POSTSCRIPT / July 28, 2020 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Du30 pushes plans, policies in his SONA

PRESIDENT Duterte delivering his fifth State of the Nation Address yesterday in a sparsely occupied Batasang Pambansa chamber gives a snapshot of the grim situation he has to manage amid the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic and a troubled economy.

Traditionally made at the joint opening session of the Congress, the President’s report focused on what his administration has done and plans to do for the nation to weather the crisis. From the Batasan his message is actually beamed to the bigger national audience outside.

The crowd outside happened to include protesters, including those who joined the rally on the UP Diliman campus some two kilometers away from the Batasan. There were other counter-SONA gatherings, but the police made sure the President and the protesters did not see each other.

More avenues should be explored, aside from speeches and press releases, for open and free conversations between the government and people’s organizations. One challenge is how to motivate the parties to approach the dialogue in good faith.

Duterte surprised many listeners with his early jab at the political opposition, specifically Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, and the senator’s defense of the Lopez family that owns the ABS-CBN broadcast network that the government closed on May 5, the day after its franchise expired.

He went on to discuss the higher public interest animating legislative franchises, especially those covering such essentials as water and power, vowing to protect the consuming public and threatening franchise-holders to shape up – before yearend — or else.

He also proposed pieces of legislation that he said were vital not only in minimizing corruption in government but also in protecting the people from exploitation and abuse.

Other SONA major topics included the administration’s recovery plan in the face of the pandemic’s infecting more than 82,000 locally, closing businesses and throwing millions out of jobs, displacing thousands of overseas Filipino workers, eroding their $30-plus billion annual remittances and causing a 0.2- percent contraction of the economy in the first quarter.

More than 346,500 OFWs have been affected by the pandemic. Their number could rise to 700,000 by yearend, according to labor officials. Their returning home has swelled the ranks of the unemployed now estimated at 7.6 million or 17.7 percent of the labor force.

The return of OFWs who lost their jobs has posed the problem of finding local employment for them, not to mention the immediate need to quarantine them before moving them to their home provinces.

The quarantine at the Rizal memorial coliseum, meanwhile, of thousands of OFWs without following distancing and other rules – exposing them to possible contamination — has raised questions about the administration’s handling of the problem.

The President used visuals to illustrate the extent of the problems that the nation faces and for which his administration, he said, has prepared remedial measures with the help of the Congress.

But the true state of the nation cannot be gleaned only from the text of a speech, but felt in the guts of the millions waiting to hear the President say how he would make good his promise to make life more comfortable for them.

Reporting on its latest survey (July 3-6), the Social Weather Stations said the Covid-19 pandemic brought stress to 86 percent of Filipinos, three points lower than the 89 percent obtained in a similar survey in May. The SONA may help assure them.

The SWS said stress is higher among families that have experienced involuntary hunger and joblessness, and that 62 percent of those who experienced involuntary hunger in the past three months suffered from great stress, compared to 48 percent who did not experience it.

Despite coverage limitations, media are replete with reports of protesters insisting on airing their grievances, of throngs of probinsyanos waiting to return to their hometowns, of displaced jeepney drivers begging in the streets, of jobseekers going around in circles.

The risk of viral contamination was so compelling in the Batasan that the SONA organizers prepared fallback scenarios should anyone in the premises were to be found in confirmatory swab tests to be infected with the Covid-19 virus.

One fallback was for the President to drop his address in the Batasan and move to Malacañang. And if anybody in the Palace were to be found infected, the next fallback would be for him to read his SONA from the Malago guesthouse across the Pasig River.

Yesterday at the Batasan, some guests reportedly tested positive, but the organizers after assessing the situation decided to go ahead with the SONA being delivered from the Batasan.

Many new policies on security, labor, social welfare and even laws impinging on civil liberties have been influenced by the administration’s Covid-19 concerns with nary a hint of their being eased or rewritten when the pandemic finally vanishes.

One such measure is the recently enacted Anti-Terrorism Act (RA 11479), some of whose provisions have been challenged before the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. In some aspects, the ATA is allegedly even more oppressive than martial law.

At the same time, guidelines for combatting the Covid-19 pandemic as approved by a task force composed mostly of Executive officials are now being used by local governments and the police in limiting the exercise of some civil liberties such as in the holding of peaceful assemblies.

Under the “new normal”, citizens now need a government permit to air grievances in a public place. Also, health guidelines are being used to curtail basic political rights. This gives the impression that some government officials are afraid of the very people who elected them.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 28, 2020)

* * *

Dear Sir Pascual, The problem with Mr Duterte's claim is that there is no way to refute his statement because there is no way to prove it. Mr Duterte's statement, that he "had prevented 1.3 million to 3.5 million infections", cannot be contested because there is neither a way to prove nor to disprove the claim. I wonder how the estimate was arrived at.

Edgar

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