Five things Duterte was expected to discuss at his sixth SONA (but didn't)

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Five things Duterte was expected to discuss at his sixth SONA (but didn't)
Activists are busy making an effigy and protest materials for the upcoming State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte at their main office in Quezon City on July 22, 2021.
The STAR / Boy Santos

MANILA, Philippines — The heavy habagat rains outside the Batasan complex did not stop President Rodrigo Duterte from uncorking another signature rant in his sixth and final State of the Nation Address on Monday afternoon. 

Just like that of last year, Duterte's meandering SONA on Monday was supposed to bring relief to a multitude of Filipinos shaken by over a year of community quarantine, a ravaged economy and a worsening pandemic, among others.

Instead, a largely masked, quarantined, and unvaccinated constituency was met with lengthy, extemporaneous asides about illegal drugs and the Communist Party of the Philippines as the president started off floating the idea of free legal assistance for uniformed personnel. 

According to a survey by Pulse Asia that polled 2,400 adult Filipinos in face-to-face interviews in June, Filipinos wanted the president to touch on job creation, lower prices of goods, and plans to accelerate the country’s COVID-19 vaccination drive.

In the days leading up to the SONA, government officials claimed that the Duterte administration indeed had its eyes "fixed on responding to the needs of the people, especially those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic."

But did he address these issues? Here are a few top-of-mind concerns that the chief executive was expected to address, but didn't. 

Long-term pandemic response amid Delta variant 

Though he was careful to express his gratitude to frontliners and health workers who “selflessly gave their all in the fight against COVID-19” right off the bat, it took over two hours for the president to finally touch on the coronavirus, which has recorded 1.56 million infections in the country.

His vision? For Filipinos to pray for a speedy resolution to the global pandemic. 

No concrete plans in dealing with the more infectious Delta variant were imparted, but the president said he "hoped" the variant would not spread. (The Quezon City government earlier Monday said that local transmission was "possible" after it confirmed one case in the country's largest city.)

Vice President Leni Robredo earlier this month said she hoped for an "honest" assessment of the coronavirus situation in the country after months and months of the quarantine cycle. 

The sequence has been repeated more than once at this point, after all, with the coronavirus task force imposing what critics say is a militaristic lockdown whenever cases begin to rise. Such was the case when Delta variant cases started rising over the past week, prompting another wave of lengthened curfews in and around Metro Manila.

Instead, Duterte lamented how the pandemic affected the country's economy under his administration. 

He added that the economy could not take another lockdown, though he failed to offer an alternative. 

“We cannot afford any more lockdowns lest our economy bleeds to the point of irreversible damage,” Duterte said.

Short-term vaccine supply woes

Filipinos also expected the president to address expediting the national government's vaccination program. 

However, Duterte has been quick to pass the blame for the dry spell in jabs, pointing to local government processes, the weather, and outrageous happenstance. 

Monday evening's address was no different, as Duterte urged local governments — who have carried the brunt of the administration's pandemic response — to simply strengthen their vaccination programs. 

He did not address the shortage in vaccine supply that prompted cities in Metro Manila to restrict and even end their jab programs earlier in July. 

Instead, he urged local executives to "look for more gymnasiums" to increase their vaccine capacity. 

Per Our World in Data, the Philippines remains among the worst countries in the world when it comes to vaccines per population. 

"COVID-19 hit us right in the heart. There's no way of telling when the virus will disappear," Duterte said. 

"The Duterte government still has to put in place policy recommendations pushed by many sectors including the health and science experts during the first few months of the pandemic. Not once did he listen to science," Advocates of Science and Technology for the People said before the SONA. 

"He did not heed calls for free mass testing, more efficient contact tracing, faster vaccine rollout, and local production of test kits and vaccines."

Broken campaign promises 

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said earlier this weekend that Duterte's final SONA was expected to look back on his term and touch on his many "accomplishments." 

Unfortunately, Duterte on Monday conveniently left out the now-broken promises he made to propel himself to the highest post in the land in 2016. 

Five years ago, the chief executive presented himself as a tough-talking, no-holds-barred man of the people and promised quick and easy solutions to corruption, crime, and illegal drugs. 

However, he has since failed to meet his own self-imposed deadlines even after asking for extensions. He claimed on Monday that this was because of his six-year term limit. 

"Making a difference within the constitutional time is what I am up against...the Constitution only afforded me six years to make those changes happen," he lamented. 

"I bore no illusions that steering a nation towards a comfortable life for every Filipino would be easy. Indeed the past 5 years have been challenging and humbling."

The accomplishments that he did bring up were questionable at best. 

For instance, Duterte claimed that his administration "[took[ away people's misery in commuting." Transportation still remains difficult for countless Filipinos due to the lack of public utility vehicles plying their routes.

In praising his flagship Build, Build, Build program, he also pointed to programs — including Stage 3 of the Metro Manila Skyway — which were actually launched by the late President Benigno Aquino III.

The government's own data has been cited by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, which argued that Crystalline methamphetamine or shabu "remains the main drug of concern in the Philippines."

READ: With a year left in Duterte's term, UNODC says shabu still a major problem in the Philippines

Plans for West Philippine Sea tensions 

Yet another unfulfilled promise, Duterte has since reneged on these election vows and completely dispensed all pretenses of an aggressive defense of Philippine sovereignty—which is enshrined in the nation’s charter—especially against China.

Through the pandemic, the chief executive has remained obstinate and unyielding in his regard for Beijing. And though he did acknowledge the issue, he only recycled earlier claims on the subject: that "It will be a massacre if we go and fight a war now."

Duterte was largely on the fence for most of his SONA, claiming he "asserted clearly and by no uncertain terms" at the United Nations General Assembly the country’s arbitral win before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

He previously said there is nothing he can do about Chinese incursions, going so far as calling the arbitral ruling a "waste paper"—a statement that was eventually echoed by Beijing.

"We will fight for what is rightfully ours and what is rightfully due for the Filipino people," he said, but added that "we will not close our doors to diplomacy, because that is how disputes are settled and not by force."

Duterte also reiterated his "utang na loob" or indebtedness to Chinese President Xi Jinping who he again referred to as a "good friend." Duterte said that he "called China first" when the pandemic hit the country. 

Even the Department of Foreign Affairs in its diplomatic protests has panned what it said was the "incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities” of Chinese vessels in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone, which remains there to this day. 

Economic uncertainty 

All the while, the country’s most vulnerable strata continue to lag behind, dispirited sans government support. 

Survey results by the Social Weather Stations published Sunday suggested that nearly half of Filipino families consider themselves poor.

Meanwhile, the latest figures by the Philippine Statistics Authority earlier in June also show the country’s unemployment rate steadily rising from 7.1% in March 2021 to 8.7% in April 2021 amid the coronavirus-induced lockdowns.

Duterte's nightly addresses typically feature tough and hopeful stances against the coronavirus situation but have ultimately been mum on concrete solutions for Filipinos on the ground. 

This was the case once more at his most important public address to date, with the chief executive pinning the blame on the global pandemic instead. 

"Our economy with investors of confidence was poised to leapfrog into the company of the world's fastest-growing economies until the COVID-19 pandemic stole everything," he said. 

He failed to mention the prices of goods, which skyrocketed across the board over the coronavirus-induced community quarantines. 

Instead of addressing questions over another round of cash assistance, Duterte lauded the lower chamber of Congress, where he has a supermajority, for passing the Bayanihan stimulus bills. 

To recall, the roll-out of cash and material aid under the Department of Social Welfare and Development's social amelioration program was delayed for months. 

Duterte also directed the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority "to ensure the upscaling of our workers and increasing their employability."

"Beyond the issue of immediate economic relief, the next battleground between the elite and the masses is on how to recover from a tattered economy, caused by the incessant and knee-jerk imposition of lockdowns and restrictions to the circulation of goods, capital, and labor," Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino president Luke Espiritu said before the SONA. 

Other sectors largely left out

Despite the protests of multisectoral groups, the President could only offer lip service when it come to what progressives called crises in the education and environment sectors. 

"I pray our next leaders and future generations will not squander our natural resources and fight for integrity of our environment in a manner fiercer than my administration has ever done," he said. 

"Despite our inability to conduct face-to-face classes during this pandemic, we remain determined to deliver quality and accessible education to all," he also said. 

Duterte mentioned the administration's basic education learning continuity plan, which allowed for the implementation of distance learning as an alternative to in-person classes. He did not expound further and refused to touch on the possibility of face-to-face learning in the future.

There was also no room in the President's SONA for any mention of the welfare of women, children, senior citizens, and people with disabilities amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Members from various groups stage a march protest from U.P. Diliman in Quezon City going to Commonwealth Avenue during the State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte on July 26, 2021.
The STAR/Boy Santos

Were they actually addressed?

Though the chief executive's SONA was relatively complete compared to last year, discussion was scant as he failed to offer any concrete solutions or even messages of hope as the Vice President, lawmakers, and progressives called for. 

"What we need now is the assurance that there will be jobs in the near future and food on the table. Our people are tired and hungry. What I believe we needed to hear was the plan moving forward," Sen. Grace Poe said in a statement after the SONA. 

"What’s the plan to restore the dignity of our people and provide opportunities for their future?"

Instead, Duterte's State of the Nation Address gave way to rants about the illegal drug trade in the country, and what Duterte claimed was the impossibility of getting rid of systemic corruption in the country. 

Rather than speak on the state of the nation in his speech — which lasted for 2 hours and 45 minutes — the President pontificated over the supposed accomplishments of the past five years of his term and ranted about how his position rendered him a "prisoner" of the country. 

He also found the time to order police to "shoot dead" any communists they encounter on the streets before he ever acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic. 

"I have full confidence the Filipino spirit will persevere and triumph together. Together let us rise as a nation," the president said to end his long rant. 

— with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio and Xave Gregorio 

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 27, 2021 - 10:58am

Follow this thread for updates on the preparations for and the delivery of President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address.

Photo: RTVM screengrab from SONA 2020

July 27, 2021 - 10:58am

President Rodrigo Duterte's State of the Nation Address was a confirmation that killing is a government policy, rights group Karapatan says.

"Duterte knows the day of reckoning is coming for him with the International Criminal Court Office of the Prosecutor’s request to investigate him for his crimes against the Filipino people. He may brag and pretend not to care, but his quip to 'add another' dead body amid the calls for accountability is an insidious — and serious — threat," the group also says.

July 26, 2021 - 6:35pm

President Duterte says the Delta variant of the COVID-19 is "far more aggressive and dangerous."

Duterte hopes the variant will not spread any further but if something wrong happens, "it will be just like what happened in the early days."

July 26, 2021 - 6:21pm

President Duterte claims his government launched the most extensive amelioration program in history with the passage of Bayanihan 1 and Bayanihan 2.

July 26, 2021 - 6:17pm

President Duterte talks about the pandemic response, joking that he may have the deadly virus that killed 27,000 Filipinos.

Earlier he told everyone to pray to God to solve the pandemic, which has left thousands of Filipinos out of work.

July 26, 2021 - 5:59pm

President Duterte revisits the issue with Metro Manila water providers, now Razon-led Manila Water Company Inc. and Pangilinan-led Maynilad Water Services Inc., which he earlier accused of forging "onerous" contracts with the government.

"I told (Finance Secretary) Dominguez, 'tell them that I am no longer honoring the contract,'" the president recalls telling his finance chief. — Ian Nicolas Cigaral

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