CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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The state of the president address

MANILA (SE): Displaying a verbosity reminiscent of Lee Kwan-yew, but without the eloquence of the former prime minister of Singapore, the president of the Republic of The Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, regaled his hapless people for well over two hours in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24.
 
Although prophets from Malacañang predicted a strong SONA, pundits from another side of the fence came much closer to the mark with their prediction of a rambling, often incoherent mishmash of quietly delivered tirades against the legal system, human rights, critics of his ways, government structures and the media in what was a presentation of state sponsored violence, propaganda and fake news.
 
Duterte’s address was described by one senator, Antonio Trillianes, as fodder for the gullible; imprisoned senator, Leila de Lima, as nonsensical; and José Maria Sison, the exiled leader of the Communist Party of The Philippines, as the ramblings of a man who needs to see a psychiatrist.
 
However, Duterte did express one thing with paramount clarity: the key to progress, whether it be in the field of petty crime or huge corruption, discontent with government or insurgency, dysfunctionality or deprivation, is fear.
 
“That’s the only way to do it to instill fear, that if you do it, you will die,” the president told his people.
 
“I therefore ask congress to act on all pending legislations to re-impose the death penalty on heinous crimes—especially on the trafficking of illegal drugs,” he said.
 
In a move away from the fashion parades of yesteryear, business dress was the order of the day and the packed congress chamber was treated to a wander through Duterte’s garden of homespun theories on peace-making, dismantling of the legal systems in order to establish a rule of law and revolutionary medical theories.
 
The gospel according to Duterte proclaimed the great merits of the trickledown theory of governance whereby the wisdom from the public service elite meanders into society through the clogged gutters of authority, “As change that comes from below is more transitory than permanent.”
 
But not all expectations went unrewarded. As his administration came to the end of the first Year of the Killing, he promised a second one, while at the same time condescendingly telling his critics to go educate people.
 
“To the critics against this fight, your efforts will be better spent if you use the influence, moral authority and ascendancy of your organisations over your respective sectors to educate the people on the evils of illegal drugs instead of condemning the authorities and unjustly blaming for every killing that bloodies this country,” he said.
 
“I do not intend to loosen the leash in the campaign or lose the fight against illegal drugs. Neither do I intend to preside over the destruction of the Filipino youth by being timid and tentative in my decisions and actions,” he continued in a plaintive, quivering tone.
 
“Despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease, they have to stop because the alternatives are either jail or hell. And I will make sure, very sure that they will not have the luxury of enjoying the benefits of their greed and madness,” he promised.
 
Then putting his disdain for science and all forms of community wisdom built up over decades on display, he ranted against what he dubbed a United Nations (UN) representative who had challenged him on his medical theory that shabu (ice) shrinks the brain, while withholding the fact that the man in question is actually a neuroscientist.
 
But Duterte’s venom had not ended and those who have come to wallow in the expletives falling from his lips were not disappointed, as he introduced his pet hate, human rights, telling the hapless UN doctor, “Then you trivialise it with human rights and due process.”
 
Duterte then got wound up a bit, saying, “When you go into an anger, when you burst with rage... But with so many killings as brutal and as cruel as what happened, if you add human rights and due process, you stink and your mouth smells,” the president fumed.
 
“If you want to criticise, criticise, condemn the act, stop there. But do not give the excuse or do not make it trivial by saying (with) human rights at least we’ll be protected,” he continued.
 
Then affecting the tone of an educator, he went on, “When you talk about an incident, talk about it, then condemn, condemn the police. But do not connect it with due process and human rights.”
 
A couple of expletives followed before he projected a bit of postured humility mixed with a determined arrogance, saying, “I could not be brighter than you and my work is not more important or your vocation is not less than mine. But when you talk in public carry the proper message.”
 
He spared no effort pointing out his exasperation with human rights and a threat to abolish the Commission for Human Rights would be a fulfillment of his promise from last year not to allow individual consideration get in the way of his plans.
 
He devoted much time to the siege of the southern city of Marawi and his decision to extend martial law for a further six months, playing up the unproven theory of the widespread influence of the Islamic State and the dangers of alien ideologies and radical shifts in purpose it is injecting into the local communities.
 
He added in Tagalog, “I have no problem with it. Even if you say that it is enough already.”
 
Duterte pleaded with his congress to pass legislation to improve the lot of farmers and up the food production of the highly fertile country, issuing blunt warnings to mining companies over damaging the environment and promising to do what no other nation has figured out how to do—tax them to death.
 
He coupled his call with a plea to industrialists to develop processes to put added value on the wealth that comes from the ground and turn the raw material into more profitable export items.
 
But out was the ebullient expectation of Chinese money he expressed on his return from Beijing and in was a far more tentative promise of jobs than in his first SONA, and although he remained buoyed by Chinese promises of bridges across the Pasig River, he tempered his words somewhat, saying, “We might get some money from China.”
 
However, on the South China or West Philippine Sea he spoke confidently of his friendship with Beijing, while at the same time admitting that things may get worse before they get better.
 
While a long list of frustrations with the law and workings of government shifted the blame for lack of progress into someone else’s court, he shied away from the pledges of one year ago to fix everything in three months and omitted  his promised longer, faster and more frequent light rail services, which continue to jog along with their perennial unhurried haste.
 
Nor were migrant workers left out, but once again canonised with the demeaning hero title and for the religious-minded there was also a little bit of biblical imagery about himself.
 
“Even during elections, there is a time to be great and a time for defeat. A time to be in the skies, emblazoned there and a time to be (inaudible) somebody. A time to have money, a time to be hard up. A time to just walk so many kilometres to school and a time for graduation and being a lawyer. A time to be… I don’t know what I am now. There‘s always a time.”
 
But as for the state of the nation, well that may be a story for another day, but at least there are a few social programmes on the cards, which like many things Filipino may or may not eventuate or function well, but what we do know is that state sponsored violence is in for a long stay and fake news will remain alive and well.
 
However, what we are left with is an insight into the state of the president and, although it was a day to champion the illegal, the immoral, the violent and fie on truth, there is nothing like a parting shot of prayer and it came gently with, “May God keep us forever sheltered in the hollow of his hand.”

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