This time next week the nation will be abuzz with what would be the biggest news of the previous day—the State of the Nation Address of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Given the President’s temperament, it is fairly difficult to anticipate the issues he would address in his speech. In fact, regardless of what the Palace says, Mr. Duterte is known to be fond of veering off topic when he feels like it and he may or may not return to his prepared speech. That spontaneity —and the sincerity it implies—is likely part of why he continues to enjoy record-high satisfaction ratings halfway into his term.
Despite this, the people would still like to hear what the President has to say on several specific issues.
We want an assurance that he remains to be the foremost champion of Philippine interests in the dispute with China. Mr. Duterte is our leader, our first defender, and even if he claims to be friends with the Chinese leadership, he must be able to tell the actions of true friends from those just pretending to be so.
We would also like to hear how he intends to defend the three-year-old campaign against drugs amid allegations of human rights abuses and of ineffectiveness. It is almost certain Mr. Duterte will rant against the international community that has recently passed a resolution to look into the human rights violations in this campaign. What we would like to know is whether he can defend the campaign calmly and empirically, without resorting to attacking those who are merely asking questions.
We want some assurances that Mr. Duterte remains a firm believer in the independence of the branches of government—despite the fact that he went out of his way to campaign for three of his favorite senatorial candidates, and that he magnanimously broke an impasse on the House speakership through a term-sharing scheme. Some quarters are concerned that this is an attempt to bypass checks and balances built into our democratic system. The President must show these fears are unfounded, and that he, as a conscientious democratic leader, grasps the importance—nay, the necessity—of dissent.
Economics continues to be a primary concern of many Filipinos, and they will not be bothered to participate in the national discourse if their basic needs are not met. We would like to hear concrete plans and targets about how poor Filipinos can look forward to being poor no more, and have opportunities through which they can help themselves, in the coming months.
Now that the rainy season is upon us, we expect more frequent and stronger storms. Are local governments capable of adapting to the devastating effects of climate change? Will our national leadership support the Philippines’ role in the community of nations as a representative of countries most vulnerable to disaster? We may be concerned about current politics and the daily challenge to put food on the table, but this is a long-term issue that will determine whether the next generation of Filipinos can continue to experience life as they now know it.
Mr. Duterte is famous for talking tough, but we wish he would be presidential—authoritative and rational—during his address. We want to be able to take his words at face value, without subsequent explanations and clarifications from his people. We want to hear what we should brace ourselves for in the remaining three years. Lastly, perhaps the President can set an example to his supporters—that one can win an argument through logic and sensibility, not because the arguments are uttered loudly or controversially, or laced with profanity.