A lot of critical essays have been penned by so called political analysts right after the historic State of the Nation Address (SONA) of President Rodrigo Duterte last July 25. A few of them would likely be accepted as correct because written by observers equipped with presumptive critical acumen for having had considerable experience in following through a lot of political events in our social context.
One such presumably dexterous analysis of President Digong’s speech articulated that the SONA was a “lost opportunity”. The fundamental premise that props up such conclusive assertion is that Digong’s long-winding and seemingly eambling verbal construct fails to provide a clear direction of Philippine society’s journey through his six-year term as President. It claims that the many excursions of Digong’s narrative into eclectic situations and dramatic scenes do not at all merge into a coherent thematic thrust. In effect the SONA, it says, does not give a clear view of the main avenue through which the nation would travel towards its desired goal. Thus, the critique concludes, it was a “lost opportunity” for the nation and a citizenry whose expectations from his leadership are very high.
Well, it may be true that President Duterte’s SONA went through many detours as in fact the expected 38 minutes length of its duration as confided by Secretary Andanar extended to more than an hour mainly on account of its extemporaneous “adlibs”.
But, before delving opn the merits and/or demirits of President Duterte’s piece, le us venture to define what essentially is a SONA? It is the acronym of State of the Nation Address usually delivered by a head of State. In other words, it is a way of laying bare the current situation of society for the purpose of laying down the basis for the formulation of policies and for enacting legislation needed for nation building or re-building. These social realities are laid bare before the members of the Cabinet, the Legislature, and the Judiciary, and to the whole nation and people. They constitute the basis, the premises, and rationale of what is called “the legislative agenda”–the laws that need to be worked upon by Congress in conjunction with the policies to be adopted by the Executive Body headed by the President.
If that is so, the fundamental significance of the SONA is the incumbent reality of society which ought to be mirrored in the most comprehensive manner and most concrete conformance to the perceptions of the entire body politic. For in the ultimate analysis, it is the whole people’s collective interests that must benefit from the programs and projects as fruits of governance.
It follows therefrom that the concrete conditions laid bare by the SONA should be faithful and true to what concretely obtain on the ground or to what prevail as perceived by the great majority of the citizenry and not by just a small percentage of the population.
Apropos of this, it follows that in the conduct of the most comprehensive survey of social reality, it is the plight of the great majority of the broad masses that should surface since they constitute more than 80 percent of the total population in the country.
And who are these “great majority”? No other than the toiling masses—the teeming millions of workers and peasants and fisherfolks, including the Moro and indigenous peoples.
Now, the question: Has President Duterte’s SONA mirrored the true conditions of this great majority? Has he accurately gathered the fundamental problems they have endured through these long long years of our Republic’s existence?
The answer to that query should be the proper measure for the success or failure of the SONA of President Duterte, not the fluency of his tongue, or the quality of his voice, or the impressive array of his words. The gem of eloquence in the SONA derives from the profound grasp of the flesh and blood reality of the broad masses in the rugged terrain of a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society like the Philippines.
However, what is given high premium by our seasoned political analysts is the matter of the dexterity with which the President organizes his ideas according to the rhetorical demands of theme-writing or speech-making. And these standards accord partial attention to how impressive is the dramatization of the theme of the discourse no matter its poverty in honest information and truthful knowledge of reality.
And so these expert analysts search for these rhetorical standards in Duterte’s SONA, and might have found it wanting, enough for them to declare it as “a lost opportunity”. They were perhaps hoping for a well written “oratorical piece” which if compared to the SONAs of past Presidents might just come out the winner in the “oratorical contest”(?).
But the experts simply missed the point. It simply slipped from their memory that in all previous regimes the SONA was often used as a tool to deceive , employed as a conduit for the constant flux of such propaganda slogans as “matuwid na daan”, “kayo ang aking boss” which from time to time are prescribed as dosages of lies and deceit for the day-to-day afflictions of misery of the people.
Indeed, the experts failed to hear the pulsing intensity of President Duterte’s heart. They could not see in his seemingly aimless excursions into the diverse day-to-day facets of the people’s lives the purity of his desire that the poor masses be extricated from the mire of misery. They could not perceive the untainted sincerity of his crusade for social development. They did not care to peep into the intense throbs of his passion for Change.
Duterte’s random turns into different byways and footpaths in the narrative journey of his speech only show how neighborly close to his heart and soul are the downtrodden. Like a true father who he is genuinely concerned and who deeply cares for his brood President Duterte exhibits his rare identification with the ignored and the neglected.
He gives us a ride on his “traysikad” – not on a pajero or a montero—to the slum areas so that we too can experience how it is to be violently deprived of their sacred shielters by sudden forays of heartless demolitions of their barongbarongs.
On a balsa or on a rickety karomata he takes us to the farmlands and nipa huts in the remote countryside for us to live even for a very brief moment the unseen hardships of the impoverished farmers and hacienda farmworkers.
He lets us trek together with him to the bangsa homelands of the Moro people and bid us hear the untold stories of their history—how brutally and mercilessly they were massacred by the Spanish and American invaders and delivered to a destiny of great injustice and desperation.
He makes climb with him across hillscapes and mountainslopes to the tribal communities of the Lumads in order to listen to the chants of the balyans weaving the lyrics of their olaging that narrate the plunder of their ancestral lands by foreign mining companies mindlessly devastating the country’s environment.
He lets the PNP-Special Action Force escort us to the interiors of the Bilibid Prisons where right infront of us are arrayed mind-boggling quantities of shabu and other illegal drugs and drug paraphernalia owned and manufactured by drug lord inmates themselves inside their jail seldas turned laboratories.
He walks abreast with us to enter the offices of government agencies to enable us to peep into the unabated goings-on of under-the-table deals and other corrupt practices of government officials squandering the people’s money and emptying the national coffers all for their selfish interests and personal aggrandizement.
He connects us to the OFWs in the Middle East to get informed of their problems, especially those caught in the midst of civil war and those stripped of their employment and are stranded in unseemly places without ample assistance from our embassy officials in those foreign lands.
So many other nooks and spaces in our society have been visited by us in his company for the sole purpose of sharing with us, the nation, much like documentary video footages about the entirety of our national situation. And only he has the capacity to gather all these facts and information as a leader who has the wellbeing and welfare of the people at heart and who has the will and determination to effect real Change.
Contrary to what the expert analysts and seasoned critics say, innumerable citizens from the different sectors individually and collectively banner their confirmation and praises for what President Duterte has revealed in his SONA. And these are synthesized in the brief but comprehensive words of former DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan in his own observation, to wit:
It’s a very unique SONA.
He’s conversing, reasoning, laying the rules, expounding his vision, stating the goals, rolling out his programs, joking, and coming across as natural – that’s the way he is; what you see is what you get.
He’s certainly grappling with that idiot board scrolling up his speech. At some point he stopped using it and went ad lib. At times when he returned to it he had to instruct the person manning its speed to move it up or slow it down.
He is speaking as a grandfather, father and brother. Never mind the mumbling at times, or the childlike moments of provincial humour. He is speaking from the heart and sharing his knowledge of who we are as a people, our vulnerabilities, the risks we face and what we need to do to build a better Philippines.
What we are seeing this afternoon is the person I first met 24 years ago – someone who says what he means and means what he says. No hele-hele or cheche-bureche. And at his age today, 71, he has no patience for bullshit.
All told, we were treated to the spectacle of a real leader dead serious to do his job and expecting everyone else to do theirs.