No sooner than when President Rodrigo Duterte wrapped up his final State of the Nation speech on Monday night was I delighted to find out that the Philippines had clinched its first ever gold medal in the Tokyo Olympics, due largely to the awesome efforts of Benildean and Lasallian Hidilyn Diaz, a Mindanawon whose journey to victory was not easy, but is inspirational and admirable. May more Filipinos take heart from the example she now sets.
When we are to look at the key indicators of a particular polity’s successes or failures, it pays well to analyze closely the institutions, laws, and policies that govern and shape behaviors within itself. With this being said, the Philippines and its many nations, were, five years ago, a polity ripe for radical change and reform, set to take place in increments. Nonetheless, such an opportunity rarely, if ever, presents itself to our beleaguered peoples.
What I initially found troubling about the speech itself was the implicit admittance that “the institution of reforms and radical changes in both the structure of government and the mode of governance” were viewed by the president as only to take place within the mandated “constitutional timeframe” of six years, hardly enough to make a long-term impact. What proved more disconcerting, similarly, was when the President said “we made real change in governance through the reforms we pursued” with the most crucial piece, the cornerstone of meaningful constitutional reforms, still lacking.
From the lens of a systemic analysis viewpoint, Monday’s address offered too little in the way of upgrades and leveling-up. This remains, quite frankly, a major letdown and disheartening to those who understand the need for these measures. Certainly, there remains a mixed bag for us to closely scrutinize.
Two good things mentioned were the progress of the infrastructure acceleration program, known as “Build, Build, Build”. The new skyways, expressways, trainways, and roads springing up across the National Capital Region and Luzon give real hope for an economic kick-start, through alleviating traffic and ensuring the smoother flow of goods and services. What remains preferred, rather, is to see it expanding more into the provinces, among which Sorsogon and Davao were mentioned, and including inter-city and intra-city transport within its scope.
Laudable, too, is the continued work on the Bangsamoro Region and its Organic Law, for our brothers and sisters living in Mindanao. We hope and cheer fervently for its success as a beacon of what governance in the Philippines should eventually turn out to be.
Ironic, too, was the non-mention of Resolution of Both Houses No. 2, a measure designed to drastically increase the flow of much-needed foreign direct investments into the Philippine economy as a vital means of helping it catch up with neighbors in the ASEAN, and in combating the full brunt of the pandemic.
The President, however, did mention his desire for an end to the kefala system and the creation of the Department of OFWs, the latter of which only serving as a band-aid to the many economic problems faced by the country. The former, ironically, would be lessened by the creation of jobs across the regions through FDI and technology transfers brought along with the international investors. Commendable, too, was the mention of necessary amendments to three important retail and investment laws. These, however, will not suffice.
Again and again, the President made clear his desire to get rid of the drug menace and the world’s longest-running communist insurgency. I share the sentiments, but the methods cannot be through a hail of fury and bullets alone. People have to be de-incentivized from joining dangerous political movements and from partaking in drugs of a harmful nature, and job creation along with a robust health response has proven effective in other countries to this effect.
Another aspect which the people sorely missed is the lack of opportunity for politicians and seasoned lawmakers to grill the President after the conclusion of his address. In the United Kingdom, for example, when the Queen’s Speech, written by the Government led by the Prime Minister, to inaugurate every session of Parliament is voted down, the government is dealt a severe blow, and in some cases a brand new one is formed thereafter, through elections or some internal party maneuvering. The Queen’s Speech is, of course, debated among parliamentarians of all parties before such is voted upon, giving ample opportunity for proper scrutiny of the Government’s intended program. It would be nice to have this opportunity here.
In 2016, the President was elected into office on a tide of nationalism, patriotism, and a tacit acknowledgement that every region no matter how unique bore an important part or role to play in the country’s governance. That tide of nationalism and patriotism has now ebbed, dampened by the lack of progress in reforming the structures of government that caused such sentiments to rise up in the first place. The tacit acknowledgement of regional identity and uniqueness remains, and the challenge to create meaningful reforms that will fit into the mold of the nations of our State continues.
Very likely not in this administration, however. And that is a tragedy, dear friends.