(First of two parts)

I admit I did not watch the State of the Nation Address (SONA) live on July 22. But I had to see it because I teach Politics and Governance in the Loyola School of Social Sciences in the Ateneo de Manila University.

I heard the President was one hour late to the event. If my ears did not deceive me, I counted 39 bursts of applause and 22 of laughter interrupting the President’s 93-minute speech. And, as expected, I also counted at least 10 curses.

It is interesting to note that was there was no applause nor laughter when the President talked about the West Philippine Sea and China and about corruption (except maybe one laugh?).

“So where are we (the Philippines) really now today?,” he asked.

I will now quote parts of the President’s speech and give my own (right or wrong) unsolicited insights.

1. “But the landslide victory of the Administration candidates as well as the latest survey results show that my disapproval rating is at 3%”

True, the Administration candidates won by a landslide. The conduct of the recent automated election, like all other Philippine elections, was not without criticism, however. First, the Liberal Party, known as the legitimate opposition, was not recognized as such. The election watchdog NAMFREL withdrew at the last moment because they would not to be given the data for its open election data website. After 25 minutes of counting by the Transparency Server, everything stopped for the next seven hours. More 500 SD chips were replaced a few days before the election. It would be good for an independent IT organization to analyze and determine what actually happened during this last election and conclude what the effects of these events were.

Some would also argue over the accuracy of the 3% disapproval rating reported by the Social Weather Station (SWS) and similarly by Pulse Asia, particularly when the former also reported that 90% of respondents do not trust China and three of five would like the International Human Rights team to investigate the spate of killings in the country. But both reports give the President bragging rights and emboldens his officials to do what he commands — rightly or wrongly.

2. “It has been three years since I took my oath of office, and it pains me to say that we have not learned our lesson. The illegal drug problem persists… I respectfully request Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes (applause) related to drugs as well as plunder.”

A far cry from his earlier declaration “I will resign if I do not eliminate drugs in six months,” the President now admits illegal drugs continue to pour in, even near Malacañang Palace. Where are the drugs coming from? How is the supply — mostly coming from China as Senator Ronaldo “Bato” dela Rosa once said during the campaign — able to pass through Customs?

What lessons have we not learned? That Tokhang that has killed 24,000 people including children, but the big time drug lords (Peter Lim, Kenneth Dong, etc.) as identified by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency have not been arrested nor prosecuted? Will the death penalty stop such shipments when no big time drug lords have been arrested?

Interestingly, President Duterte has a former president, Joseph Estrada, a senator, Ramon Revilla, Jr., and maybe one or two others found guilty of plunder, among his friends!

3. “Our warped loyalty to family, friends, and tribal kin continue to exact a heavy toll on our programs designed to uplift the poor and reassure our investors, our foreign investors local, and the business sector in this country.”

If one ties this up with the many controversial political dynasties (the President’s family included) in the country (although it’s the people who voted for them) and friends (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Imelda Marcos who has been convicted but remains free, the Tulfos, and Bong Go who’s family is cornering big government projects in Davao) and the President may have a point here.

4. “I have fired or caused the resignation of more than a hundred officials and appointees of government without regard to relationship, friendship, and alliance.”

While a number of high officials have been fired or forced to resign by the President, a good number have actually just been “promoted” or “assigned” to other government positions after being “fired.” Take the case of former Philippine National Police General and Bureau of Customs (BOC) Chief Isidro Lapeña who was fired when a P11 billion ($533 million) drug shipment was released in Manila in 2018 — he was transferred to a harmless cabinet post as head of the Technical Skills and Development Agency. The same thing happened with another former BoC Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon who resigned as customs chief following congressional hearings into the smuggling of P6.4-billion worth of shabu. He was first appointed deputy administrator in the Office of Civil Defense and is now Director General of the Bureau of Corrections.

5. “We are long on rhetoric but short on accomplishments… That is why I implore those who occupy positions of power and authority to let your deeds and accomplishments do the talking. Lead by example. Words ring hollow when not followed by positive and prioritized actions.”

Walk the walk as they always say. It’s nice to hear promises like “Give me six months, I will eliminate drugs or else I will resign.” Or “I will jetski to Panatag Shoal and plant the Philippine flag,” or “solve traffic” or “I will stop corruption…” Especially during the campaign period.

6. “As of July 9, 2019, we collected more than P61 billion from GOCCs or government corporations, 32% of which, or P16 billion, from PAGCOR. [applause] This is more than the P36 billion collected in 2017. My salute to Andrea Domingo. [applause] Magpasugal ka pa, ma’am, nang marami (Gamble some more, ma’am, a lot). [laughter]”

Gambling is illegal in China. The news media has recently been flooded with stories on the influx of Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) with 100,000 Chinese workers who are allegedly not paying taxes. Would the Roman Catholic Church accept such money if the majority of the gamblers are foreigners? Just asking.

7. “Simplify and make your services responsive to — client-friendly. Your client is the Filipino, our employer — from where the money in our pockets come from, from your salaries.”

My own experience getting passports for myself and my children in an offsite facility in Marikina in 2018 was highly positive and worth thanking the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Duterte Administration for.

8. “Equipped with political will, the government ordered the closure of Boracay Island for six months to prevent further deterioration. We cleaned and rehabilitated the island and I allowed it to heal naturally.”

It was highly commendable of government to clean Boracay Island. But news of the influx of Chinese business establishments and tourists during its opening, a mountain flattened during the closure, and recent flooding (which normally happens when trees are cut — a no brainer) at the height of Typhoon Falcon somehow negates such high commendation.

(To be continued.)


Benjamin Roberto Gomez Barretto is currently a part time professor with the Political Science Department of Ateneo de Manila University. He is also Vice-President for Planning and Community Services of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina as well as its Dean for the College of Management and Technology. He was the former Executive Director of the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Foundation Inc. and was a former Administrator of the Ateneo School of Government.