THE STATE OF THE NATION

There was nothing surprising about President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA). Malacañang promised that the President would share concrete plans for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, we found ourselves wasting two hours of our lives listening to ramblings against ABS-CBN, the oligarchy, the Lopezes and Sen. Franklin Drilon.

A study by the London-based research group YouGov earlier showed that just half of all Filipinos thought the Duterte administration handled well the coronavirus health crisis and that only 23 percent of the people thought the situation was improving.

Screenshot taken from YouGov

Local surveys affirm these findings. According to a Social Weather Station survey conducted between May 4 to 10, 2020, 43 percent of Filipinos were pessimistic about their quality of life in the next 12 months.

Screenshot taken from the Social Weather Station (SWS) Website

Meanwhile, up to 85 percent of the Philippine population indicated that they worried they might catch COVID-19.

Screenshot taken from the Social Weather Station (SWS) Website

 

Screenshot taken from the Social Weather Station (SWS) Website

Hunger is on the rise. The percentage of households that experienced hunger rose to 20.9 percent in July.

With a situation that is becoming more dire by the day, what Filipinos needed was a clear plan with reassuring words from our leaders, which the Sona should have featured.

RHETORIC WITHOUT THE POLITICAL WILL

The President could have spoken about the main provisions of the Bayanihan 2 Bill, elaborated how tax reform might help the economy, or articulated strategies such as enhancing coronavirus testing and contact tracing but he spent more time ranting against telecommunication companies and the problem of illegal drugs.

How will the administration address the public transport crisis? What about food security for the people who are going hungry? How will the government prevent our healthcare system from crumbling? These questions were left unanswered.

Between ramblings, Duterte attempted to articulate priority legislation to address longstanding issues from children’s rights to creating a department for responding to disaster but this was a recycling of issues raised in previous SONAs. If the administration and its allies were really sincere, they would have enacted the relevant laws sooner. Instead, they mobilized their political capital in enacting the Anti-Terror Law and denying ABS-CBN a new broadcasting franchise.

It has become clear in this pandemic that those in power seem more concerned with propaganda than with solving the country’s problems. The SONA was used to cover up the administration’s mistakes and blame others for them, and to distract the public from the real issues.

Days after the SONA, we find ourselves with the same anger, frustration, and fatigue that we have carried for years under this administration.

ALTERNATIVE PROPOSITIONS

We have consistently critiqued this administration and yet for the most part, the administration did as it wished, leaving us to merely react.

Have we sufficiently adapted our opposing narratives, framings and repertoires to the political phenomena that confronts us? We must ask ourselves what more we must do to win over people’s hearts.

A few years ago, I learned the concept of pragmatic resignation. This means that unless a credible alternative rises from a sorry political landscape, people who do not approve of an administration’s policies are left with no choice but to “support” it at the end of the day.

The challenge, it seems, is for us to lay out and articulate more clearly our struggle for and towards something – alternative possibilities – that capture people’s attention; the kind of radical imaginaries that addresses the pains and insecurities we face and inspires desire and action.

To borrow from the religious language of Walter Brueggemann, the necessary task of progressives is “Prophetic Ministry” which is to “nurture, nourish, and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.” This alternative consciousness seeks to criticize the present consciousness but at the same time to energize people towards the alternative.

The pandemic underscored fundamental flaws and inequalities in Philippine society. The status quo is clearly not good enough. But neither is it enough to drive people to condemn it. Our rhetoric and struggle must awaken in each Filipino a deep-seated hope and desire for the better. The rejection of the evils of the present is premised on our vision; our present anger must find at its core the hope for a better future.

The SONA failed to inspire the hope that we so desperately need. The burden falls on our progressive and radical movements to continue to imagine new and develop existing alternatives that will inspire hope in our struggle against fatalism and powerlessness.

 

1 YouGov is an international research data and analytics group headquartered in London. (https://ap.yougov.com/)