FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

A British statesman once said two weeks is a very long time in politics. One year is a vastly longer time.

President Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA) was delivered yesterday. The event does not mark the end of his presidency. It should mark the most productive year of his leadership.

The nation was thrown into dire straits by the pandemic. The whole world suffered the same fate. The virus mutates and would not go away. Somehow, even if we have to do so by pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we have to bring our economy to some sort of recovery even as infection rates remain stubbornly high.

It is Rodrigo Duterte’s job to lead the nation to recovery over the next 11 months. This will remain a year of challenge that tests not only our resilience but also our ability to reimagine the terms of our economic existence.

The latest Pulse Asia survey shows the top three concerns of our people have to do with the economy. They want more jobs to be created and inflation kept under rein.

The government’s vaccination program comes up fourth in the hierarchy of public concerns. Peace and order concerns rank comparatively low, positive testimony to this administration’s efforts.

It is clear the Duterte administration should address the economic challenges convincingly to reassure our people. Communicating an economic plan to the grassroots is always a challenge. The man on the street makes a political judgment on our economic fate based on whether he has a job or not.

The task of building a constituency behind an economic recovery plan is challenging in any year. It is twice more challenging during an election year when the air is filled with toxic claims and partisan narratives.

Each year, on the day of the SONA, the leftist groups expend huge resources to bring their organizations to the streets. They are quite jealous of their “franchise” over these street protests, elbowing out all other voices with strange costumes, large effigies and scandalous claims. These are always orgies of slander, festivals of hate, focusing on vilification rather than clarification. It is a noisy effort to commandeer the narrative.

The annual SONA ritual of the leftist groups is a throwback to what happened in the wake of President Ferdinand Marcos’ 1970 speech. The demonstrators who had gathered in front of the old Congress building provoked a riot. That riot, in turn, energized a series of violent street protests eventually referred to as the First Quarter Storm. The street violence, in turn, provided the wind to propel the newly founded Maoist-inspired communist movement. The communist groups crave for a recreation of that dynamic.

Among those elbowed out by the antics of the leftists are the self-appointed but unelected stalwarts of the “opposition.” But they appear to have lost the battle for controlling narratives long before. They bet on anti-China jingoism, inflated concerns for human rights and stoking nationalist indignation over “lost” sovereignty in the South China Sea. The surveys insistently tell us they are not top-of-mind among the masses.

At any rate, the day of the SONA has always been highly polarized political theater. It has never been a day for consensus building. That is a disservice to the democracy we all want to consolidate.


Jejomar Binay, former vice-president and defeated presidential candidate, is the latest personality to throw his hat into the political ring. Defying the years, he has been enlisted as the 11th senatorial candidate of the Lacson-Sotto tandem.

With the exception of two, the first ten senatorial candidates announced by this tandem are either former senators returning to the chamber or incumbents seeking reelection. They are grizzled veterans of many electoral battles and, collectively, they provide the Lacson-Sotto tandem with some propulsion.

There is only one slot left in this rather impressively formed senatorial ticket. With Binay in, it is unlikely the last seat will go to someone named Antonio Trillanes – the former senator left out in the pasture.

Only one other senatorial ticket forming is the one, for lack of a name, be called the Duterte Dozen. This is the draft list of probable bets for seats in the Senate supposedly being considered by President Duterte.

Some names in the Duterte Dozen list overlap with those already announced in the Lacson-Sotto ticket. Most of those included in this list are current members of the Cabinet whose probable run to elective national office seems to be driven by vanity rather than viability. Three in this list are showbiz/media personalities who will likely win seats in the Senate if they push through.

The predicament of the Duterte Dozen list is that they do not have a clear presidential/vice-presidential tandem to hang on to. Rodrigo Duterte’s probable run for the vice presidency is not tenable. It is more likely talk of this is a smoke-and-mirrors tactic to buy pro-administration forces some time to get a better sense of where they stand.

Should Sara Duterte declare her candidacy, she will likely form her own senatorial ticket on the basis of inputs from parties allied with her. Her list will likely include Bong Marcos, Jinggoy Estrada and Gibo Teodoro. From her body language, it seems Sara is not likely to take in her father’s henchmen.

The Duterte Dozen could end up a bunch of political orphans.

Meanwhile, any LP-led slate will likely take in the trio of Pangilinan, Hontiveros and de Lima. The three could be political orphans in their own right should Leni Robredo decide not to seek the presidency.

SONA 2021
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