"Whatever is said or not said does not change the real state that our nation is in."
President Rodrigo Duterte will have his last State of the Nation Address on Monday. We have heard him speak so many times during the course of the pandemic that we can be reasonably confident about our expectations.
We should not expect him to give an objective recounting of his gains and misses this past year, and even in the past five years. Of course he will play out the positives, even lay claim to things that are not wholly of his doing. Of course too he will play down the negatives and the failures, or ascribe blame to somebody else. To be sure, he is not the first chief executive to do this. He will not be the last.
We should know better than to expect he would stick to a script. No doubt his researchers and speechwriters are hard at work, putting meat into the narrative. If it were any other leader, we could expect that the speech in its final form would be vetted, fact checked, approved and rehearsed. But this is Rodrigo Duterte—his being a maverick is part of the package.
We should not expect him to give an even-toned description of Philippine politics. We have heard him lash out at his detractors, perceived enemies and his critics.
We should not imagine that a statesman would take the stage. Mr. Duterte has never hesitated to show his “human” side to all who would applaud it. If he is irked, he is bound to show it.
What we should expect, however, are more of the same things we have been seeing during his late-night addresses. He feels no compulsion to change—this is what, after all, continues to endear him to a great majority of Filipinos during the protracted honeymoon period.
And since we cannot do anything about the person who would be speaking, we should instead focus on how we react to his pronouncements and what we each can do in its aftermath.
First, dismiss the bombastic, thug-like statements. Mr. Duterte likes to get into character, and it is too late for him to change —not that he even wants, or sees the need to.
Second, activate a fact checker at the back of our minds. Good governance and good citizenship are anchored on facts. Many of us would be online, anyway, as we listen to the speech. Check for misleading or downright false statements, errors in claims, or exaggerations. And then let these color how seriously we take the words that come after them.
Third, pay attention to what is not said as much as what is said. This will give us a peek into what the chief executive deems truly important, and what we feel about what he thinks are important.
Finally, remember this: Whatever is said or not said does not change the real state that our nation is in. We are still stuck in the pandemic, under threat of a new surge, with herd immunity still far from reality, with the economy still on its knees and millions of Filipinos still clueless about how they can make ends meet.