By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
MANILA – In his last State of the Nation Address, President Rodrigo Duterte talked for nearly three hours and repeatedly went off script as he defended his administration, which is now down to its last months.
“Beyond the bluster and deception peppered in the regime’s last SONA lie a country deep in crisis and despair. Change really is here, and it’s not for the majority of oppressed Filipinos,” Anakbayan Spokesperson Jeann Miranda said in a statement.
Earlier that day, progressives gathered in a protest action at the University of the Philippines – Diliman to demand accountability and ensure that this year’s SONA is his last.
As he approaches his last months in office, President Duterte has been vocal on his plans to remain in power, particularly in running for the vice presidency to bring “equilibrium” to the next year’s national race. His own political party earlier adopted a resolution pushing him to run for the vice presidency and allow him to choose his running mate – a first in the country’s political landscape.
Meanwhile, his daughter Davao Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio and his former presidential aide now Sen. Christopher Go are being groomed as top-of-mind candidates for the upcoming elections, as part of the “pamana” (heirloom) legacy that this administration would like to impress on the people.
No concrete steps on pandemic response
In his address, Duterte offered no concrete steps on how the country will address the pandemic, particularly with the confirmed local transmission of the deadlier Delta variant.
Public health experts earlier stressed the importance of intensifying government efforts on contact tracing, of which the national average is only at 1:3. This means that contact tracing is usually within the household of a confirmed patient and remains a far cry from the government’s own target of 1:15.
“I hope it will not go any further. But if something wrong happens, I’ll have to be strict and I have now my word that there will be a… Just like what happened in the early days,” Duterte said.
He later said he will exert every effort to restore lost livelihoods, adding that “I do not know what… Maybe we will just have to pray for salvation.”
Hours before SONA, Pulse Asia released its survey results showing that a third of Filipinos want Duterte to discuss how it will create more jobs and improve the economy. However, the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights noted that Duterte’s almost-three-hour address did not mention clear plans on resolving the current economic crisis.
“It was grueling to listen to an almost 3-hour speech with nothing that significantly affects the people. It was pure talk of ‘accomplishments’, empty rhetoric, and his trademark ‘Kill them-Shoot them Dead remarks. No amount of sweet talk can cover up his failures,” the CTUHR said.
Duterte said he signed an executive order that will implement the country’s National Employment Recovery Strategy. He also said that another component of the government’s employment recovery strategy is through the training offerings by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
These, however, may fall short as the Philippines is currently under the “worst unemployment crisis with more than five million Filipinos unemployed,” per the CTUHR.
Duterte also bragged about the increase in salaries and benefits of state forces, while the minimum wage has only increased by nine-percent under his administration. This is the lowest increase among his predecessors.
The ending of contractualization, too, did not materialize under President Duterte, who vetoed the watered-down Endo Bill in 2019.
“Workers awaited a clear pronouncement come SONA, but clearly, the President neglected to address the workers’ clamor,” the CTUHR said.
No government aid
While Duterte highlighted the distribution of “the most extensive Social Protection Program in our country’s history,” the CTUHR noted there was no mention of “much-needed ayuda or government assistance to those who lost their jobs and livelihood due to the pandemic and wage increase.”
The consolidated Bayanihan 3, also known as “Bayanihan to Arise As One,” is described by its proponents as a “lifeline measure” as it focuses on social amelioration programs. It has also gained the support of nearly all lawmakers who even crossed party lines for this bill. However, the president did not certify it as urgent, compared to Bayanihan 1 and 2.
“He had the guts to brag the help he extended to the poor when we endured dire living conditions without aid. He mentioned so many things he plans to spend on, including free legal assistance for the police. But he did not give a damn to those going hungry,” said Kadamay secretary-general Mimi Doringo.