“FRANK, realistic and hopeful” were the words used by Palace spokesmen to describe what was expected of President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Duterte relishes the fact that he has a captive audience whenever he speaks publicly, and makes it a point to say anything and everything he wants to. The SONA, of course, is the biggest captive audience – a national and even international one – and Duterte’s propensity to go off script stretched what was supposed to be a 50-minute speech to nearly two hours.
Those three words hardly characterize what happened at the Batasan podium on Monday; Duterte’s cussing and off-the-cuff remarks overshadowed the carefully strung together words of the prepared text.
While the speech may be wanting in many respects, the President made a number of sound points, for instance economic development through job-creating investments in manufacturing, as well as large-scale infrastructure.
Duterte also enunciated a very clear policy on mining (do not harm the environment, pay the correct taxes), as well as directives on climate change and disaster risk and traffic in Metro Manila. He called for a streamlined bureaucracy, something his predecessors barely confronted.
Perhaps the most striking part of the speech was his admission that political will may not be enough to solve the country’s ills. “Early on,” he said, “I felt that if change was to be meaningful, it had to start with those occupying the highest positions in government because change that comes from below is more transitory than permanent. And I was aiming for permanence. Let change trickle down from [top to]bottom.”
“It has to be a change that is not confined merely to the replacement of people by people, but a change in the people’s attitudes, disposition and work ethic,” he said. “Sadly, although we knew years ago what was needed or [what we]ought to do, we did not do [it]because our idea of government was parochial and we could not rise above family, ethnic, and clan loyalties as well as loyalty to friends and co-workers. No one wanted to be a snitch. That is why we are one in saying that genuine change is what this country truly needs.”
This was probably the “frank” part of the speech that Palace spokesman Ernesto Abella described ahead of the SONA. It could have come across as a clarion call to Filipinos to rise to the challenge and contribute to Duterte’s crusade for change.
What the people could have had less of from the second SONA were expletives that may have resulted in the trivialization of important issues such as tax reform, the peace process, the war on drugs, human rights, and others.
The presidency in 2017 bears a load of pressing issues that need to be put across, to inspire understanding by the people, to instill pride and win over adversaries, instead of shock and mortify them.
There are four more SONAs to look forward to, which should allow Duterte to rise to the high challenge posed by the presidency, in the same way he demands the rest of the nation to change from within.