I just don’t get it. We have been directly hit by this millennium’s worst worldwide pandemic, our foreign debt broke barriers to reach new record-setting highs, the swelling ranks of unemployed Filipinos have driven many people to go begging in the streets, and yet here we were listening to the President tell his countrymen during the hallowed tradition of his annual State of the Nation Address that he is useless.
The word “useless” is actually tame, unlike the exact Tagalog word used by the President to describe himself. For lack of an accurate translation in English, the word “inutil” could mean somewhere along the lines of good-for-nothing and impotent.
I am shocked to know that Filipinos are not shocked by that statement. It makes me wonder if we have reached that point where we simply nod our heads and come to terms with the President’s confession of incompetence. It seems we don’t give a damn anymore to try to do something about it, or at least to let loose our pent-up emotions at being betrayed with one rousing, spontaneous combustion of collective rage, demanding that this confessed useless President step down, right here, right now.
The prevailing attitude of cold indifference in many of us may yet count for another success for the President, in terms of mind-conditioning the citizenry to be contented with what pittance the government can do for them at this time of serious desperate need.
The first time he called himself useless was days before his Sona, saying, in reference to the coronavirus and in a gesture of surrender, that there was nothing more his administration could do to contain the pandemic.
The second time was during the actual Sona itself, to express virtual capitulation to China’s encroachments in Philippine territorial seas which the President said we cannot stop. The coronavirus and the foreign invasion of our waters are both China’s undoing, and in both instances, President Duterte would concede defeat. The Chinese must really have something on him.
Again, he pitched for the resurrection of the death penalty. But take note: For someone who had just admitted to being useless, the President was asking the blessing of the people of the Philippines to give him the power over life and death.
Those were the last words that a nation down on its knees and desperate to be comforted would like to hear. It was bad enough that the great majority of our people had lost interest in listening to the Sona in the first place. What’s even worse, those who did bother to listen, thinking maybe the President still deserved the benefit of the doubt, ended up with way bigger chips on their shoulders, losing what little hope they still had before they heard what the President had to say.
Not only did the government bungle its handling of the pandemic, it actually exacerbated the situation by experimenting with the dumbest solutions that not only failed to work, but also devastated the economy, wasted an awful lot of taxpayer’s money, and pushed this already impoverished country deeper into debt.
The standoff with China over the West Philippine Sea was another example of how we turned victory into defeat. The international arbitration ruling on the territorial dispute was a David and Goliath moment for the Philippines, which prevailed against mighty China. But what followed was the complete desecration of the biblical lesson when David joined forces with Goliath. Now the battle is between China and the Philippine government versus the Filipino people.
“I am useless,” said the President. The mind-conditioning that began with those words may yet end up with all of us embracing the same mindset for gospel truth, hoisting the white flag of surrender, and accepting that indeed nothing more can be done. By then, all of us, just like the President, would have become useless, too.
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Adel Abillar is a private law practitioner with a small office in Quezon City where, he says, “I alternate between being boss and messenger.”
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