CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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Rising from the rubble of sorrow and pain

MANILA (SE): In his first State of the Nation Address delivered to both houses of the congress on July 25, the president of the Republic of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, painted a pretty grim picture, describing its dysfunctional legal system, inefficient and corrupt public service, shoddy law enforcement, volatile warring lands and vast poverty as leaving the nation in bad shape.

Refreshingly dressed in simple manner and speaking fluently, mostly in English, the remainder of the address from the newly-elected president was more reminiscent of an election speech than a policy address.

Promising to make trains run faster, more often and longer, he gave out a timetable for the Light Rail Transit system, speedier court hearings, a clean up of the police and the assurance of full human rights for every citizen.

But in a rather confusing manner, he quickly retracted that promise, saying, “Human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country—your country and mine,” a hint that there will no longer be human rights in the country, only Duterte rights, which he may graciously bestow upon or withhold from its citizens in the style of a martial law president.

However, in the midst of his wish list, he did make promising comments on a variety of factors, noting that the Moro people in Mindanao have been harshly and unjustly treated from the minute that Ferdinand Magellan stepped foot upon the land and, while declaring a ceasefire in the ongoing violence in Mindanao, he challenged the National Democratic Front to follow suit.

He was critical of the past peace process, saying, “We express our willingness to go to the negotiating table, yet we load our guns, fix our sights and pull the trigger. It is both ironic and tragic—and it is endless.”

He added, “If we cannot yet love each other, then for God’s sake, let us not hate each other.”

But the two items that he paid most attention to were the transition to a federal government, advocating the French system, with a largely ceremonial cum public relations-style president, and a prime minister to administer the country.

However, he also promised to leave Malacañang when his term is up.

He spent significant time elaborating on his greatest passion, killing anyone involved in drugs.

While he did not give any further clarification as to what his ultimate aim in the exercise is, he did promise drug rehabilitation facilities and a no stone unturned hunt for the big fish.

But his insistence that those involved in corruption of any kind, in any place would face big and unspecified trouble, may be a hint that the hit list may well expand beyond drugs and is but a beacon to inform those involved in other types of crime what may happen to them too.

And he promised jobs, including jobs for the unskilled, as well as entrepreneurial opportunities, especially in the deeply agricultural areas.

He then outlined a plan to utilise what is probably the most valuable economic asset of The Philippines, its vast, youthful and relatively well educated potential labour force, to invite foreign industry to set up labour intensive enterprises across the country.

Although the plan is vague and without reference to some of the current and past disasters with foreign manufacturing, he promised to invest in human capital, while in the same breath implementing the controversial Health Bill.

He sought to comfort religious leaders saying that, although he is a strong believer in the separation of Church and state, he does not believe in the separation of God and state.

In the public service and the private business sector he is insisting on complete computer journals of all transactions, so the public should ensure that everything is entered.

This directive is aimed at practices like employment agencies taking money for fees that are neither documented nor receipted.

The other major area he singled out was the environment, defending his choice of Gina Lopez as his enforcer.

He noted that the country has a law on mining, honoured more in the breach then the observance, but from now on the writing will be on the wall for any company that breaches the act.

Nevertheless, his comments on cheap power and coal fired generating plants seemed at odds with his passion for cleaning up the environment and stopping the incessant destruction of the natural Philippine wealth.

He promised resettlement for squatters, but without mention as to how the fundamental problem of jobs, education and other facilities, which are currently the scourge of relocation, would be addressed.

However, migrant workers did get their first presidential mention in at least seven years, as he promised to streamline procurement of documents and make a real effort to respond to their needs and concerns.

However, he steered clear of the deeply rooted problem of huge land holdings, which have been understood for decades as being the biggest stumbling block to distribution of wealth in the country.

No doubt he knows that he is not the only powerful person in the country capable of drawing up hit lists and not the only one able to carry them out.

Then in a manner reminiscent of a devastated Hiroshima rising from the ashes of the atomic bomb in 1945, Duterte ended like a prophet from of old foreseeing Filipinos rising from the rubble of sorrow and pain, so all the mirrors of the world may reflect the face of the passion that changed the land.

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