posted July 25, 2017 at 12:01 am
Filipinos tuned in for more than two hours to the second State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte, eager to know what he had to say about where the country is and, more importantly, where it is headed.
After the speech where Mr. Duterte alternated between reading from a prepared statement and giving in to his own rambling, he went out and engaged the crowd that had gathered outside the halls of Congress.
By then night had fallen and it had begun to rain. One would think the 72-year-old Chief Executive would be exhausted already from all the talking he had earlier done, and he probably was, but no—he gamely stood onstage, talked to protesters and declared: “I am no different from you.”
The protesters said they wanted the peace talks with communist rebels to continue, but the President evidently felt deeply offended when the New People’s Army fired at his convoy in Mindanao last week.
We know this was a publicity stunt to bring the Office of the President closer to the people. But there was one thing Mr. Duterte said that we did not quite agree with —that he was not at all different from the people who had gathered outside Congress, each pushing his or her own agenda.
He is different, because he is the leader of the country—his folksy, tough-guy language which many find endearing notwithstanding. He has the power to decide whether or not to keep talking or stop talking to the communists whose leaders say they want lasting peace but whose foot soldiers wage war against the government and act like plain bandits, besides.
He is different because of his tremendous power to influence members of Congress, as was recently shown in his bid to extend martial law in Mindanao. Now he repeated his “wish” for Congress to restore the death penalty—we shall see how many of them will toe the line again. Political expediency has always been an effective motivating factor.
He assured the crowd he was not intimidated by their heckling and that he was listening to them.
It is always reassuring to know the President is listening—even though for most of the day he did most of the talking, and even as we are left with no clear idea about how intelligently and strategically we can move toward our national goals, not the least among them sustainable, equitable growth and jobs for all who need them.
Mr. Duterte’s still-high trust and approval ratings, likely a product of how he connects to the people, are perhaps his best tools to hang on to for the next five years.
We try very hard to get past the colorful language, even the off-tangent remarks on morality and hypocrisy, just as long as we can see he would leave the country in a better place than where it was when he took his oath last year. No one speech will assure us that this will happen, or that this won’t.
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