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Ano raw? Filipinos react to SONA-2020

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2020 - 12:00am

Many tuned out of President Duterte’s address Monday when, upon greeting the dignitaries, he went on a tirade against oppositionist Franklin Drilon. Days prior, Malacañang trumpeted that his 2020 State of the Nation would focus on pandemic recovery. Filipinos were awaiting novel government plans finally to lick COVID-19, onto economic revival. No more lengthy digressions from core issues, or cussing and castigating as in his recent late night updates, people thought. But then he harangued anew in the constitutionally required, traditionally televised annual report to Congress. To those who listened in full it was to be more of those same. Applause would only be on cue.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto summed up the two-hour rant thus: “I think the President economized in spelling out his anti-pandemic program, which is what Filipinos were expecting to hear more from him. He could have made it detailed and nuanced, in a language that is comforting, assuring and emphatic.”

Filipinos are demoralized. Amid prolonged community lockdowns C-19 infections and deaths continue to multiply. Livelihoods and savings are vanishing. In crisis people look up to the leader for guidance.

“It scored low in the inspirational index,” Recto said. “People were expecting a pep talk that will boost their morale, steel their resolve, and leave them to conclude without doubt that indeed we shall overcome. To a people in need of hope and direction, he could have used that speech to ignite their fighting spirit and light the way forward for them.”

Duterte dwelt a bit on pandemic relief. He recalled asking Chinese president Xi Jinping to sell Filipinos a vaccine once available, backed by loans if need be. Then again, that’s dependent on external factors, not on any Philippine initiative. He told lessors to not evict and lenders to not squeeze struggling shops. That’s making one enterprise sacrifice for another; no government help for either. He mentioned a Bayanihan Act-Part 2 as rush aid to micro and small businesses; Malacañang had turned down a special congressional session to pass it last May.

Reiterated was a program “Plant, Plant, Plant,” denoting food production, nutrition, and rural focus. No details, though. Being rushed instead in the House of Reps is a P1.5-trillion fund for congressmen’s pet “economic cures” – a grand pork barrel in effect.

Duterte said he was “inutile, cannot do anything” against China’s sea aggression. For him, war is the only option, yet futile to dislodge the nuclear-armed neighbor from occupied Philippine reefs and exclusive economic zone. That’s again painting himself into a corner.

War cannot be an option because barred by the Philippine Constitution and the United Nations. Diplomacy via international law is, as often stressed by former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario, justice Antonio Carpio, and other patriot-experts. The Philippines already has scored a major diplomatic and legal victory at The Hague arbitration in 2016. Outlawed were China’s grab of Scarborough Shoal, concreting of seven reefs, poaching, environmental ruin, and military incursions under pretext of “historic nine-dash sea border.” Instead of shelving the international court ruling, to China’s glee, Duterte can rally the ASEAN and the UN General Assembly to help enforce it. Nine in ten Filipinos support such action. The USA and Australia already have upheld it in sympathy with Beijing’s victim-states and for freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. Joining their patrols there are Britain, France and India. Japan has offered Manila sea defense resources. All those strengthen Manila’s hand for creative diplomatic, legal initiatives. Duterte has but to say the word, and harness Filipino think tanks.

He vowed to never allow any more foreign military bases in the Philippines. Yet in three of seven occupied Philippine reefs China has built airstrips, naval ports, and missile pads. Fighters, bombers and troop transports have been deployed. From there Chinese warships trespassed Philippine territorial waters last Aug. and aimed gun-control directors at a Philippine Navy patrol in Feb. China has been announcing to soon impose an air defense identification zone in the SCS, indicating it would soon erect air and naval bases on Scarborough too. He was silent about those in his speech.

Duterte raged anew against “oligarchs” in power, water, and telecoms utilities. If they do not improve services by Dec., he warned of takeover. Does that forebode more job losses during pandemic, like the disenfranchising of ABS-CBN triggered the layoff of 11,000 employees and contractors? Eight million who have lost livelihoods so far have yet to be rescued.

Duterte ended by again lambasting Drilon, an indication of his divisive politics in the pandemic months to come. Hopefully that does not distract the Executive from the pandemic fight. The country would not want a worsening to the point of overflowing hospitalizations of C-19 patients, like in Italy and Spain at their worst. Or too many uncollected corpses in homes and streets, as in Ecuador.

In last Monday’s column we implored God to imbue the President with wisdom to show in his State of the Nation the way out of crisis. The Almighty must have reasons to delay granting some of our prayers.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

My book “Exposés: Investigative Reporting for Clean Government” is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Expos%C3%A9s-Investigative-Reporting-Clean-Government-ebook/dp/B00EPX01BG

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Gotcha archives: www.philstar.com/columns/134276/gotcha

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