President Duterte’s expected Sona(ta) in E major

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JOSE V. ROMERO JR., PHD.

JOSE V. ROMERO JR., PHD.

The state of the nation address (SONA) is an annual discourse by the President of the Philippines before a joint session of Congress. Mandated by the 1987 Constitution, the speech is delivered every fourth Monday of July at the Plenary Hall of the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City. The SONA is a report card on the status of the nation’s economic, political, and social condition. It is a summation of the accomplishments of the administration thus far and its future plans and programs.

As the nation expects the SONA with bated breath, in Philippine Ambassadors Foundation Association Inc. (PAFI) and Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR) circles, speculation is rife about the foreign affairs content of the chief executive’s report to the nation. It is expected that the centerpiece of the speech will include: the country’s hosting of the Asean meetings this year which it is hoped can produce a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea which will be enforceable and therefore defuse the tensions in the area; and the incursion of foreign elements in the Maute-driven violence in Marawi leading to the imposition of martial law in Mindanao.

Foreign policy initiatives of this administration related to the controversy sparked by the arbitral ruling in The Hague favoring Philippine claims in the China Sea are expected to be clarified. The rebalancing of Philippine foreign affairs interpreted by most as the country’s disengagement with the iron grip of its erstwhile colonizer on the nation’s foreign policy and its moving closer into the camp of China and Russia is expected to be further amplified.

It is expected that the President, the architect of foreign policy will explain that he is just following the mandate of the Constitution for this country to adopt an independent foreign policy which will be characterized not by a confrontational attitude towards the US, but rather an adherence to the exigencies of our multi-polar world. This track will be described as winning new friends and influencing more people in this increasingly unitized world.


The pillars of this new initiative is a credible defense force, one that does not solely rely on its former colonizer for its external defense and more on its huge manpower pool of bright and bushy-tailed youth (the product of a democratic dividend), whose reserve officers under a revived ROTC and a citizen army, both of which played a major role in the defense of Bataan and Corregidor in World War 2, will form the backbone of our security establishment.

Obviously, there is a price to pay for this, a price now being paid by our neighbors who have devoted not a small part of GDP for their defense requirements. This has allowed countries like Vietnam and Indonesia to launch a robust retaliation to attempted intrusions into their territory.

For far too long, this country has harbored an inferiority complex which has bred a culture of mendicancy acting more like a little brown brother rather than an equal among the community of nations of which she is the 12th biggest, population-wise, not to mention the fact that it is the third biggest Catholic country in Christendom.

As an aside, if we may be allowed a personal note, when this writer was vying for a higher position in international councils, we could always count on the support of our Asean brothers, Latin American diplomats—with whom many of us share the same language (at least in my case) and culture handed down by Spain—and naturally the Anglo-Saxons who share the same language. This connection, needless to say, paid handsome dividends and positions.

In brief, this country the fastest growing economy of late, has every right to spread its wings and soar higher as it leaves the nest that kept it alone and isolated in the past.

With regard to Asean, China has taken the initiative—which we disregarded—initiate negotiations on the issue which incidentally they had proposed long before the arbitral ruling. This augurs well for the planned discussion on the Code of Conduct because a meeting of minds between the two claimants will facilitate the multilateral attempt at resolving the controversy.

On this score, the President will probably reiterate his explanation regarding his conciliatory approach towards China, without our relinquishing our claim (a la the Sabah issue), because a war pitting a “David and Goliath” in a violent confrontation will never be an option given that this country does not even own a slingshot held by a sharpshooting and intrepid youth supported by the Almighty. Since China does not honor the legal approach, disclaiming the authority to settle the claim by a few guys sitting in judgment in The Hague, this country is forced to bilateralize the issue as suggested by China. In brief, the way forward is to use creative diplomacy on the part of both claimants to resolve the issue. Given the apparent success of the confidence-building approach by the two countries which has resulted in humongous economic gains for this country, it is expected that the negotiations will be conducted in an atmosphere of friendship and cooperation despite cynical claims that this is a sell-out and a Munich-type capitulation.

With regard to the martial law declaration lambasted by the opposition but approved nevertheless by the Supreme Court, we expect the President to explain that given our slow-paced and flawed justice system which has allowed the drug menace to proliferate thanks to crooked prosecutors and judges, the so-called rule of law in a violence-prone island ruled by warlords, militants secessionists and brigands masquerading as leftists using legal means alone, is like applying mercurochrome to a gaping wound. This is the reason why the other branches of government concurred with the executive initiative. They must have had in mind the international dimension—with jihadists exporting their revolution to this country, having failed miserably in the Middle East—which made the draconian measure a necessity.

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