At one point of his SONA, Pres. Duterte, with a veiled amalgam of derision and insult for the speechwriters, declared that he was using just a third of the “script,” with the “two thirds” being his own craftsmanship. For apparently having entertained the audience much, those two thirds should be good reason why instead of SONA, the Duterte performance deserves to be dubbed SUCA, acronym for Stand-Up Comedy Act.
Like the three presidential debates where I consistently rated him tops in showmanship, SUCA brought out the innate comedian in Duterte. Definitely unschooled in the finer points of acting, he nonetheless executed a masterful combination of mime and rich native wit which, enhanced even by his sharp, quite pronounced Visayan accent, projected him as a lovable, laughable cross between Charlie Chaplin and Amay Bisaya. Beside him, Mr. Bean would be OA. And if the great Ompong (Dolphy) had lived long enough, he could have given Digong a run for his money.
If Duterte’s measuring up to the expertise of popular showbiz comedians were to be the gauge of the effectiveness of his state of the nation address, then he really has succeeded in turning an otherwise historic stately affair into a mere laughing matter.
In normal circumstances, after being introduced, the President would essay the gallery with a respectful glance around while acknowledging their applause. Then in stately gait, he would proceed to the podium to deliver his address. In Duterte’s case, he rose from his seat, took a backward step and made a half-Japanesey bow, half-ballerina curtsy — already indicating that what he would be up to was a performance with quite a lot of theatrical flavor.
The audience got that flavor quite early. He began, “Allow me a little bit of informality at the outset. You would realize the three guys in the elevated portion of the congressional are from Maguin… Mindanao.” That got the audience reacting with laughter. Duterte uttered something like, “So wala talaga akong masabi.” And the gallery laughed louder.
Why laugh, however, was not quite clear, as Duterte did not care to elaborate on the statement as to its significance. What was entertaining about what he said must be endemic in a setup where regionalism has for long set Filipinos apart from one another, one region pitting itself against the other endlessly in such a way as to make one the object of praise or ridicule depending on whether it is in power or not at the moment.
For Mindanao which before Duterte’s win hadn’t ever produced a president, his victory is certainly a milestone in Philippine politics. But here was this phenomenon in which not only the sitting President of the Republic of the Philippines is a Mindanaoan but also the sitting Senate President and the sitting Speaker of the House of Representatives. How lucky, indeed, can one region get — especially one that in the country’s history has for long suffered the ignominy of being the most neglected one. So praise be now to Mindanao for having captured the three dominant crests of Philippine political power. Being, therefore, themselves regionalistic, each and everyone in the gallery understood and got amused. Of course, not without the aggrieved swearing, “Just you wait, Mr. President. One from Bicol, which, too, has not yet produced a president, is just a step away.” Remember, it took a woman to unseat a similarly much adulated President.
Anyway Duterte was referring to Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III who is from Cagayan de Oro City and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez from Davao del Norte, the first two on the list of luminaries whose presence the President acknowledged. Charity begins at home after all.
Noticeable was the inconsistent way his acknowledgements went for many of the guests. For instance, while he addressed FVR and Erap by their complete names, which was the correct protocol, he referred to GMA merely as President Arroyo, even nearly fumbling at it. The real slip was his reference to the Supreme Court Chief Justice as Serrano and had gone two names down the line when by some secret prompting he corrected himself, “ah, Chief Justice Sereno.” Neither did he mention by name the Papal Nuncio nor the members of the diplomatic corps which he headed. And that not done, he went on to the speech proper, “ We could not move…,” but cut himself short by getting back to the salutations, “Well, of course, I must also greet Executive Secretary Salvador Garcia and all the members of the Cabinet.” Finally, the speech: “We cannot move forward if we allow the past to pull us back.” That got me wondering if he could have reached this far in his address had he not gone back a number of times to retrace the real flow of his speech.
That to me was the first bothersome element of his address, a veritable fiat against looking back. By not looking back, are we not summarily whitewashing evil deeds in the past all for the sake of moving toward the future?
I was in Cebu last April and I had a serious talk with Datu Nestor, head of a large group of Lumad in Davao del Sur. He reminisced on his high school days in Davao City and swore that a classmate of his was notoriously hooked on drugs, particularly shabu. It’s been years since then. The shabu sniffer had graduated to the rich man’s stuff, cocaine. Are we not to talk about this particular junkie all because he happens to be named Polong, and we know that in Davao City, when people talk about Polong, you’d readily call to mind that mime Duterte did after reminding the audience that once he was just among those that sat where the congressmen were seated.
“Pero ngayon…,” Duterte said, not finishing the sentence but completing it anyway with a twirl of his hand, followed by a pointing of his forefinger to the podium, ending with the forefinger to his chest for the final unworded statement: “I am President.”
Duterte, of course is no Polong; he is a Digong. But there is this guy also with an “ONG” in his name whose power and influence is limited to the confines of Davao City. That’s who Datu Nestor was talking about. And that’s who whose sins could be whitewashed following Duterte’s dictum against looking back at the past.
To begin with, history, contrary to Duterte’s SUCA teaching, is less concerned with the present than with the past that actually shapes society’s future. It is for this reason that Bonifacio, in an amazing anticipation of what Aguinaldo would be doing to him, said, “Nobody escapes history.” Duterte’s deeds could be judged only not through his present but through his future that had been shaped by his past.
(To be continued)