I LOOK forward to tomorrow’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the way I look forward to the first day of classes: with excitement, an amount of fear, and with a readiness to be shaken and confused, discombobulated and flabbergasted by what I will hear.
And not just from President Duterte himself. I’m talking about what we will certainly hear from mainstream media, its resident commentators, and guest analysts; from social media where many only see and hear the bad about the President; from the “silent majority” that threatens everything from another EDSA to impeachment, angry as they are about the war against drugs, yet waiting for who-knows-what to actually go out to the streets and rally against it.
We all know they’ve organized rallies for so much less.
The elephant in the room
There is no going around it at this point: the President’s SONA has to address the current war against drugs.
He has to talk about these deaths that have filled the news, about what the bigger project is of ridding our poorer communities of the drug menace, and how this will lead finally and ultimately to the big fish and the drug cartels—and soon. I wish that his team were already in possession of a better analysis of those numbers that are being brandished by mainstream media, and will give us all statistics about these purported drug-related deaths. After all, knowing how many of those deaths are even truly part of the war on drugs, and how many aren’t, is the first critical verification we need. How many were victims of summary executions by unknown assailants, and how many died during official police operations; how many of those who were killed during official police operations were armed and shot at police first?
I wish to hear him say that he is responsible for all these deaths, because the war on drugs has pushed the drug lords out of the woodwork and onto the streets, doing summary executions. I wish for him to say that he will seek justice for the victims of these assassinations, and that the police who are involved in failed operations that have killed the innocent will be brought to justice, too.
I wish for some rationality in the discussion about the anti-drug campaign. I wish for the police to be held responsible for particular deaths. I wish for a sense that this is not a free for all, as it is a very calculated, careful process of getting to the big fish, sooner than later.
A poverty alleviation program
I hope President Duterte points out how lopsided the information we’ve received is. About how the number of dead are not verified, and how this does not paint an honest picture of what the war on drugs has been like on the ground. I hope he points out that other number that is rarely discussed by media: the 65,000 (as of July 15) users and pushers who have surrendered to the police. The growth in the number of those who surrender also damages the business of illegal drugs in these communities; the challenge now is for local governments to get their acts together and ensure rehabilitation services.
But they must also ensure a poverty alleviation program, one that goes beyond dole-outs and band-aid solutions. There is a need to understand how the drug war goes hand-in-hand with empowering communities by ensuring that they become productive outside of the drug business. But he has not talked about his poverty alleviation programs, even as he has the best two women in the most powerful positions to work on it: DSWD’s Judy Taguiwalo and NAPC’s Liza Maza.
I hope to hear him speak of poverty, and how many in this country are so poor that they are as good as dead. I hope to learn about the crisis of hunger, and how many die in this country because of it. I hope to hear him speak about how this government will handle a war against poverty, in the same way that it has dealt with a war on drugs. That the President’s iron fist will also be about ensuring that the poor will finally and truly be freed from the shackles of poverty, not just by cleaning our communities of drugs, but also by providing jobs and infrastructure, social and health services, which will assist and encourage the poor in their struggle to get out of poverty.
To my mind Duterte is the only leader we’ve had who will dare effect the systemic changes that we need to truly provide for the majority in this nation who are disenfranchised and marginalized by poverty. He knows of which institutions continue the oppressive state of affairs, and he dares say their names, point a finger at them, and demand that they get with this more just, fairer program.
The class crisis
And yes, I do hope he will get at the oligarchs, and he will get to them the way he has gotten on the nerve of almost everybody else with vested interests in nation.
The oligarchs, the ones who own media and public utilities, who engage in corporate social responsibility projects that purportedly give back to nation, these oligarchs are a critical part of why we are so poor. They are not investing in nation, as they are taking out their money and putting it elsewhere. They pretend to be in the service of nation, yet earn millions on the back of the working-class. They say: But we educate the nation through media! Yet they disengage from the more critical, difficult discussions we need to have.
They keep the working-class underpaid and overworked, and keep the populace stupid. The oligarchs don’t only earn from the status quo of keeping a majority of the population poor, they also earn from keeping our minds impoverished. And when they are questioned, they invoke the right of everyone to their own opinions, forgetting that opinions are also but a product of the kind of data we are given to begin with, and that is always biased in favor of … you guessed it!—big business, oligarchs, and the wealthy.
I hope Duterte, as he is wont to do, will put us all in our place. And remind us of how too many of us are blind to our own biases because we are in denial about our privilege. This blindness is what makes us complicit in the pretty picture that the previous SONAs have given us; it is now also the same blindness that makes us believe that the war on drugs is the biggest evil that’s out there.
Here’s hoping this new, more honest, more grounded SONA will shine a light on all our other demons, the better to know who or what we need to slay in the next six years.