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Change and intransigence at the Sona

AS I write this, the State of the Nation Address—as well as the rituals that accompany it—is just about to start.

From my point of view in front of the TV set, the most profound change I notice so far is visual. Where before the sea of white or beige barong or staid coat-and-tie outfits was enlivened by splashes of color—bright-hued gowns and designer outfits that grew more and more outlandish and lavish through the years—this year, there was meager evidence of the once-entertaining parade of high fashion.

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About the only true startling fashion statement I caught sight of was Rep. Teddy Baguilat in the revealing garb of his native Ifugao. I don’t know if his appearance had anything to do with it, but despite the odds against him, the Ifugao congressman who broke off from the Liberal Party’s decision to join the “supermajority” in the House, managed to get elected minority floor leader. It’ll be interesting indeed to see Baguilat and his minority colleagues in action in the House, although I guess we’ll have to forego the privilege of once more viewing his G-string-ed physique for the rest of this congressional term.

We have been promised a “dramatic” address from the President, so dramatic that Communications Secretary Martin Andanar confessed he was even moved to tears when he read it. I’m sure the emotional impact will be highlighted by the direction of the coverage by Brillante Mendoza, the indie filmmaker who is best known for his obsession with squalor and the seamy side of life. So what can we expect from the Sona a la Duterte? Will it draw a depressing picture of the depths to which the country has sunk? Or will we instead be treated to a celebratory event, the welcome opening salvo to the next six years?

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BAGUILAT was joined in the display of ethnic culture by Bayang Barrios, who made a name for herself as a member of Joey Ayala’s singing troupe that devoted itself to the lumad experience.

Indeed, it was refreshing to see her, who was born to an ethnic community (she was named, she loved to recall, after the first lines of the national anthem because that was what her mother first heard upon her delivery).

It was thus significant that Mindanao took front and center in yesterday’s rites, with Duterte flanked at the rostrum by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, both of whom call Mindanao home.

But while the “change is coming” mantra was quite visually clear at the Sona rites, it was also clear that one thing remains steadfast in the President’s agenda and personal priorities.

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THAT is, of course, his firm and visceral hatred of the drug trade, expressed these days by the killing of hundreds of “suspects” around the country, the majority of them poor and impoverished, who, said police, were drug pushers and users who, in what a lawyer called “an epidemic of stupid,” still persisted in fighting superior force and risking their lives.

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If the Sona is traditionally designed to serve as an agenda of the coming administration and in later years as a report on the accomplishments of the Executive, Mr. Duterte’s Sona this year was focused in the early parts to underline his support for the antidrug campaign. Obviously, Philippine National Police Director General “Bato” dela Rosa was visibly pleased by this reiteration of support by his boss. Despite the growing number of protests and denunciations at the death toll and the manner the killings were being carried out, the President remained firm in his resolve, he said, to bring an end to the drug menace. So much so, he said in his speech, that human rights should not be used to stand in the way of the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

Not even a word, so far, of regret or sympathy for the families who lost their loved ones to his personal war on drugs.

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STILL on the summary executions of suspected drug pushers and users, the Association of Major Religious Superiors of Women in the Philippines issued a statement on the eve of the Sona. While stating its basic support for the Duterte administration’s peace initiatives and tapping of “the poor and marginalized in governance,” it likewise raised concerns about the spate of killings that has steadily alarmed people of conscience in this country.

(I’m glad the women religious have shown that their feisty reputation hasn’t as yet faded despite the changing political winds.)

The women religious reiterated their “resolute stand” against what they called government policies “that diminish human life and violate the rule of law.” (They also mentioned the perpetuation of poverty, corruption and contractualization, and the endangerment of our “common home” which I take to mean the environment.)

They expressed their alarm at the increasing number of extrajudicial killings, saying the instant executions without due process is a violation of the victims’ right to life, “the most basic of all human rights.”

They also expressed their continuing belief in and support of the principle of restorative justice, which they said is an “expression of mercy and compassion.” But this would not be possible, they said, “when the life of the offender is taken.”

No thunderous denunciations, no verbal wailing or gnashing of teeth. Only an expression of steadfast faith in the value of life, and the need for the rightful exercise of justice and the rule of law. So our good sisters have spoken!

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TAGS: Bayang Barrios, Duterte, Mindanao, opinion, Rodrigo Duterte, Sona, Sona 2016, Sona2016
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