President Duterte's first departure from script in Monday's State of the Nation Address was arriving late for the occasion, and starting his speech one hour and 15 minutes behind schedule.
We were promised by Palace officials that he would speak about specific issues and that the address would take all of 45 minutes.
There was indeed a prepared speech, and Mr. Duterte started reading from it—at least at first.
And then, he appeared to get impatient with his own report and took to impromptu speech, as he is known for, only returning to his prepared statement every now and then. As a result, the actual speech took twice as long as promised.
We are sure his staff worked long and hard on the address, which outlined the accomplishments and priorities of the administration in perfect prose.
But of course, any Duterte speech is not about structure or eloquence or political correctness. It was when he veered off-topic that we catch glimpses of what the President was really thinking.
What other chief executive would say with such candor, for instance, that corruption was so widespread that if an earthquake were to begin with the most corrupt place in the country, it would be there at the Batasan where they were all gathered?
A psychic told him this, he said.
Who else would resort to the binary of either going to war with China or not asserting our claim over the West Philippine Sea at all? “You want war?” he said.
Who else would relate the issues of water and emergency response to his girlfriend staying “fresh” and safe?
What leader could get away with saying that smokers should be exterminated from the face of the earth?
What better response could there be to the prospect of being tried at the International Criminal Court than to ask that he be given comfortable arrangements, including a heater and conjugal visits?
And what orator could invoke a contradiction with such flair? While Mr. Duterte challenged his critics to take over if they feel they could run the country better—“uuwi na ako
(I will go home now)!”—in the end he vowed he would not stop until he reached the finish line.
As a bonus, passing by the area where the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra was playing, President Duterte grabbed a microphone anew—and sang two songs.
Monday's Sona reminds us why Mr. Duterte remains wildly popular more than halfway into his term. People take his spontaneity for sincerity, contrary to the rehearsed and polished speeches of his predecessors. “I am as human as everybody else,” he said.
It was perhaps too much to expect to gain a sense of the real state of the nation from the speech, but we did get a sense of the state of the leadership. This is a President who will never change his ways, who will never concede to his critics, and for whom going off-script is the script.
Underneath all optics, we hope against hope that amid the rambling and the too-colorful language, in his mind he and his team have a fairly solid idea of where we are right now, where they want to bring us in the next three years, and how exactly they intend to do that.