We are a divided country. This we saw yesterday. Outside the Batasan building, supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte converged to cheer him as he delivers his third State of the Nation Address (Sona) during a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Representatives and Senators, and their guests, came in their Filipiniana best, stood and applauded politely at the right lines. Standing out for me were the Makabayan legislators with their beautiful protest barongs and gowns. I would have emulated them if I were in those halls.
Overshadowing the usual pomp of the Sona, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and her allies made a move to replace Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez just before the President delivered his speech. I have no love lost for the Speaker as he has done many objectionable political decisions himself. Some would say he got what he deserved, with several saying his ouster was political karma. But the spectacle yesterday was ugly and at the expense of an important piece of legislation—the Bangsamoro Organic Law which was supposed to be dramatically signed before or during the Sona.
That bill, while imperfect, is a product of a united country‚—the work of four administrations (Ramos, Arroyo, Aquino, and Duterte) and was shaped by a bipartisan group of legislators—Zubiri and Drilon stood out in the Senate, Fariñas, Sema, and Lobregat were crucial in the House, with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, and even indigenous peoples from Mindanao advocating their interests. That would have been a good moment for the country but politics stole it from us.
What is the state of the nation? In an attempt at crowdsourcing, I asked my Facebook and Twitter friends to suggest what the “A” could stand for. I said I would like a word that would capture the broadest number of the people, one that could describe both the pro and anti Duterte Filipino. I got interesting suggestions. I had many suggestions, including “State of National Agony”, “State of National Anger”, “State of National Abomination”, “State of National Anathema”, “State of National Absurdity”, “State of National Apathy”, “State of National Animosity”, “State of National Away”, “State of National Abandonment”, “State of National Away”, “State of National Ambivalence”, “State of National Atonement”, “State of National Affliction”, “State of National Affront”, and “State of National Adversity.”
Originally, I was attracted to choose a more neutral term to describe the national mood, thus the original title of this column was “State of national anxiety” but upon reflection, applying judgment, I think it is best to call the situation as accurately as possible: the country is in a state of national anger. Adversity rules the day, we are in a state of “away” to use Ateneo School of Government Dean Ronald Mendoza suggested word.
For sure, the Duterte supporters are constantly on edge, have been angry from the start of his presidency as they feel they have to defend the president they voted for from what they consider unrelenting attacks on a leader who is just being authentic and wants nothing but the good of the country. Duterte critics, on the other hand, have become more intensely angry at a president who they believe is killing thousands of poor people, selling our territory to China, intends to be a dictator, and badmouths women and God.
It is ironic that the objective of this year’s Sona is the portrayal of the President as the “Father of the nation”. Immediately, when Joyce Bernal, this year’s Sona director said this, the images that came to my mind right away were that of Althea Barbon (4 years old) from Guhuilngan City, Negros Oriental, Danica May Gracia (5 years old) from Dagupan, Pangasinan, Francis Mañosca (5 years old) from Pasay City, San Niño Batican (7 years old) from Consolacion, Cebu; and Kimberly Sailog (12 years old) from Laguna—all of whom, according to Rappler and Inquirer reports, were killed by stray bullets in anti-drug operations. In my mind also were the high-profile murders of Kian de los Santos (18 years old), Carl Arnaiz (19 years old), and Reynaldo de Guzman (14 years old), all killed in Metro Manila in 2017 allegedly by policemen.
I agree with the assessment of Rowena Legaspi of the Children’s Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC), during the War on Drugs: Looking Behind the Numbers forum held last April 5, 2018: Children in Duterte’s war against drugs “are no longer collateral damage, they are seen as targets.”
How can one not be angry at this killing of children, at the massacre of the poor? Crimes against humanity are being perpetuated in our neighborhoods egged on by speeches of Joyce Bernal’s father of the nation. And he made it clear yesterday: his war on the poor will continue without mercy, wrongly opposing human rights and human life.
How can not one be angry at the continuing poverty of our people? The latest SWS survey on self-rated poverty shows again an uptick, and this is likely because of increasing inflation.
The promise to end contractualization has remained just that; in fact, companies who have been ordered to stop contractualization have been having a heyday in firing many of its so-called contractuals, defying the orders of the Department of Labor and Employment. Duterte’s executive order, which he proudly talked about yesterday, has been more of a bane than a boon for workers. How can one not be angry with such social injustice?
How can one not be angry at the failure of the President to acknowledge the grave mistakes of his administration’s foreign policy with respect to defending our national territory from Chinese incursions? Generations of Filipinos will pay the cost for such a mistake.
How can one not be angry at the vulgar statements and actions against women, the Catholic Church, and against God Himself? I think that the words of the President are from his heart and we should take them seriously. And make it clear to him that his language and actions are unacceptable.
Finally, how can not one be angry at the politics that this administration has fostered as we saw also yesterday in the way the politics of the House of Representatives played out? How can we trust these politicians to change our constitution?
Yesterday, as expected, the President called for constitutional change and asked Congress to convene as a constituent assembly.
My advice to the Senate: Absolutely, absolutely do not consider convening into a constituent assembly even if the House agreed on separate voting. On principle, for changing a constitution, a constitutional convention is the only good way forward. For targeted amendments, ConAss can work but not for a wholesale revision or adoption of a new constitution. An agreement on separate voting is not going to work as well because it can be questioned in the Supreme Court and the numbers are not there to uphold the interpretation that voting must be separate.
The Senate agreeing to convene as a constituent assembly is a sure path to charter change and it will not be the Puno draft but a very bad version, without anti-dynasty provisions for example, that will be approved.
When the nation is in a state of anger, anxiety, and adversity, it is not time to change our Constitution. We need to be united for such a whole of country project. Let’s work on that unity first.
At the same time as the Sona yesterday, less than a kilometer away in Commonwealth Avenue, activist and citizen groups converged to hear the Unified People’s Sona. The Sona protest this year is historic as for the first time, groups of different (even opposing) political tendencies came together as one to stand united against the Duterte government. More than 40,000 participated the biggest Sona protest ever.
I echo the voices heard in the People’s Sona: No to charter change through constituent assembly! No to dictatorship! No to giving up territory to China! No to EJKs! No to endo! No to misogyny! No to blasphemy No to an angry and divided nation! Yes to human rights! Yes to democracy! Yes to social justice! Yes to a united Philippines!
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