The good state of the nation

"I saw an existentialist president proclaiming the absurdity and futility of it all."


That was a long State of the Nation Address that President Duterte delivered yesterday. I expected a few things like calling for the reimposition of the death penalty and acknowledging some of the successes of his administration on environmental challenges like Boracay and economic reforms. I also expected a strong defense of his West Philippine Sea policy and the extrajudicial killings that characterizes the war against drugs. Surprisingly, there was no mention of charter change. But what was most interesting about the speech was Duterte’s belief that the state of the nation is bad—that corruption is so embedded in our government and society (including Congress as he made it clear) that it can’t be fixed. The speech was strangely schizophrenic—positive when he read from the monitor but brooding and pessimistic when he ad libbed. As a philosophy teacher, I saw an existentialist president proclaiming the absurdity and futility of it all.

I actually do not share that pessimism. And that is because of developments at the local levels.

Against all expectations, Mayor Isko Moreno is proving all and sundry that with strong political will and determination, a seemingly impossible task is possible. From a decaying and chaotic city, Manila is being transformed into a clean and orderly metropolis within an unbelievably short period of time. With his no nonsense approach, Yorme Isko is giving back the streets to the people by removing illegal vendors who lorded it over the bangketas, streets and the underpasses for so long, removing illegal terminals, giving the city a bath or “pinaliguan ang Maynila” and rehabilitating historical monuments all throughout the city.

Dubbed as a rockstar by the U.S. Ambassador, touted by his admirers as the next president, Mayor Isko inspires hope and admiration especially to the people of Manila who saw how their city slowly degenerated from a beautiful metropolis in the 50’s and 60’s to a dying city. Isko’s style of governance shows that Manila can be resurrected to its former glory; perhaps an indictment to the previous local executives who never made an attempt or merely did some palliative measures to give temporary, albeit superficial, solution to the long-standing problems of the city. By his actions, he is telling us that a major overhaul of the Constitution or a change in the form of government may not even be needed to effect change. Again it only requires strong political will and a large dose of dedication, sincerity and a robust respect for the rule of law to make things happen. The popularity of Isko is telling us that social status or lack of political pedigree do not count when it comes to good government. One only needs to put his heart and mind in the right place to serve effectively.

Mayor Isko Moreno may be the toast of the town but all around there are a number of young local executives who, silently and without much fanfare and with spotlights being trained at them, are doing their jobs effectively; rendering good service to their respective constituents.

Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto’s dynamic approach to the mobility and traffic situation in the city and his going out of his way to defend the rights of local workers staging a strike shows his sensitivity to the plight of working class and commuters. I am proud to claim Vico as my student having taught him the basics of climate change and disaster risk reduction. I can assure everyone he is the real thing.

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte’s drive against corruption and professionalizing the bureaucracy is commendable. I also know Joy very well as a fellow Jesuit Volunteer. I look forward to her fulfilling her promises of a better, on-site resettlement of Quezon City’s informal settlers.

I do not know Mayor Francis Zamora very well. But from what I see he is also off to a good start in San Juan, giving this city at the center of Metro Manila a fresh new beginning after decades of being governed by the Estrada clan.

Some good mayors are on their second or third terms and I would like to recognize them as well.

Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, a third termer, is showing us that not all long-term mayors inevitably end up being trapos. Mayor Rex is a builder, having concretized 48 barangay health stations (BHS) and 14 Sentro ng Sama-Samang Serbisyo 3S Centers, and established the Peoples’ Park, and the Valenzuela School of Mathematics and Science. I have personally experience Mayor Rex’s responsiveness and fairness on labor issues and am grateful for that.

Makati Mayor Abby Binay has also been a good mayor of the country’s top business city. She is modernizing city hall and its processes even when sometime she had to go against the resistance of vested interests that were previously aligned with the Binay family. I will be teaching environmental law in the College of Law of the University of Makati and hope to contribute to producing even more competent professionals for this premiere city.

I am not as aware of what is happening in the provinces. But for sure, there are some local executives from the provinces that are not lagging behind in terms of public service. One of them is newly-installed Dinagat Island governor Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao, a human rights lawyer and land reform advocate. With her wealth of experience as a district representative and defender of the oppressed and her soft heart for the farmers, I am sure Dinagat Islands is in the right hands.

Then there is Davao Mayor Sara Duterte. As the first daughter of the President, Inday Sara is perennially under strict public scrutiny especially after she was suspected of dabbling in national politics when she supposedly orchestrated the ouster of House Speaker Alvarez and when she formed the Hugpong ng Pagbabago [Faction for Change] political party, for the midterm election. Nonetheless, as city mayor, Inday Sara is an effective and tough leader. She has maintained cleanliness and discipline in the City of Davao. As mayor, she pushed for many of the progressive laws, like the ordinance on women’s rights.

This service-oriented and idealistic young crop of local executives is a breath of fresh political air. They show us that not all is lost in the area of running the government; that our leaders are not all corrupt and are only minded on how to enrich and aggrandize themselves, their families and friends. For all the dirt and grime that mire politics, there are a few who choose not to follow the old and beaten path, but to tread the road of dedicated, sincere, compassionate, competent governance; those who endeavor to genuinely serve the people.

In addition to the leaders of these local governments, I would be remiss if I do not mention the Bangsamoro. Great things are happening in Muslim Mindanao, thanks to the leadership of its Chief Minister Murad Ibrahim and his excellent cabinet ministers.

The state of the nation is good in some places and not mainly because of the President or our national leaders, but because on the ground—in barangays, municipalities, cities, provinces, and in the Bangsamoro—we have a new crop of leaders that are making a difference.

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Topics: State of the Nation Address , Rodrigo Duterte , West Philippine Sea , Isko Moreno , Sara Duterte
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