The 3rd SONA in Prospect: Let It Be Heard

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

Today, President Duterte would be delivering his 3rd State of the Nation Address (SONA). Compared to his previous speeches, the upcoming one needs to cover more substantives issues that have been borne out by three factors—the campaign promises that are yet to be fulfilled; the emergent concerns from government dealings for the past two years; and concerns spurred by social demands.

Even as Filipinos await many things to be covered, the upcoming address ought to present two things: “What do the Filipinos need to hear?” and “What does the international community need to know?”

A more presidential approach to the 3rd SONA is to simply focus on three aspects that could makes sense of PRRD’s two years in office: social reforms, political restructuring, political and social space and foreign policy.

Based on PULSE Asia surveys, the state of social reforms could be said to consist of the following: controlling inflation, improving the pay of workers, creating more jobs, poverty reduction, fighting graft and corruption, and fighting criminality (Pulse Asia Survey on Urgent National Concerns, June 15-21 2018). In the last quarter, a similar survey revealed almost the same set of national concerns.

Since 2015, these core issues had represented the gamut of Filipino concerns. Consequently, PRRD needs to heed to these demands and explain what the government is doing to address them. The most pressing of which is controlling inflation, which has been breathing down our necks for the past six months.

While the war on drugs and the sacking of public officials allegedly involved continue to be carried out, the labor and economic woes for the workers seem to worsen. The prices of gasoline and basic commodities are on the rise. Talk of inflation owes a quick reference to the issue of TRAIN. Despite the measure’s anticipated inflationary effects, many analysts were careful to not jump the gun, opting to give TRAIN a chance to demonstrate its worthiness as a tax measure.

At present, however, the people who had been targeted as the beneficiaries of the reform are instead feeling the crunch from the inflation and the negative impact on income.

In terms of domestic security, what we need is a programmatic approach to Muslim separatism and Communist insurgency. While offering a glimmer of hope by prioritizing the enactment of the BBL, the establishment of a new political identity to supplant the ARRM needs to be seen. As for the on-and-off peace negotiations with the CPP-NPA-NDF, back door channels are currently the main option.

In trying to make government more functional and make public services available, political restructuring is a must. In this sense, what needs to be tackled is the real color of the ongoing efforts to promote federalism and constitutional change. As 67% and 62% of the Filipinos do not agree with a federal set-up and constitutional change, respectively, (Pulse Asia Research Inc., 2018), the government needs to convince the population that these political changes are not simply to extend the economic and political power of incumbent public officials and existing dynasties.

The third critical issue is the promotion and defense of our territorial integrity amidst Chinese claims and militarization of the West Philippine Sea. In terms of livelihood, these include the marine wealth and energy resources that are at stake in the territorial row and how to explain the tactical lean toward mitigating the economic and security impact of such militarization? How should government take into consideration that 4 out of 5 Pinoys repudiate the government’s policy of allowing Chinese intrusion in the West Philippine Sea (Social Weather Survey, June 2018)? If PRRD has consistently and passionately been nationalistic in many respects, should he stand less resolutely in terms of defending Philippine territory vis-à-vis China?

Fourth, a democratic society entails the protection and promotion of the social and political space. The events of lording over the judiciary, the killing of priests and the “arrest” of tambays in the thousands, which led to the violent death of a few, are indicators of the revival of authoritarian tendencies. Constricting the social and political space is not tantamount to re-establishing law and order. The situation now tends to sow fear among the population, reminding many of the methodical constriction of both the social and political space during martial law.

In a nutshell, the 3rd SONA should be informative and not defensive. Strong societies unequivocally need both strong leaders and institutions. Lest we forget, leaders come and go but institutions are here to stay.

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