• SONA 2016 review: Tough words, weak action

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    TITA C. VALDERAMA

    THE state of the nation address (SONA) last year, the first for President Rodrigo Duterte, holds the distinction of being the longest, delivered in one hour and 32 minutes. It was long in words, mostly a reiteration of his campaign promises, and tough warnings in ad libs addressed to his officials.

    One year after, a good number of those promises remain unfulfilled or, worse, contradicted. Next Monday, we will be treated to yet another litany of promises and, hopefully, a report card on the achievements of the administration’s first year in office.

    The first good point Duterte promised was to move forward instead of engaging in finger-pointing. “We cannot move forward if we allow the past to pull us back,” he said. He vowed not to dwell in the past except to draw lessons from the errors, pointing out that “it is the present that we are concerned with and the future that we should be prepared for.”

    The President assured Filipinos that “those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in court. And if the evidence warrants, they will have they day of reckoning, too.”

    Sen. Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary, comes to mind as I read back this part of the long-winded speech before a joint session of the 17th Congress on July 25 last year.

    The administration used all its power to throw the book at de Lima for her alleged involvement in the illegal drug trade inside the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa. She was thrown in jail on the basis of questionable evidence, including a bank deposit slip dated on a Good Friday and testimonies of high-profile convicts during public hearings initiated by pro-Duterte congressmen.

    With de Lima already in detention, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd himself admitted that illegal drug trading is back at the national penitentiary. Then, he raised the suspicion that members of the Special Action Force (SAF) deployed at NBP were behind the resurgence of the operations of the syndicate involved in illegal drugs.

    The promised “equity and fairness” in the disposition of cases remain illusory except in the case of de Lima, until she was detained.

    Those accused, rightly or wrongly, of using or selling illegal drugs were silenced by bullets, disregarding due process. The number of casualties has reached more than 5,000 and is growing by the day.

    Going over just the first page of the President’s first SONA gives the impression that government agencies have not done much to deliver the promises to make life easier, especially for those who are less privileged.

    What stands out now are the incompetence of the likes of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar and his underlings, Assistant Secretaries Margaux “Mocha” Uson and Kissinger Reyes. They make a mockery of public service. With them in key positions of power, the challenge for the administration to win over critics becomes more difficult.

    As a former journalist-friend describes these officials, they are the best examples of the bad examples of public officers.

    I wish that the President’s second SONA would be short but meaty, and that he would be decisive in delivering his promises in the year ahead. I hope he would let go of the incompetents who keep on blaming their subordinates in an attempt to cover up for their ineptitude.

    What the country needs now is more action, less words. Filipinos have grown tired of hearing promises and buzz words. We need good leaders who keep their word.

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