Quick notes on SONA 2020 and a blueprint for what’s next
These are a few notes beyond a close reading of what happened, a debunking of state-perfumed propaganda, as well as what we ought to be doing now.
Two speeches happened.
One was prepared by the speech writers with the intention to boast of the state’s achievements, while the other was Duterte’s actual thoughts on different matters.
What the official state machinery want us to think:
They wanted us again to think that there are improvements; that the COVID-19 handling was good (paraphrasing Roque’s words: 80K is high, but it could have been 3.5 million. But where did he get those numbers to begin with?)
They also listed down strategies for moving forward, most if not all, revolved around making new agencies and modernizing facilities, despite the clear absence (again) of any form of building heavy industries. This can only mean we will have to import such modernized equipment, which probably means more foreign loans or the buying of surplus machines from foreign nations.
We could see this in his promise to build a Boracay Development Authority for environmental conservation and agricultural development. If we go back however to what is happening in the “rehabilitated” Boracay, we will see that Duterte had let mining companies creep in to the island.
The speech brough up the use of the Coco Levy funds and the National Land Use Act, but similar to past administrations, without a genuine redistribution of land to the ocean of peasants, they do not strike at the heart of the land problem.
Despite Duterte’s recent pronouncements on the education situation, these paid merely lip service to it, as no concrete plans have been released to mitigate the lack of resources for school to resume again, physically or online.
Corruption was brought up again, even within his beloved military-police force. And yet, his solution is to increase the budget of an institution which has proven itself to be ineffective in defeating COVID-19, and has been the source of fascist rhetoric and atrocities against the common Filipino.
There was not much focus on concrete plans like mass testing, or stimulus packages amidst the country being in a health crisis. Despite many Filipinos not getting enough support from the SAPs and UCTs (if any assistance arrived at all), Duterte himself dismisses these as the problem of the LGUs or rather a problem of distribution. The high sections of government would like us to believe that since they already gathered the money, whatever happens in distribution is no longer on them.
He didn’t even give thanks to the front liners burnt out by the failure of this regime to solve the crisis.
What the state machinery wanted to do was evade the dire situation this country is actually in, by washing their hands from their policies by saying, “we gave you the money, it’s not our problem how it was distributed, or even be transparent about it.”
What was really in Duterte’s mind:
He clearly just wanted the speech to end. He didn’t care about reporting the actual state of the nation, much less laying out a plan for the Philippines to move forward from the pandemic (as the recent days still prove). He is perfectly content in his position of power, wealth, and relative safety as millions of Filipinos suffer from how this government has handled the crisis.
So what mattered to him? Well the usual. He maintained his fascist scapegoat rhetoric on the essentially anti-poor drug war. In this background, he pushed the return of the death penalty; despite us knowing full well that with the track record of this regime, this will be used not against big drug lords, but political opponents and ordinary civilians who will be tagged as “nanlaban”.
He couldn’t resist saying a few words against opponents among the ruling elite (Drillon, Lopez, Globe/Smart, etc), which, as we can plainly see, are moves for him to put his cronies and allies into power.
Duterte, despite claiming to be tired and not wanting to extend rule, is clearly creating opportunities for political and economic gains for his faction of cronies and minions.
He spouted his usual “magtiis kayo/bahala kayo” rhetoric as re:new normal. Little was said regarding middle income earners as well as micro, small, and medium scale enterprises, but almost nothing was substantially said about industrial workers, service workers, or the peasantry, except some comments on utilizing the coco levy fund which we already know has a lot of money.
He literally called himself inutile in the face of US and Chinese imperialism, despite his speech writers saying that they are pursuing an independent foreign policy. Duterte, for all his iron hand propaganda to the common people, easily bows down to imperialist powers. He has no trust (or more correctly: has lost the trust and is isolated) from the Filipino people, and cannot unite them to assert our sovereignty in our own territories.
But wait — who cared about Duterte’s speech?
I asked people around if they watched the SONA the day before yesterday. A fast food employee was on duty. A security guard was just inspecting people going in and out the building. Some tricycle drivers couldn’t care less to watch as they waited for passengers.
They were all busy at work struggling to make ends meet in these trying times.
It says something of how regardless of the media coverage of Duterte’s SONA, it was really just the handful of military-bureaucratic sycophants who listened to him, his trolls, and those of us privileged enough to watch the coverage and see through the lies.
Still, there was a sizable number who braved through the streets across the nation, and asserted the true dire narrative of the nation’s condition. Others at home have watched the broadcast coming out frustrated with how many pressing issues Duterte glossed over. However, our countrymen, by not tuning in, have also displayed consciously or unconsciously, how Duterte is so detached from their everyday lives.
SONAgkakaisa, SONA and other related hashtag may have peaked mostly on the SONA day itself; however, the political conditions have remained repressive. The economy is still bad, the regime blows funds for its propaganda offensives, and trying to “fix” the irrepairable image of the military-police force which is being exposed here and around the world for their puppetry to the ruling class.
Meanwhile, the propaganda wars continue as loads of local Facebook pages try to make artificial mass support for Duterte with polls which are now being “hijacked” by masses of Filipinos fed up with the regime. Crackdowns on activists, raid on the offices of alternative press, and police violations are also ramping up across the country.
What’s next for us who care what happens next?
For us who can see through the lies of this regime, for those of us who battle it out with trolls on social media, and for those of use who chant in the streets, it is important to link with these common working people, and connect the everyday hardships experienced in this new normal and their disenfranchisement with the government, and together, hold the Duterte regime accountable, by translating into an organized political force.
The times are bad. And for the 5th time, we’ve realized Duterte’s not really inclined to make things better. We need to organize ourselves and our fellow countrymen better, if we’re going to force better days ahead.
History has shown us that the primary weapon of the masses is organization. The events of April 2020 has shown us that making the ouster hashtag trend will not make Duterte step down. Organizing in social media, though it must be advanced for a broader reach, is also not enough. This space is mostly filled with middle class individuals and sentiments which do not represent the broadest number of Filipinos.
We need to overcome the comforts of our middle class sensibilities and begin organizing the broadest masses of workers, urban poor, and peasants. Certain sectors like the Jeepney drivers are crucial as their sector is facing an unprecedented attack which aims to wipe them out, in the form of the lock down regulations. Not only must we limit our organizing and solidarity work through donation drives, but we must link their economic struggles with the political fight to oust the very dictator on the throne who cares nothing for them.
While it is evident that broad alliances among organizations and individuals along the lines of Duterte’s ouster is important, the question of “what’s next” is also important.
Duterte’s two speeches, instead of being road maps to what ideally the Filipino people ought to march to, (this is what the SONA should be), were simply repetitions of a reactionary rhetoric past regimes have done in order to legitimize the present rotten order of things.
Crucial to calling from Duterte’s ouster, we must build and strengthen organizations or alliances that will push an alternative to the present order of things; an alternative which will prioritize the building of the Philippines to become a self-reliant sovereign nation with high standards of living for its people.
With a clear obstacle to remove, and a clear future to look forward to, our organizing should translate to seas of Filipinos marching to the rhythm of a sovereign and democratic nation.