“And the Filipino, disciplined, informed and involved, shall rise from the rubbles of sorrow and pain so much so that all the mirrors in the world will reflect the face of a passion that have change this land.”
Thus runs the penultimate line (grammar warts and all) in the official transcript of President Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (Sona), delivered at the House of Representatives’ Session Hall on July 25, 2016, when the sun had newly risen on his administration and the world was new.
The writer of the speech is obviously no Peggy Noonan, and in fact the President often deviated from it, signaling early on what would become a habit, as well as the rambling style that would become his trademark.
But the line, although wince-worthy, capitalizes on the promise of change made by the brash, gruff candidate who went on to win 16 million votes and the No. 1 post, surprising even himself.
Midway into his presidency, the survey says Mr. Duterte is as popular as ever. As trusted, too, as though “the Filipino, disciplined, informed and involved,” weighed the man and found him quite pleasing, despite, among other truly startling traits, his foul mouth, weak-kneed stance vis-à-vis China, and barefaced intervention in the affairs of a coequal branch of government.
He will thus stand at the rostrum today to address his people — a necessarily dramatic ritual, the presidency requiring, after all, a touch of theater — buoyed by fulsome numbers, in effect launching into his last three years with as ample a backing as when he started out.
To be sure, the business community is happy with the administration’s sustainable growth plan for the economy and gives it high marks in that regard. The military and police have the President to thank for the hefty increase in their salaries (no matter that it is a plum advantage of which teachers, who are saddled with the responsibility of nurturing the youth, the hope of the motherland, can only dream).
There is also a raft of meaningful legislation, such as those intended to ensure the health and well-being of Filipinos (the Universal Health Care Act, the Mental Health Act); to redress age-old injustice in the South (the Bangsamoro Organic Law); to provide a boost to sectors that sorely need it (a law strengthening the Magna Carta for scientists, engineers, researchers and other science and technology workers, as well as the Agricultural Free Patent Reform Act); even to give frazzled heirs a chance to set their inheritances and documents aright (the Estate Tax Amnesty Act); and — although it be the height of irony in a nation whose leader leers, flirts and cracks rape jokes incessantly — to penalize those gripped by Neanderthal notions of sexism and misogyny as manifested in wolf-whistling, catcalling, stalking, making persistent uninvited comments, etc., whether in public spaces or online (the “Bawal Bastos” law).
Yet, the survey numbers notwithstanding, can the earnest observer declare without gagging that Filipinos have “rise[n] from the rubble of sorrow and pain”?
There is blood on the streets, and that of 3-year-old Myca Ulpina, shot in the head in the course of the brutal war on drugs, is barely dry.
As it turns out, Mr. Duterte was not joking when he declared in his 2016 Sona: “We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or [been] put behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish.”
But it is mostly impoverished people that are being felled under suspicious circumstances in Bulacan and elsewhere, producing grieving widows and orphans who cry for justice — and find none.
Three years into Mr. Duterte’s presidency, this unrelenting war on drugs has pushed the Philippines closer to isolation from the international community: It has withdrawn from the International Criminal Court, and toyed for a while with the idea of severing ties with Iceland and like-minded other countries that called for a formal inquiry into the drug killings.
And the nation lurches on, enduring China’s continuing incursions into Philippine waters and indeed in the national landscape, its citizens striding mighty and unafraid on seemingly claimed territory, causing artificial booms in housing and property and making a mecca for highrollers and similar types through Philippine offshore gambling operations (Pogos).
Don’t overtax them, warns the chief of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., as though the Pogos were — and perhaps they are — part of “the passion that [has changed] this land.”
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