Two weeks before the sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, I binge-watched the Netflix series Designated Survivor. It is a 2016 political and conspiracy thriller that follows the providential story of a Cabinet member, the lone survivor from a bombing attack on the US Capitol during the State of the Union that killed all top politicians including the president himself. Thomas Kirkman was designated to take over the reins of the highest post in America – and to safeguard its interests from the traitors in the White House.
Yesterday, President Duterte delivered the longest SONA post-EDSA during the most economically unstable and politically divisive time.
Every SONA reflects the social, cultural, and political milieux of the country. Culturally, it is a spectacle that honors a long-standing tradition in Philippine politics since 1935. The SONA is a constitutional obligation required by Article VII, Section 23 of the 1987 Constitution which states: “The President shall address the Congress at the opening of its regular session.”
What transpired in the fictional Netflix series is a far cry from the SONA of President Duterte. There was no bombing or any treachery of its kind but there were series of protests across the country to denounce the threat of the Duterte administration to press freedom, democracy, peace, and territorial integrity.
President Duterte’s final SONA was no different from his previous addresses: spontaneous yet impulsive, violent, and unconscious of current community and national realities – detached from what he termed as “people-centered” development as the guiding approach of his administration since 2016.
According to the Pulse Asia’s June 2021 nationwide survey on SONA, topping the list of issues that Filipinos wanted the President to talk about are jobs and livelihood creation (38%), Philippine economy (35%), measures to control inflation (33%), and plans to expedite the government’s COVID-19 vaccination program (31%).
Among the redemptive plans of the Duterte administration are the creation of a law instituting a Center for Disease Control and a Virology Institute to address the imminent danger of future pandemics and the creation of more than one million jobs through a taskforce to address the looming unemployment rate in the country. The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) estimated an unemployment rate of 7.7% in May, easing from 8.7% or 4 million unemployed Filipinos in January 2021.
In his presidential bid, then Mayor Duterte framed his political campaign on a narrative of peace. During the SONA, he recollected that time in recent political history, the radical changes that he promised to achieve within three to six months, and his frustration of fighting corruption in his own government. Five years have passed and issues on drugs, criminality, and corruption continue to hound all spheres of sociality, culture, and politics – most of the time at the expense of innocent lives.
When he expressed that he has “less visions now but more remembrances,” it sounded short of inspiration and more of a surrender and resignation to helplessness. Healthcare workers wanted to hear about the President’s vision for their future and of Philippine health. Teachers wanted to hear about the President’s plans on pandemic-proof and inclusive education system. Ordinary, critical Filipino masses wanted to hear about the President’s continuing course of action against the COVID-19 pandemic. We all wanted to hear something, something to inspire us to move forward as a nation.
At a time when we are beset with the most devastating health crisis in the 21 st century, the SONA could have been an opportune moment to critically assess the most defining and grueling moments of the COVID milieu and the significant strategies assumed by the administration in dealing with the pandemic. Instead, he focused on his plans for the military and uniformed personnel: free legal assistance, continuous upgrading of defense capability, and a unified system for separation, retirement, and pension. If he can honor them for taking down alleged communist apparatuses in the country, then he can afford the same legal privileges to our healthcare personnel – for their selfless and patriotic efforts in this extraordinary time.
Apparently, President Duterte continues to disenfranchise vulnerable communities that he deems as threat to his administration. In the series Designated Survivor, President Kirkman exhausted his administration’s political machinery to capture the traitors who orchestrated the bombing as an act of treason and disloyalty to the ideals of the US. In the Philippines, despite direct evidence pinning graft and corruption charges on powerful politicians, they can still walk free, shake hands with the President, and run for office at the end of the day.
As citizens with civic interests, we personally wanted to hear President Duterte talk about his administration’s accomplishments other than his proclivities for the military and drug war, and the infrastructural accomplishments of his predecessor. We wanted the same vigor that elected him to office in 2016. We wanted politics rooted on genuine “people-centered” development.
SO(N)A-no na? What awaits us in the final year of the Duterte administration? For now, #tumindig at #magparehistro ka para sa bayan.
Iskolar ng at para sa bayan, educator, and researcher. His recent research studies focus on science communication, organizational communication, community development, and narratives of risks and the pandemic. He enjoys visiting museums and galleries, sipping brewed coffee, and understanding social life and phenomena.