PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte delivers his first State of the Nation Address today to a nation eager to see his promised “change,” but without any clue as to what precisely it would bring. Many expect PDU30 to end all their problems “immediately, if not sooner,” forgetting that they have not elected a “superman,” and that most of their problems cannot be shooed away by a simple wave of the hand. How to moderate their expectations is the first of his problems
DU30 as the face of ‘change’
There has been change, of course, just from the fact that PDU30 is totally different from his immediate predecessor B.S. Aquino 3rd and all the other Presidents, for that matter. He is genuinely populist, and does not mind carrying his populism to the extreme. He is also tough and likes to be seen as such. But so far the change has been mainly superficial, in his manner of dress and speech, which he would like everyone else to accept as the “new normal.”
The only substantive change so far is the seriousness with which he has launched his anti-dangerous drugs campaign, and the manner in which suspects have been killed “while resisting arrest.” Thousands of drug users have surrendered to the police—and this is a real achievement—but the routine killing of suspects tends to create a climate of fear.
About 400 have been killed since July 1, according to reports, mostly in the ghettoes, barefoot or in slippers. The reaction to this has been most disturbing: “Kung Pinoy patay, kapag Intsik buhay—(If Filipino, dead; if Chinese, alive). PDU30 has been quoted as telling the police to say he has authorized the killings. If he does not disavow this statement, it could haunt him forever. Marcos never ordered anyone to torture any communist combatant; but long after his death, those who had suffered during their armed struggle are still making their claims against the bygone regime.
Even at his inaugural, PDU30 tried to look as casual as possible. Always his speech is direct and plain. Last week, for the first time since his inaugural, he publicly put on a “beatific smile” (as one visiting balikbayan observed) and a dark jacket on top of his white T-shirt to have a “selfie” with Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach, and then a barong to receive Cardinal Chito Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila, who himself wore a simple polo barong rather than his obligatory clerical gown. His smile reappeared on the front page when he posed with a group of immaculately clad young health workers in Zamboanga City’s Camp Navarro General Hospital.
At the Zamboanga City airport, he became the first Filipino President and Commander-in-Chief to tread the red carpet and take the salute of his uniformed troops, wearing a white T-shirt, faded blue jeans and white rubber shoes. This prompted one observer to quip, “the Commander-in-Chief must always look like the Commander-in-Chief—it’s good for the troops’ morale.” It doesn’t seem to bother him at all.
‘His Excellency’ nixed
He has since banned the use of the title “His Excellency” to refer to himself and “Honorable” to refer to members of his Cabinet and other office heads. This was a refreshing departure from PNoy’s awful mania of raising himself and his dead parents to the ranks of heroes, precisely to promote themselves as heroes. It puts in the shade PNoy’s decision to discard the obligatory use of “wang wang” (police escort sirens), allegedly to put himself at the same level as every other motorist, although in reality it was because the noise was too strong for his extra-delicate ears.
This seems “self-depreciation” at its best, but even this has its limits. “His Excellency” is an honorific title accorded to him not because of himself per se, but rather because of his high office. He embodies the sovereign, and merits the highest honor and respect whether he personally deserves them or not. The Filipino people, as the real sovereign, expect foreign dignitaries, here and abroad, to address him as such. They will not stand for anything less.
That said, we can agree that the title “Honorable” has been so devalued by so many dishonorable men and women in public office. It needs to be earned before one should be allowed to use it. Well put, Mr. President.
PDU30’s influence on fashion will be most visible at the SONA. PDU30 knows that it took our diplomats many years of lobbying abroad to get the barong to be accepted as the full equivalent of the formal Western dress for men, so I see no danger that it will be outlawed. But this means the ladies would be more appropriately draped. Definitely less outlandish, more subdued. Thus, the media and the public would be able to concentrate more on the President’s message than on the floor fashion parade.
The more interesting scene, however, will revolve around the VIPs. If all the living former Presidents show up, it would be the first time our four ex-Presidents—Fidel V. Ramos, Manila Mayor Joseph Ejercito Estrada, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and B.S. Aquino 3rd—would be gathered in the same room to listen to the incumbent.
GMA and PNoy together?
It would also be the first and probably only time for Mrs. Arroyo, who represents the 2nd District of Pampanga in the House, and whom the Supreme Court has just freed from prolonged detention last Thursday, to meet with her former jailer, PNoy, whom several groups would now like to see in his own prison cell soon. Aquino has questioned GMA’s release, and his minions have filed a new case of plunder against her. Estelito Mendoza, former justice secretary and arguably the country’s top lawyer, has called this extremely “cruel”; but many observers think it is purely diversionary—to divert attention from Aquino, whose own ordeal (they believe) should begin now.
Although DU30’s hand never showed in Arroyo’s release, one impression is that this was part of DU30’s “promised change.” Would this ever have happened, I have been asked, had either of Aquino’s two presidential candidates (Mar Roxas and Grace Poe Llamanzares) won? At GMA’s 69th birthday celebration in her home in La Vista, Quezon City, last April 5, one of the most vivacious tables was the so-called “DU30 table,” which included presidential peace adviser Jess Dureza and National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, Jr. Many in the present Cabinet and subCabinet used to serve in the GMA administration.
The DU30 effect on Congress
The most visible political change will manifest in the 17th Congress. Presiding over the Joint Session of the two Houses will be two Mindanaoans—Sen. Aquilino (Koko) Pimentel 3rd of Cagayan de Oro, and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon (Bebot) Alvarez, who are scheduled to become Senate President and House Speaker respectively at the session’s formal opening this morning.
Pimentel is the head and, Alvarez, a member, of PDP-Laban, which DU30 adopted as his party during the elections. Although it had no more than three high-profile members then, DU30’s landslide win had caused a massive migration of practical politicians from the former ruling Liberal Party to the party of the moment. His landslide in Congress has since overshadowed his landslide in the polls. At least 19 of the 24 senators have signed up behind Pimentel, and 260 of the 292 congressmen behind Alvarez. Unlike Aquino, he has not had to bribe anyone.
This has left very few in the opposition. The highest-ranking LP official—Vice President Leni Robredo—has declined the party leadership, and instead accepted a Cabinet position, which puts her effectively under Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, Jr. The outgoing Senate President Franklin Drilon, an old LP stalwart and Aquino diehard, has reportedly opted to join the “super majority” as Senate President Pro Tempore instead of leading the Senate opposition.
At press time, Pimentel was still working on a possible unanimous Senate vote in support of his leadership bid. If he is able to swing it, the only problem left would be the position of minority leader. As a rule of parliamentary procedure, whoever loses the fight for Senate president becomes the minority leader. This was broken only once when a minority bloc that had voted for the Senate president claimed it remained the minority rather than the smaller group that had contested the presidency, and the Supreme Court supported this patently erroneous position.
In the House, the last remaining LPs and non-PDP party-list members had wanted the outgoing Speaker Feliciano (Sonny) Belmonte to lead them. However, at the last minute the LPs joined the super majority. So the choice of minority leader will have to come from former Vice President Jojo Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance, which could support either Rep. Toby Tiangco of Navotas or Rep. Danilo Suarez of Quezon.
The fraudsters try to cash in
No Filipino President has come to office in the last 24 years with so much public support and political capital. Because of that, some propaganda fraudsters are now trying to exploit this reality for their own ends. One propaganda pollster has chosen to award DU30 with a “trust rating” of 91 percent and, Robredo, 62 percent, obviously hoping to flatter the President, unmindful of the fact that his feet remain planted on the ground.
I understand what an approval rating means. But what, in heaven’s name, is a “trust rating”? Is this not the same as the verified votes the voters cast for a candidate in an election? If so, then DU30’s 16 million votes from 54,363,844 voters represent the voters’ trust in him. This is not an insignificant number, but how did it balloon, in just a few weeks, into 91 percent of 100 million people? What is the whole point of this patent deception?
From 2010 onward, until the beginning of the 2016 presidential campaign, the same fraudsters consistently ran “surveys” that portrayed Binay as “the most trusted” Philippine official, bar none. No other personality was rated favorably in those polls. These struck me as a propaganda scam at the time, and my suspicions were confirmed by what ultimately happened to Binay. At this time, one has to ask: Are they now doing to DU30 what they did to Binay?
DU30’s popularity is real. He does not need any of these falsies from any propaganda free-loader. There is so much support for his anti-drugs, anti-crime and anti-corruption campaign, but no one can say that 91 percent of the population endorses everything about it, including the means which have provoked the legitimate concern not only of human rights activists and guardians of the Constitution but, above all, of ordinary men and women.
The SONA’s real message
What the nation is saying to PDU30 is clear. What does PDU30 say in return? Communications Secretary Martin Andanar says the speech is so poignant it made him cry. But PDU30 cannot simply repeat his first statement that he will end the problem of illegal drugs, crime and corruption, and leave the economy and other aspects of governance to various Cabinet clusters. He alone, and nobody else, has the sufficient political capital to carry out bold comprehensive reforms. He cannot delegate this to others.
On this his first SONA, therefore, he must at the very least offer a broad sweep of his proposed reforms—in the economy, national security, foreign relations, political and administrative structures, etc. But most importantly, he must reiterate, with all conviction, what he said during the presidential debates, that although he might borrow ideas from others, he would “provide leadership”—not to drench the nation in innocent or convicts’ blood, nor to put our people at the mercy of a colonizing power, but to build a strong sovereign and independent nation-state and a more humane and God-fearing society for all.