2017 SONA: Change is not always for the better

By Sonny Africa

Among Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s idiosyncrasies is preferring a vulgar stream-of-consciousness approach in his speeches. This is even for the annual state of the nation address (SONA) at the opening of Congress which is undoubtedly the government’s highest-profile policy speech of the year. The president’s choice is a matter of style but then this also means that his SONAs shouldn’t be analyzed the way other presidents’ SONAs are – that is, as a coherent comprehensive statement of the administration’s policies and priorities.

Having said that, Pres. Duterte’s 2017 SONA can still be interpreted against everything else he has been doing in the past year. What becomes clear is that he continues to build his image and behave as a benevolent paternalistic strongman.

This is dangerous, anti-democratic, and anti-development especially in the specific conditions of the country. The Philippines’ political institutions are underdeveloped with a strong patronage-clientelist streak. The military and police are abusive and violate human rights with impunity. Oligarchic and business elites abuse their economic power with the backing of the government.

Authoritarianism was unfortunately prominent in the president’s SONA and in his press conference afterwards. He played up the need for a forceful – even militarist – approach to dealing with the country’s problems.

The president repeatedly highlighted the importance of the military and police and strengthening them with tens of thousands of additional troops and hardware. He took a combative stance against millions of Filipinos – “anarchic” Leftists occupying the streets, the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), Lumad schools, Moro who will “side [against] government”, and poor alleged drug users and pushers. He defended martial law as an expedient way to deal with peace and order problems, never mind that this is excessive and unnecessary. And he again pitched for the death penalty for “deterrence” as well as “retribution”.

The president also trivialized human rights and due process. These were portrayed as a hindrance to tackling the menace of illegal drugs, criminality and corruption. The military and police were also assured of impunity with the president declaring: “I have your backs.” And yet these are such basic liberal democratic values.

The president, in discussing his tax reform program, was appreciative of a sycophant Congress yet threatening to those uncooperative. He commended the 246 members of the House of Representatives (HOR) who supported his anti-poor and pro-rich tax reform bill. But, with the measure now in the hands of the Senate, he also threatened the chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee for being critical especially of the tax program’s anti-poor aspects.

The president’s SONA had precious few fragments of reforms. The most prominent was prioritizing the environment over mining and other destructive activities. Also potentially important was the exhortation to set up mineral processing and manufacturing industries in the country, notwithstanding ambiguity if these would be genuinely Filipino or just foreign firms setting up shop in the country. The budget for assistance to overseas Filipino workers was doubled to over Php1 billion. He also dramatically told the sick to go to any hospital and just say that the president would take care of their expenses.

And yet the 2017 SONA was actually dismissive of the serious socioeconomic problems the country is facing. There was no acknowledgement that the economy actually shed almost 400,000 jobs in the first year of the Duterte administration and that poverty remains deep and widespread among tens of millions of Filipinos. There was no sign that the president grasped how neoliberal Arroyonomics and Aquinomics resulted in rapid growth, profits and wealth for a few amid poverty and joblessness for the many.

There was, if anything, oversimplification to bolster the drive to authoritarianism: “The economy surges when there is peace and order.”

This is blind to the long-standing and deep structural inequities that keep the economy underdeveloped. Landlords and rural elites take the greatest part of what landless peasants and farmworkers produce. Capitalists exploit workers through low wages and scant benefits, and charge consumers the highest prices they can. Domestic agriculture and industry are stifled to preserve foreign capital’s markets and sources of raw materials.

Indeed, the talk of “investor confidence” and “protecting local and foreign investors” is a virtual defense of these inequities. A declaration to uphold a bias for the disenfranchised and propertyless poor in the economic sphere would have been much more welcome. The impression instead is of growing authoritarianism as the political framework to press the neoliberal economic agenda against growing protest and opposition.

These are alarming developments in the state of the nation. The tens of thousands of rallyists outside the Batasan complex and many thousands more across the country are however vivid expression of people asserting their social and economic rights. The administration would do well to heed their grievances and demands. They are the real forces of change that, looking beyond particular administrations, play the long game of bringing the nation forward to a democratic and developed future for the people.—IBON Features

Day of reckoning in 2nd Duterte SONA protests

In a day of reckoning, tens of thousands of protesters under the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) trooped outside Congress for Pres. Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2017.

This was before he faced the protesters asking for more time and patience.

Bayan Sec-Gen Renato Reyes states the reasons for the protest citing anti-people and anti-national policies including the bombing of Marawi and martial law. (ILPS Philippines video)

MidEast OFWs react to Duterte’s 2nd SONA

DUBAI–Filipinos in the UAE gave a mixed bag of reactions on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Manila Monday.

Some praised him for his straightforward speech while others criticized his bloody war on illegal drugs; others gave him high marks while some gave him a satisfactory grade, and yet others have raised concerns over the continuing war between government troops and Daesh-inspired Maute Group as well as the extension of martial law in Mindanao, in southern Philippines.

Solid Duterte supporters have expectedly shown their complete trust to President Duterte.

“I trust him in whatever action of government he wants to make,” Dubai resident Mosh Lafuente said. “I fully support him. His campaign on peace and order, including his war against illegal drugs, is really very tough but that is precisely what the Philippines needs,” he said.

Milo Torres added: I’m very happy to see him and hear him speaking from his heart with no hesitation to what he wanted to say. Martial law in Mindanao is really necessary and his call for the re-imposition of death penalty is the answer for those who committed heinous crimes.

“Duterte is not perfect and I give a satisfactory rating on his first year in office. He has done a good job on his war against drugs and, as a matter of fact, I never felt safer during my last vacation in our hometown,” added Darwin Grafil.

But many criticized Duterte’s martial law and the many extrajudicial killings in his year-old presidency.

“In his SONA, President Duterte said martial law is needed until the last terrorist is taken out of Mindanao,” Sahron Roy Tamano, former MarCom (Maranao Community) president, said. “But the war between government troops and Daesh-inspired Maute Group has been going on for more than two months and there is still no end in aerial bombings in Marawi and other rebel-occupied communities,” she said.

Tamano added: “I speak on behalf of Maranaos (people of Marawi) in the UAE and I can say that we are not entirely against the extension of martial law to quell the terrorists but what we are afraid of is what will happen next after this war. We are afraid that the military might abuse their authority. Some of us might be picked up on mere suspicion that we have relatives connected with the Mautes,” she said.

“Duterte has to keep his promise to end this armed conflict in Marawi soon because every day that this war is dragging on, more people – particularly the civilians – will die,” Tamano underlined.

Nhel Morona, Migrante Middle East coordinator, added: “The extension of martial law in Mindanao could lead to a military takeover of the government. Duterte is now showing that he is leaning to the Right and such move could pave the way for a possible declaration of martial law nationwide.”

“As proven in history, martial law does not bring peace and stability and can only lead to human rights violations,” he explained.

Morona also criticised Duterte for pulling the plug on the peace negotiations with the communists.

“President Duterte previously bragged that he’s a leftist president, but what happened? Peace talks are not just about the cessation of hostilities. At the negotiating table, both parties talk about the root causes of armed conflict and discuss fundamental social change. Now, the president has thrown this down the drain and he is on war footing,” Morona underlined.

On Duterte’s war on drugs, Filipino tech-entrepreneur Mannix Pabalan said: “The Duterte administration anchored its campaign to the presidency to clean up the country with illegal drugs. So far out of thousands killed already, we still have to see a drug lord get their day in justice. It is unfortunate that we still hear news that drug lords are feasting inside jail while they manufacture and operate their drug syndicates behind bars with the help of the men in uniform themselves,” Pabalan said. # (Angel L. Tesorero)

An earlier version of this report was published in The Khaleej Times (


OPINION: How Duterte misjudges the Left

President Rodrigo Duterte sprung another surprise tonight by addressing the protest rally outside the House of Representatives after delivering his second State of the Nation Address. It turned out though he too would be surprised by his unprecedented move.

Fresh from delivering a speech in front of an overwhelmingly servile audience, Duterte should have known the leftist protesters would be an entirely different crowd altogether. The protesters he made to wait under pouring rain are tens of thousands of victims of his government’s failed promises and are not the crowd to applaud his rambling speeches and his crude brand of levity.  Furthermore, he should not have expected them to remain silent while he spoke.

Even before he could really launch into his speech, the president was met with chants—something he did not expect to hear, nor want to, for sure. “No to martial law! No to martial law!” the crowd shouted. Duterte reverted to his customary mode and told his audience to shut up and just listen. “Huwag muna! Patapusin mo muna ako diyan!” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand.

The president reminded the drenched crowd he still has leftists in his cabinet.  He said he is only trying to make everyone happy, that he means to spend billions for poor people and agrarian reform would happen given time. He said he does not own government and that he only receives his salary for all that he does.

But those are the words the protesters did not want to hear. They wanted categorical statements on their most pressing problems. “Manggagawang kontraktwal, gawing regular!” the workers shouted. “Militar sa kanayunan, palayasin!” bellowed the Lumad in front of the stage.

It is hard to guess what Duterte was thinking at that point, but he clearly did not like the people telling him what they demand of their president. “E kung ganyan ang turing niyo sa akin, parang kalaban, wala na. ‘Wag na tayong mag-usap!” he said. “Pati ako, gusto niyong patayin…Pag-uwi ko galing Marawi, ambush-in niyo ako,” he added.

There was a brief moment when Duterte lifted the crowd’s spirits up. “Ang relasyon ko sa Left, ok pa,” he said. Inexplicably, he immediately turned it into a threat that definitely did not help any. “Huwag niyong sirain kasi magkasamaan tayo ng loob. Damay ako, damay kayo,” he said.

The crowd responded with another chant of “Peace talks, ituloy!” to which Duterte typically responded, “Hanap kayong maganda diyan, iharap sa akin.” He then again said, “In-ambush niyo ako!” referring to the Arakan, North Cotabato incident last week. It was the first time anyone has heard he was there.

It was clear at this time the protesters wanted a dialogue with Duterte and they did not want to listen to more of what they have already heard him say in his SONA. He should have taken the cue when the crowd affirmatively answered him when he asked if he should release all political prisoners. “Oo!” the crowd roared, but Duterte missed it.

It was immediately after this exchange that Duterte let out what he really wanted to say to the Left. “Kailangan tahimik (kayo). Mag-respetuhan tayo. Huwag niyo akong i-ambush,” he said. Coupled with his earlier statement that the Left should give him time, he really wanted their silence while he focuses on what he says must be done first. The President did not appear before the protesters to listen; he was there to issue an order.

For someone who claims to be a leftist himself and for someone who never tires of reminding the Left of his ties with their comrades in his home region, it was hard to believe he now misjudges them badly. The Left has never made secret its opposition to martial law, the militarization of the countryside, environmental plunder, contractualization of labor, human rights violations and other social ills left unresolved by the Duterte administration. To ask them to be silent, even for just a period of time, is asking for them to be complicit. It is something no one could ever imagine they would, because they never had.

A visibly disappointed Duterte abruptly ended his speech and left the stage in a huff. But he must know, his appearance and speech has left the crowd even more disappointed. “Bakit pa siya pumunta?” was a question many asked as they ended the SONA protest made bizarre by a guest who invited himself. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)


Group says Duterte’s LGBT promises ’empty’

By Mark Kevin Reginio of UP-CMC for Kodao Productions

The Rodrigo Duterte government has done little for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) sector a year into its term, a group said in a forum held at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Gender Office Friday.

LGBT group Bahaghari-Metro Manila said Duterte’s campaign promises were only “charot” (empty) as these were never translated into action.

Mayroon bang nangyari? O, katulad ng marami, charot lang?” Bahaghari member Andrew Zarate asked. Read more

Bayan releases 20-point wish list for Duterte’s 2nd SONA

Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) announced its list of 20 “urgent people’s demands” it urges President Rodrigo Duterte’s to address on his second State of the Nation Address on July 24.

Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said their list aims to push the year-old Duterte government to “address the worsening crisis confronting the nation and the Filipino people,” including unfulfilled promises on land reform, national industrialization, peace talks, independent foreign policy, expanded social services, respect for human rights and measures against corruption. Read more