TURNING POINT: SONA 5: Inutile

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 29 July) – Somewhere in his speech, President Duterte desired the people’s unity, cooperation and support in weathering the trying times. Yet his opening salvo and concluding blast was divisive. He raged and shamed opposition Senator Frank Drilon, without mincing words, called him a hypocrite. Drilon offended the President for allegedly defending his enemies – the oligarchs of the ABS-CBN and those who control power and water utilities, and for his views on political dynasty, which apparently hit Duterte’s own ruling oligarchy.

You cannot unite and ask cooperation from anyone when you cannot tolerate or even just acknowledge a viewpoint different from yours.

DU30 again harped at ABS-CBN in his SONA, claiming he was a casualty of the press freedom of the network in 2016. The old sympathy stratagem might have won him the unity, cooperation and support of his usual supporters but it is doubtful if a soul could have been gained from elsewhere. The charade that was the ABS-CBN franchise hearing is still fresh a memory. If the narrative was to rationalize the final closure of ABS-CBN, it was no longer necessary. Of course, the President gained sure pogi points in his rage and lambast against the oligarchs who control the power, water and telecom utilities for their miserable deliveries and opportunism in this pandemic. The threats were refreshed. Smart and Globe were given only up to December to improve or perish.

ABS-CBN was shut down because it hurt me; you, too, will meet similar end because you hurt my people. So goes the SONA message for the enemies in big business.

Unfortunately, his ranting on oligarchs came more than anything else but a diversion from the pressing reality of the coronavirus pandemic that is choking the nation.

Because of the lockdown, millions lost their jobs and are hungry. The dollar-earning OFWs are home and are jobless too. The assistance of the government to tide over the crisis has been anemic, inefficient and riddled with graft. COVID-19 infection cases have spiked to high heavens making PH now the epicenter of the pandemic in Asia. Our healthcare facilities are already in capacity. Healthcare front-liners are overworked and are getting sick. Reinforcement is badly needed.

Meanwhile, encouraged to go home to the provinces for a much better life with government support under the balik or hatid probinsya program, thousands have responded and have clumped nowadays in the pre-departure-processing center at the Rizal Sport Stadium, eschewing social distancing and anti-COVID-19 health protocols in the process. Needless to say, this ill-thought program has given impetus to the spread of the disease nationwide.

Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-asa becomes hatid corona bagong kalamidad sa probinsya program. Many LGUs are opposed of the program for it is being pushed on them without prior consultation, depriving them thus the time to plan and prepare for everything – from health concern to livelihood.

A SONA ought to be a narration of accomplishments vis defining goals and targets for the period, but since he has nothing to crow about, the President should have focused on the challenges of the trying times, providing clear road map to improve our response to the pandemic. He failed to do it. It’s not yet late, however, for the President to save the country by trying the following:

Revamp his pandemic militarist think tank and make it an interdisciplinary group dominated by infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, psychologists, sociologists, development communicators, economists and seasoned public administrators. The state security forces may serve as back-up enforcers to civilian plans and programs.

Establish immediately in strategic locations healthcare facilities, solely devoted to COVID-19 to expand current capacities.

Tap and organize, re-orient, provide incentives to private medical practitioners of different specializations, who are not exclusively attached to healthcare institutions, to operate newly established COVID-19 facilities.

Assemble and commission local producers/manufactures, like PhilLab Industries, of local scientific and industrial equipment to produce personal protection equipment (PPEs), ventilators and other medical items.

Assemble biological science researchers from academe to fast tract studies on natural cure for COVID-19 or in mitigating its symptoms.

Effect a zero-movement lockdown in communities or zones with high incidence of infection; quarantine positives, conduct cluster swab tests, and expand contact tracing.

Provide food, medicines and other basic needs efficiently and effectively to all households in zero lockdown communities without need of identification.

Introduce stimulus package that may go down to small and medium enterprises.

Minimize commuting. Encourage employers with incentives (e.g., reduced tax) to provide accommodations to their workers.

Drumbeat at all times health protocols against COVID-19.

Stop inter-island travels and other non-essential travel until the pandemic is over.

Abort the balik probinsya program and restore only when the pandemic is gone.

Suspend face-to-face classes until the population has received COVID-19 vaccine.

The highlight of the second to the last SONA of the President was his sincere admission of being “inutile” as a leader. Although it pertains to his failure to assert the sovereignty issue in WPS, it speaks volume of his failures in other domains, particularly in improving the lot of the Filipinos and in ending the scourges of drugs and corruption, the latter of which viciously competes with the coronavirus in ravaging the Filipino people in this pandemic.

President Duterte wanted to re-impose death penalty for criminals under the Dangerous Drug Act of 2002. There was no rousing approval; his audience in Congress grew cold and silent. The death penalty should have been by cremation; sinister and morbid, but that would have been a perfect joke to make the President’s 5th SONA memorable.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)

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