Looking at the SONA Through Its Different Audiences

President Duterte delivers his 2017 SONA, to the appreciation of the President of the Senate (Pimentel) and Speaker of the House (Alvarez). [Photo source: Philstar News]

Posted by The Society of Honor on July 25, 2017

By Joe America

President Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) meant different things to different audiences. Let’s reflect on them. These are my guesses, and you can add your own interpretations in the discussion that follows the article.

  • The Congressional majority and even some minority members who do not want to be seen as opposed to the President: they loved it, or at least tolerated it. Not for what he said, but for their opportunity to be a willing partner in anything he might choose to say or do, fair or foul. They really didn’t care about the impact of the speech on other audiences, even investors. Or the poor.
  • The people who voted for him and others justifying a pro-Duterte stance. That’s most of the Philippines. They, too, loved it. They loved the swagger he projected, the larger-than-life persona of a political rock star, and they didn’t care much about the details of the speech or who might be affected by it. That’s for others to worry about.
  • The political opponents such as Senators Trillanes, Hontiveros, and De Lima. They hated the speech, both for the swearing and personal attacks . . . but mostly because extra judicial killings will continue. They picked up some loose rocks to throw back at the President and “his men” in the days ahead.
  • Decent people like Vice President Robredo and the educated, well-traveled advocates of democracy and human rights. They were dismayed at the continued arrogance of threat and bad language deployed by the President. They could clap earnestly about the proposed Land Use Law, mining and environmental responsibility, reproductive health law implementation, and maybe even tax reform and military spending. But the rest of the speech was incredibly discouraging, especially the personal insults and foul language levied against Senator De Lima and human rights advocates.
  • Targets of the President’s bashing: the media, especially Rappler, Westerners, especially Americans, and human rights advocates. They probably “considered the source”, a political demagogue doing what he does best, intimidating his critics. Ambassadors likely sent home memoranda saying the Philippines has “gone to the other side” opposed to democracy, freedom, and civility, and walking arm-in-arm with China. They would advise their leadership to factor that into the policy calculus.
  • The armed forces brass probably thought they were once again being manipulated, but for sure generously. The President threw them a huge bone, lavish investment in military capability, from which they could deduce “room for bonuses and promotions”. So the question is, how honor bound and Constitutionally bound are the generals? They certainly see the President as trying to win their support, for they are the last line of defense against the complete tear-down of democracy. But they also see him playing at the edge of treason by conceding the West Philippine Sea to China. The President’s expression of appreciation to China done late in the speech can not have gone down well.
  • OFWs. The President also threw overseas workers a bone, a billion peso commitment to assisting them. Does he care about them, cynics might be inclined to ask, or just their remittances to shore up an economy that is showing instability and weakness? It was an easy bone to toss for continued overseas support.
  • Investors. The speech projected chaos and instability, threat from rebels, anger against Westerners, martial law, and dictatorial policies . . . little that would say “invest here”, unless they happened to be Chinese. Then they heard “consider investing in the Philippines.”
  • China. Loved it.

There were some significant omissions from the speech.

  • Progress on the economic front: tourism, investment flight, peso weakness. He did speak to the need for finished goods manufacturing.
  • He did not explain the intelligence failing in Marawi.
  • He did not update progress on infrastructure build-out or provide details on how to solve Manila’s transportation gridlock. He mainly lectured agencies and LGUs to do a better job, effectively washing his hands of any responsibility on such matters.
  • He did not talk about the West Philippine Sea or what the loss of economic rights means in terms of future power generation and food stock.

He said the war on drugs will continue.

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