There was some delicious irony in the President’s call for more action and less talk in government—as the Chief Executive arrived late and spoke twice as long as he was supposed to in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
Still, there was no gainsaying the President’s call to provide more efficient governance and to eradicate corruption in the bureaucracy, nor his exhortation to state officials and employees to “let deeds and accomplishments do the talking.”
"We, in government, talk too much, act too little, and too slow,” the President said at the halfway point of his six-year term. “We are long on rhetoric but short on accomplishments.”
The President seemed particularly perturbed by the recent corruption scandals to rock the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Bureau of Customs.
PhilHealth came under fire months ago after it was revealed that it paid out hundreds of millions of pesos for bogus dialysis treatments for deceased or non-existent members.
"I am grossly disappointed. The government is conned of millions of pesos which could be used to treat illnesses and possibly save the lives of many," Duterte said.
In his fourth SONA, he also called out Customs officials who were facing criminal and administrative charges for alleged corrupt activities.
Last week, Duterte relieved a whole administrative section of Customs and asked them to report in the Palace. In the past, the scandal-racked bureau has also been tagged in the smuggling in of billions of pesos worth of methamphetamine or shabu.
The President—who has made the war on illegal drugs the centerpiece of his anti-crime agenda—did not cite these instances in his address Monday, nor the government’s failure to prosecute and punish those responsible. Nor did the President mention his penchant for simply reassigning top officials tainted by corruption scandals to other offices, and how this practice discourages real reforms.
Perhaps all this was not mentioned in the interest of brevity, in a speech that lasted an hour and 33 minutes, or more than twice the 45 minutes the Palace said his address would last.
To address illegal drugs and corruption, the President once again called for the reimposition of the death penalty for drug trafficking and plunder. Sadly, however, this ignores research that it is the certainty of being caught that deters a person from committing crime, not the fear of being punished or the severity of that punishment.
Where is the fear, when officials embroiled in corruption scandals are merely reassigned?
The President was absolutely correct when he said corruption exasperates and frustrates—but as he himself so astutely points out, merely talking about it simply isn’t enough anymore.