[OPINION] Duterte’s SONA and Cha-Cha: Distraction and destruction that may galvanize the nation
In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Duterte would naturally attempt to convince us to accept that nothing is wrong with the way things are running in this country. He would be telling us, in fact, that we are doing just fine, except that we are experiencing some birth pains and road bumps like the 5.2% inflation rate, high prices of fuel and basic goods, and the P53.52 to a dollar rate.
The administration’s message is that, with major steps already taken like the war on drugs, axing of some corrupt officials, new projects under the “Build, Build, Build” scheme, martial law in Mindanao, and the soon to be enacted Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), we are now ready to make the game changing shift to federalism through Charter Change (Cha-Cha).
This is Duterte’s script, but what do our people have to say?
Why don’t we ask the opinion of Filipino mothers like Nancy Castro who are feeling the weight of new taxes under the TRAIN law? Nancy is a small-time business owner who runs a canteen. She said prices of soft drinks, meat, vegetables, rice and electricity have all dramatically gone up.
Why don’t we listen to the rice farmers whose income dropped by 10% due to higher fuel prices caused by TRAIN? Their earnings went down, and, worse, they are not getting fuel vouchers as a subsidy from the government.
We have to hear it also from the 200,000 contractual workers of NutriAsia, PLDT, Hanjin shipyard, Manila Harbor Center, Jollibee and Monde Nissin, among others, who were laid off after the President signed EO 51 supposedly to fulfill his campaign promise to end labor contractualization.
Let us get the side of the family and friends of Tisoy Argoncillo who was arrested on June 15, a few meters away from his house. He was taken by the police because he went out in the street shirtless and the President had ordered a crackdown against “tambays.” Four days later, he died in a congested police station in Novaliches. He was 25.
Speaking of death, cries for justice from the families and kin of the thousands killed in this administration’s war on drugs, including minors like Kian delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz and, the most recent, 4-year-old Skyler Abatayo, continue to be unheard.
Meanwhile, Malacañang insists that it has been quietly protesting China’s intrusion and violation of our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Obviously, this is not enough for Filipino fishermen like Delfin Egana, Geronimo Egana, Rommel Cejuela and Ronnie Drio in Panatag Shoal in Zambales, who complained of being harassed and that their best catch were confiscated by the Chinese Coast Guard.
Unfortunately, Duterte and his administration are not listening. They remain too dense and impervious, despite the recent drop in satisfaction ratings.
Some Filipinos may still trust or, at least, tolerate Duterte as an unorthodox leader, a strongman perceived as the one who can extricate the country out of the vicious cycle of poverty, corruption, and hopelessness.
But there are also those who have unmasked him as a tyrant, an authoritarian populist, who mastered the art of distraction and deception. On stage, he could sound sincere and “authentic” that he could seemingly get away with openly endorsing killings and insulting women. His strategy is to entertain and confuse the people, flood them with ridiculous remarks while his followers spread fake news online and offline.
Along with Duterte’s antics, the Administration has also shown how to shrewdly use the full resources of the State to silence dissent and persecute the political opposition, as shown in my unjust detention on trumped-up drug charges and the unconstitutional ousting of Chief Justice Sereno through Quo Warranto petition instead of impeachment.
His shock-and-awe approach that started with extrajudicial killings in the guise of war on drugs, the killing of lawyers, priests and local officials has been effective indeed in casting a climate of fear among the populace.
All of these are falling into places now.
Two years into Duterte’s term, his unmitigated misogyny, unabated incitement to violence, shameless heresy, kowtowing to China, and unstoppable tirades against human rights, church, media and political opposition are unravelling as part of the grand scheme of this regime to perpetuate itself in power.
The attacks against democratic institutions, civil liberties, and rule of law are deliberately done to weaken them, to ensure accountability capture, to remove mechanisms of checks and balance, and to pave the way for a “constitutional” dictatorship using federalism as pretext and precursor.
The bad news for Duterte and his cohorts is that recent polls show that a majority of our people are opposed or indifferent to the proposal of changing the Constitution to shift to federalism. According to the same surveys, the top concerns and worries of our people are rising inflation, pay increase, and job generation.
This also means that Filipinos may be cautious and watchful, but are not blind followers. Duterte’s popularity, which is eroding, will not be enough to match the growing sentiment of our people who are opposed to a sudden and giant political leap at this time, more so, when palpable reforms that impact their lives are not undertaken.
The red lines are drawn by socio-economic non-negotiables. As long as not enough jobs are created and made secured, incomes are not raised, prices of basic commodities are not stabilized, taxation is not made progressive, and standards of living are not upgraded, then there will always be a social volcano waiting to erupt and ruin the endgames for Duterte.
Duterte may have already hijacked major branches of government, such as the Supreme Court and Congress; he may have relentlessly attacked such independent agencies as the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights; and he may have seriously undermined religious freedom and the free press, still, there are a few vestiges of freedom that are left to us (although they are also recently under threat), which remain within the gift of the people: concerted citizen action, and elections.
These last bastions of democracy will be put to severe test and extreme pressure in the coming days as Duterte and his cohorts will predictably do everything within their power and “creativity” to push for Cha-Cha and to derail the 2019 midterm elections. As Bishop Broderick Pabillo said: “[F]ederalism is the Trojan horse, the smokescreen in order to bring about [Charter change], which is the formula for total control of the country.”
It is good that Vice President Leni Robredo is in the process of uniting and leading the opposition. The bigger challenge now is upon that opposition as to how it will take shape and take stand in such platforms of action as the initiatives against Cha-Cha and No-el. The opposition must be able to form and sustain the broadest coalition of forces and formations to mount a formidable challenge against Dutertismo, based on common principles of democracy, sovereignty, rule of law, human rights and social justice. The coming battles against Cha-Cha and No-el may prove to be the litmus tests for convergence of interests and alliance work. We must set aside past differences, heighten the momentum that is gaining ground, and work together and harder for the greater good of our people and country.
In the end, as it has always been before, it will be up to the Filipino people – the real and ultimate sovereign – to intervene and chart our common destiny. Whether these setbacks and reverses in democracy, human rights and rule of law will continue and gain permanence will depend largely on how our people collectively confront and address them. The emergence of a new and broad coalition from the opposition will be a good start in that direction. – Rappler.com