SONAsaan Na Ba Talaga Tayo Ngayon? At Hindi SONAsaan Na Tayo?- Blueboard by Benjamin Roberto Gomez Barretto

August 06, 2019

Alternate Title - So where are we really now today? And not so where are we? 

Admittedly, I did not watch the State of the Nation Address or SONA last 22 July 2019.  But I have to know it because I teach Politics and Governance in the Loyola School of Social Sciences in the Ateneo de Manila University or AdMU. But I still wish to write about the SONA.
 

I heard the President was one hour late.  If my eyes were not deceiving me, I counted 39 bursts of applause and 22 of laughter interrupting the President’s 93-minute speech.  And as expected, I also counted at least 10 curses.
 
Interesting to note was there was no applause nor laughter when the President talked about the West Philippine Sea and China and about corruption (except maybe one laugh?)
 
“So where are we (the Philippines) really now today?” I refer to the President’s perspective and give my own (right or wrong) unsolicited insights.
 
1.     “But the landslide victory of the Administration candidates as well as the latest survey results show that my disapproval rating is at 3%”
 

True the Administration candidates won by a landslide. The recent automated election like all other Philippine elections, however, was not without criticisms.  For one, the Liberal Party known as the legitimate opposition was not recognized as such. NAMFREL withdrew at the last moment because they would not be given the election results.  After 25 minutes of counting by the Transparency Server everything stopped for the next 7 hours.  More 500 SD chips were replaced a few days before election.  It would be good for an independent IT organization to analyze and determine what actually happened in this last election and conclude the effects of these events.

 

Some would argue the accuracy of the 3% disapproval rating reported by the Social Weather Station or SWS and similarly by Pulse Asia, particularly when the former also reported that 90% do not trust China and 3 of 5 would like the International Human Rights team to investigate. But both reports give the President bragging rights and emboldens his officials to do what he commands - rightly or wrongly.

 
2.     “It has been three years since I took my oath of office, and it pains me to say that we have not learned our lesson. The illegal drug problem persists.  “I respectfully request Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes (applause) related to drugs as well as plunder.”
 

Perhaps in humility and a far cry from “I will resign if I do not eliminate drugs in six months,” the President admits illegal drugs continue to pour in, even near Malacañang Palace.  Where is the supply coming from?  How is the supply, mostly coming from China as Senator Dela Rosa once stated during the campaign, able to pass through Customs?
 
What lessons have we not learned?  That Tokhang that has killed 24,000 including children, but the big time drug lords (Peter Lim, Kenneth Dong, etc. ) identified by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency or PDEA have not been arrested nor prosecuted. Will the death penalty stop such shipments when no big time drug lords are arrested?
 
Interestingly, President Duterte has a Former Joseph Estrada, a Senator Ramon Revilla, Jr. and maybe one or two more found guilty of plunder among his friends!

 
3.     “Our warped loyalty to family, friends, and tribal kin continue to exact a heavy toll on our programs designed to uplift the poor and reassure our investors, our foreign investors local, and the business sector in this country.”
 

Tie this up with the controversial political dynasties (the President’s family included) in the country (although it’s the people who voted for them), the number of friends (Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; Ramon ‘Bong’ Revilla; Juan Ponce Enrile; Jinggoy Estrada and Imelda Marcos who has been convicted but remains free; the Tulfos; and Bong Go’s family cornering big government projects in Davao) among close friends of the President; etc., the President may have a point here.

 
4.     “I have fired or caused the resignation of more than a hundred officials and appointees of government without regard to relationship, friendship, and alliance.”
 

While a number of high officials have been fired or caused to resign by the President, a good number have actually just been ‘promoted’ or ‘assigned’ to other government positions after being fired.  Take the case of former PNP General and Bureau of Customs or BoC Chief Isidro Lapena then when a drug shipment of 11 billion pesos (or US$ 533 million) released in Manila on 14 July 2018 who after being fired was transferred to a harmless cabinet post as head of the Technical Skills and Development Agency or TESDA.  The same goes for another former BoC Commissioner NicanorFaeldon.

 
5.     “We are long on rhetoric but short on accomplishments…. “That is why I implore those who occupy positions of power and authority to let your deeds and accomplishments do the talking. Lead by example. Words ring hollow when not followed by positive and prioritized actions.”
 

Walk the talk as they always say.  It’s nice to hear promises like “Give me six months, I will eliminate drugs or else I will resign.” Or “I will jetski to Panatag Shoal and plant the Philippine flag” or “solve traffic” or I will stop corruption….”  Especially during the campaign period.

 
6.     “As of July 9, 2019, we collected more than P61 billion from GOCCs or government corporations, 32% of which, or P16 billion, from PAGCOR. [applause] This is more than the P36 billion collected in 2017. My salute to Andrea Domingo. [applause] Magpasugalka pa, ma’am, nang marami[laughter]"


Gambling is illegal in China.  The influx of or Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations or POGO with 100,000 Chinese workers allegedly not paying taxes flooded the news recently. Would the Roman Catholic Church accept such income if majority of the gamblers are foreigners? – Just asking.
 

7.     “Simplify and make your services responsive to - client-friendly. Your client is the Filipino, our employer - from where the money in our pockets come from, from your salaries.”

My own experience in getting the passports for myself and my children in an offsite facility in Marikina City in 2018 is highly commendable and worth thanking the Department of Foreign Affairs or DFA and the Duterte Administration for.
 

8.     “Equipped with political will, the government ordered the closure of Boracay Island for six months to prevent further deterioration. We cleaned and rehabilitated the island and I allowed it to heal naturally.”
 

It was highly commendable of government to clean Boracay Island.  But news of the influx of Chinese business establishments and tourists during its opening, a mountain flattened and recent flooding (normally happens when trees are cut – a no brainer) on 17 July 2019 at the height of Typhoon Falcon somehow negates such high commendation.
 

9.     “Wala akongkaibigang mayaman. Ayaw kong kaibigan ng mayaman because pagka mayaman ka, tatabi ka langsa akin, pati ako napahiran na ng kung ano-anong hingiin mo sa gobyerno.”

If the Marcoses, the Villars, the (Bong) Gos, the Revillas, the Estradas, the Macapagal-Arroyos, the (Dennis) Uys, the Quiboloys and others as among the President’s closest friends are not rich (millionaires and billionaires), then how will be categorize the rest of the Filipinos?
 

10. “On January 27, 2019, we officially started the Manila Bay rehabilitation. Though we have a long way to go, we are encouraged by the test results of the waters near Padre Faura. We will relocate informal settlers --- I hope it can happen during my time --- along the waterways and shut down establishments that continue to pollute and poison our waters.”

Highly commendable as well just like the Boracay clean-up. Rumors of impending new reclamation areas in Manila Bay, however, (like the influx of Chinese establishments in Boracay, the flattening of the mountain and the flood) if true will negate such clean-up.  And then there is this University of the Philippines research in 2017aptly titled:  Manila: A Capital is Sinking and whose starting message goes:

In the last 50 years the sea level has increased more than 80 centimetres, according to our map. In ten or twenty years, coastal areas around the city, home to millions of people, will be permanently underwater, according to research by the University of the Philippines!”
 

11. “We also paved the way for the entry of third telecommunications provider… I challenge this new player to fulfill its commitment to provide fast and reliable telecommunication services to our people, especially in the underserved areas. DICT Secretary Honasan will be the lead man in this endeavor. “
 
With the Philippines for the 4th consecutive year ranked first in world social media use, and Filipino users increasing from 67 million to 76 million this year (2019), all I can say is “Everybody’s waiting!”
 
12. “After almost two decades of peace negotiation, the Bangsamoro Organic Law was finally passed and ratified.”
 
Another highly commendable achievement of the Duterte Administration with many hoping (praying) including me that it will succeed this time around.
 
13. “Poverty incidence fell from 27.6 percent in the first half of 2015 to 21 percent in the first half of 2018. The most important number, though, is the six million Filipinos we need to pull out from poverty. Kindly help me on this. [applause]”
 
The figures compare the first semester of 2015 to the first semester of 2018 but not annual figures.  Researching for annual figures, the Philippine Statistics Authority or PSA recorded poverty incidence in 2015 at 21.6% from 25.2% in 2012 (during the Aquino Administration.)  I was trying to get the 2017 annual poverty incidence figures to compare “apples with apples” but PSA does not seem to have such statistic.
 
14. “On the matter of the Philippine --- West Philippine Sea. The avoidance of conflict --- armed conflict and protection of our territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act. A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake.
 
“Our ownership of the Philippine --- West Philippine Sea is internationally recognized. However, both the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the Arbitral Award in the case of People --- “Republic of the Philippines vs. People’s Republic of China” recognize instances where another state may utilize the resources found within the coastal state’s Exclusive Economic Zone.”

As stated earlier, no applause nor laughter. One or two curses.  And no matter what the President says, what this government’s rhetoric statements on ‘rumors of wars’ and so on, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, and even far away Argentina have defended their territorial waters.  China has yet to go to war or drop its nuclear bomb in any of these brave countries defending their sovereignty.

The fact remains (and you can check our Philippine Constitution) – culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, and betrayal of public trust are all grounds for impeachment.
 

15. And you know, as I said, corruption is everywhere. You are free to investigate. I don't take offense. If there is anything wrong in my department, the Executive, you are free to open the investigation anytime.”
 
The question in people’s mind is why not arrest Imelda Marcos convicted by the court? Why release those who have been accused in the pork barrel scam?
“I don’t take offense”…. But I will make sure to find a way to arrest you like Leila De Lima seems to be the message from the government.  By the way, “you file an impeachment (a Constitutional right) against me, I will arrest you.”
 
16. “I have prohibited it in Davao. And at 12 (midnight), as you see, Davao is quiet because everybody is resting already. Be it in the memorial parks, cemetery, or in the comfort of their homes.”
 
Nothing short of or simply a case of‘curfew in disguise’ – shades of  Martial Law.
 
17. “I once again urge both Houses of Congress to pass a more responsive version of the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund to ensure the accelerated utilization of coco levy funds for the well-being and empowerment of the coconut farmers.”
 
Tell this to the Marines… este the coconut farmers. A “Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund” is simply the “Coco Levy Fund” during Martial Law.  President Duterte during the campaign promised the farmers he would give them back their hard earned coconut levy fund worth P 100 million – and they voted for him.
 
18. Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos… I dream of glowing days ahead for every Filipino. I dream of a Philippines better than the one I grew up with.
 
This one I am 100% sure of – a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos.  No matter how much money (bribe?) this government gives to those who have lost children and innocent loved ones during Tokhang or the 26 fisherfolk whose Philippine boat was rammed by a Chinese ship; or worse threaten them to keep quiet or retract their protests and the estimated 356,000 probationary workers in the county - they are Filipinos and will certainly not have a comfortable life under this Administration.

19. SONAsaan Na Ba TalagaTayoNgayon?  At Hindi SONAsaan Na Tayo?
 
So where are we (the Philippines) really now?  Honestly, I do not  wish to answer because I really don’t know (or maybe just do not wish to share my thoughts on) where we are at the moment. It really depends on which side one is. 
 
20. “God Bless the Filipino. God Bless the Philippines. Thank you very much! [applause]”
 
Let me end this article with this last note as President Duterte has mentioned God time and time again.  This one I am sure of.  Quite a number if not many in the Opposition have been asking this question, “SONAsaannatalagaangDiyosNgayon?”  (Where is God really now?)

Peace to everyone! And as the President ended his SONA, God bless the Filipino. God bless the Philippines.

Benjamin Roberto G. Barretto is currently a part time professor with the Political Science Department of Ateneo de Manila University. He is also Vice President for Planning and Community Services of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina (PLMar) as well as its Dean for the College of Management and Technology. He was the former Executive Director of the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines Foundation Inc. (JVPFI) and was a former Administrator of the Ateneo School of Government.