On July 26, Philippine President Duterte held his final State of the Nation Address (SONA). This annual event features a nationwide public broadcast of the President discussing the challenges, priorities, and aspirations of the national government for the following year. On paper, the SONA serves to inform the public of the country’s progress. However, in practice, it is used to highlight superficial achievements while conveniently leaving out the growing inequalities experienced everyday by the Filipino people. Due to the sheer distortion of facts and realities during the SONA, Filipinos from marginalized sectors have taken it upon themselves to expose and oppose the President’s double-talk. They have come together to hold a grand demonstration called the People’s SONA wherein they articulate the genuine state of the nation through their chants, slogans, and placards. As the many different sectors expressed their various aspirations, some common themes became apparent.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
Since he assumed office, Duterte has openly promoted the culture of impunity, militarism, and human rights abuses during his press conference and public pronouncements. This bloody rhetoric emboldens armed state forces to conduct their operations with brazen disregard for due process and human rights. Quotas and results are artificially reached at the expense of the poor and powerless. These killings and enforced disappearances are also used to silence critics and political opponents. Even the ongoing pandemic was not enough to stop the War on Drugs – drawing the attention of the International Criminal Court (ICC).
FAILED COVID-19 RESPONSE
Speaking of the pandemic, the Duterte regime is guilty of culpable negligence regarding its mandate to protect the Filipino people. Even though the Philippines is under the longest lockdown in the world, there are still approximately 1.5 million CoVID cases in the country as of writing. The alarming growth of infected people is due to the Duterte administration’s constant downplaying of the public health crisis; it also relies heavily on military solutions to address this medical problem. Moreover, the government’s immense borrowing coupled with their minimal spending further weakens the Philippine economy and hamstrings our national capacity to respond to the needs of the people. In fact, just this July 6, the Philippines’ national debt stock reached a record-high 11 trillion pesos. The problems introduced are transgenerational since the burden of remuneration falls on the shoulders of the next generation.
ABANDONED NATIONAL PATRIMONY AND SOVEREIGNTY
While the Filipino people are preoccupied with surviving the pandemic and Duterte’s blind War on Drugs, the president is busy selling Philippine islands and resources to US and China. Duterte has allowed the continued operation of several US bases in the Philippines as well as the retention of one-sided military agreements with the US. Meanwhile, China enjoys unrestricted access to the West Philippine Sea. President Duterte has failed to uphold the arbitration victories of the previous administration over the Kalayaan Island Groups (KIG). Currently, Chinese fishing and military vessels have total control over the area while Duterte recommends that we surrender our national assets for the sake of “friendship”.
As an institution, APRN pursues the growth and development of Asia Pacific’s civil society through people’s research and network building. Our organizational experience has informed us of the rich history of the Global South when it comes to overcoming oppressors. The Duterte regime’s low cunning and heavy fascist inclinations are not absolute. The experiences of Asia Pacific countries with despots have taught us that the people must unite not just against figureheads, but also against the imperialist machineries that enable their oppressive policies. As the People’s SONA speaks truth to power, may it inspire others to participate in the process of democratizing the Philippines. Let the people’s struggle spell the end of all tyrannical regimes and break all vestiges of colonial rule over the Global South!