By Rose de la Cruz I Published: July 29, 2020
The 5th State of the Nation Address or SONA, or what should be President Duterte’s accomplishment report, did not say anything concrete about how government plans to address the health and economic crises of the country, which is barely coping with the devastation of the coronavirus disease.
Except for the physical indications of COVID-19 pandemic – the President and attendees wearing face masks and only 50 in his audience of mostly Cabinet members and congressmen who have thrown their full support to Duterte — not much was mentioned about a COVID roadmap and business recovery plans.
Duterte said he begged with China to prioritize the Philippines for its vaccines against coronavirus with reported cases rising by at least 1,000 a day and deaths growing even faster.
Old Telcos Out, New Ones In
There was also no mention of how government would assist the hardest-hit sectors of the economy — labor and the small and medium enterprises, which, despite their sizes, employ many people and affect a wider supply chain than big businesses.
As if closing the Lopez-owned ABS-CBN was not enough to appease his rage towards the old oligarchs, Duterte again ranted at the Ayalas and Manny Pangilinan’s telco companies.
The President claimed he was taking the cudgels for the small consumers who had been abused by these companies.
He pointed at expropriation of their business assets if they do not shape up within the year.
A day after the SONA, media reported that Villar’s telco company had just completed and was ready to operate its business; and so with Dennis Uy’s telco company which has failed miserably in meeting the guidelines imposed by the National Telecommunication Commission for its operation.
It now looks like these crony companies are just waiting to be handed on a silver platter the cell sites and other wherewithal of Smart and Globe.
As described by Sofia Tomacruz in Rappler, Duterte used most of his nearly two hours of speech threatening these telco operators reminiscent of his vicious attacks on ABS-CBN. The latter was eventually shut down as the House refused renewal of its franchise.
Dean Tony La Viña of the Ateneo School of Government said business tycoons and influential families that Duterte dubs as oligarchs and his attack on them is a “big distraction” to lawmakers amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“This oligarch thing is a misplaced attack on corporations (that are) no longer oligarchs but corporate organizations, including families that have corporatized,” La Viña told Rappler.
Duterte also threw his full support to the revival of the death penalty, as if the newly- signed anti-terrorism law and his ongoing anti-drugs war were not yet enough to sow fear towards his detractors and dissenters.
Youth organizations criticized Duterte’s SONA for failing to address pressing issues and devoting much time to less urgent matters, neglecting to lay down plans for millions of jobless Filipinos and government’s response to the pandemic.
He also vilified and lashed out at Senator Franklin Drilon for defending ABS-CBN and for saying political dynasties must be banned to truly dismantle oligarchy.
The President also accused Drilon of being among the framers of the 1997 water concession agreement. This, Drilon denied.
Then, he praised Sen. Bong Go, his long-time aide-turned senator, for his pet bills in the Senate including the Malasakit Act and the postponement of barangays and Sangguniang Kabataan elections.
Things Will Get Better
The President admitted that government saw “difficulties” in ramping up testing capacity and that the distribution of emergency aid during the lockdown was “not perfect” as he vowed “we will not stop until we get things right and better for you.”
He reiterated that face-to-face classes would not be allowed until a vaccine becomes available.
All public schools would be equipped for online learning before he steps down, he pledged.
Duterte also said TV frequencies reverted to the government will be used to deliver learning, which ABS-CBN accepted after Congress shut it down.
Also, he rejected a plan for the Americans to return to Subic Bay through a commercial deal as if to appease China even as he said that he could not assert the Philippines’ rights over the West Philippine Sea as it may spark war with China, which experts debunk repeatedly as an attempt to scare Filipinos into submission.
The 5th SONA was “a lot of motherhood statements, a lot of bad words and many threats but no clear program of what to do,” summed up Bishop Broderick Pabillo, Manila Archdiocese administrator adding that “knowing his record of strong words but inconsistent action, we cannot expect much this year. The needs of the people have not been addressed.”
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines executive secretary, Fr. Jerome Secillano, who is also the chair of the CBCP Permanent Committee On Public Affairs, said the President missed the opportunity to assuage the fear of the public from the crisis besetting the country.
“I was waiting for inspiration and messages of unity and compassion but what I heard was politics of vindication,” Secillano said.
Looking at the comments on Facebook after the SONA, and up to now, the disenchantment and dissatisfaction with the Duterte administration continues to spiral on the homestretch of his leadership.