For whom the bells toll


PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte, obviously, is no George Clooney.

But the President has every right like any other Filipino to demand that the United States return the Balangiga bells of Samar to their supposedly rightful owner, the Philippines, which lost the bells to US troops in 1901 as war booty.

Duterte raised the issue of the Balangiga bells apparently to drive home his administration’s foreign policy of independence from Washington and of pivoting to Asia (China and Japan) and Europe (Russia) and away from the watchful eye of the European Union and the clutches of Donald Trump, whom he is beginning to dislike.

His second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, however, was not the right medium through which a supposed theft of a historical treasure and a “part of our national heritage” should be raised.

This SONA should have summed up in facts and figures what the nation under the President’s leadership achieved from July 1, 2016 to July 24, 2017.

Instead, Filipinos were given the same doses that Duterte’s first SONA already administered, with the war on drugs and corruption, among other recycled priorities of his administration, hogging the nearly two-hour speech that had been promised earlier to last no more than 50 minutes.

A SONA is a speech on achievements, not a tool for haranguing critics of the human rights record of the Duterte administration, allegedly irresponsible mining companies and a supposedly top local communist in exile who is battling “colon cancer,” among other bullets that sadly missed their mark.

There was hardly any mention, if at all, of the “state” of his promises a year ago on the South China Sea dispute with Beijing, endo (end of contract) employment or contractualization, unemployment, poverty, land distribution, wages, alleged extra-judicial killings, the justice and penal systems, tax reform, agriculture, education and other far more significant matters that would have required more than 120 minutes for him to elaborate on and for which ordinary Filipinos would have dropped everything to listen to what he had to say even if it took them the entire day.

What transpired on July 24 was a townhall washing of some choice pieces of dirty linen that the masa must have lapped up partly because the President was perceived to be talking their or in their language or, as a top official of the Management Association of the Philippines described the second SONA, “very personal.”

President Duterte could, perhaps, try to unlearn lessons from the first and second SONAs and exert some effort not to play to the gallery by dropping those cuss words and unnecessary swearing that really add no value to what he has to say on drugs and corruption and everything else in between.

He has four more such speeches to deliver until 2021.

By which time, however, the Balangiga bells would have become a footnote to the country’s history.

Still, the President should not hope that the bells would be removed from a US military base where they are ringing right now and shipped back to Samar, unless the Philippine government suits up for an expectedly protracted legal war with the US government over a relic that shamed mighty America more than 100 years ago.

Clooney and his wife Amal Alamuddin Clooney are the “most high-profile celebrities to call for the [Elgin Marbles] to be sent [back]to Greece,” the country where the marbles were originally sculpted.

In 2015, however, Athens skipped taking legal action over the Elgin Marbles, seen as a sign that the demand of the Greeks to return the “loot” lacked legal basis.


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