers; and Allan Peter Cayetano is an “original” who knows how things work in the House and in the Senate, but is widely unliked among his peers. Mr. Tayao ventured that “the next Speaker could be a Martin (Romualdez).” Quezon thinks it might still be Cayetano, because “he was endorsed by Senator Bong Go,” and he (Cayetano) will “kick” if not given what he was promised. There may not even be term-sharing, but a full 21-month term for the next Speaker of the House. Let us see who will be the winner in this “boxing match,” really between Romualdez and Cayetano, the two analysts seemed to infer.
Journalist Ina Andolong suspects that there might be a “coup” brewing in the House as to the choice of Speaker (“Politics as usual,” CNN Phils. July 20). If this happens, and Mr. Duterte’s declared choice(s) do not win, then it might show that the president’s hold over the overpowering majority in Congress is failing. Or it might also be a smokescreen to bring in the best man who can really deliver in behalf of the House, Duterte’s legislative and political agenda.
There are urgent issues to be tackles over the next three years of Mr. Duterte’s administration, which he must address with his biases, for his political survival. The United Nations has declared investigations on human rights transgressions in the Philippines and he is personally enraged at the “prejudging” of his drug war. The allision of a Chinese vessel upon a boat manned by 22 defenseless Filipino fishermen at the Reed Bank has opened deep wounds among the Filipino people over Duterte’s neglect (or denial?) of the country’s already-won claims in the West Philippine Sea. He has not signed the Security of Tenure Bill which he promised while campaigning to be president — now swinging back to studying “endo” because the Foreign Chambers of Commerce and even local big businesses are saying it is bad for the economy.
The economy is good, but the Philippines is at a medium GDP growth of 6.4%, compared to erstwhile laggard ASEAN neighbors Cambodia (7%), Vietnam (6.8%), and Myanmar (6.6%), according to the Asian Development Bank’s latest statistics. Could it be because the Philippines is the least peaceful country in the ASEAN (philstar.com, Nov 11, 2017)?
Yes, President Duterte must address the growing culture of violence in the country. It feels like a Thurman has punched the Filipinos in the face.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.