When President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) before Congress on Monday, July 27, he will no doubt focus on his administration’s main accomplishments since a year ago. That is to be expected, since the SONA is supposed to be a report to the nation on what he has done in the economic, political, social and foreign policy spheres.
In other words, Duterte is expected to give himself a hearty pat on the back for another year of achievements, with his allies in the legislature also expected to give him a standing ovation for keeping the nation together despite many challenges.
What’s wrong with this picture?
For the country’s Catholic bishops, what Duterte will report to Congress will not reflect the actual situation in the country.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), in fact, recently issued a two-page pastoral letter where they described the “bleak political landscape” in the country, and likened what Filipinos are going through as “the proverbial frog swimming in a pot of boiling water.”
The analogy is certainly not misplaced, given recent events that have cast a pall of gloom over the entire country.
The “bleak political landscape” is well in evidence in the passage of the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 that has sent shivers of apprehension down the spines of freedom-loving Filipinos because of its broad but vague definition of terrorism. The new law is therefore prone to abuse with its provisions of warrantless arrests, prolonged detention and wiretapping of suspected terrorists, which, as pointed out by retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, would lead to a situation even “worse than martial law in the 1970s.”
The recent shutdown of ABS-CBN media conglomerate by 70 pro-administration lawmakers based on alleged violations of laws and regulations on media ownership as well as the terms of its legislative franchise, is a blatant assault on press freedom and political vendetta by Malacañan Palace. This will deprive the public of vital news and information needed for them to know what’s going on around them and to form an intelligent stand on current issues.
More than this, the shutdown would render 11,000 employees jobless and unable to feed their families even while the nation grapples with the Covid-19 pandemic.
The recent conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and a former staff member on libel and cyber-libel charges filed by a big businessman allied with the administration is yet another travesty of justice and an attack on press freedom that should not go unchallenged.
The bleak political landscape is likewise shown in bold relief by government’s inability to effectively deal with the COVID-19 public health crisis since early this year. The healthcare system is simply overburdened by the sheer number of COVID-19 cases that keeps increasing day by day. While the government has scrambled to respond to the health crisis by procuring more testing kits, putting up isolation facilities and setting aside more rooms in hospitals for COVID-19 patients as part of the “trace-test-treat” formula, it has, at the same time, implemented draconian measures marked by the arrest, detention and prosecution of those not following health protocols, such as wearing of face masks, practicing social distancing and the prohibition on mass gatherings. Extreme measures, such as the deployment of armored personnel carriers equipped with .50 caliber machine-guns and heavily armed policemen in camouflage uniform in areas where COVID-19 cases have surged is totally unnecessary and reflects a militarist mindset that seeks to instill fear in people rather than educating them on how to prevent falling ill from the disease.
The bleak political landscape is mirrored in the economic sphere. COVID-19 has devastated the Philippine economy, with negative growth predicted for this year. Joblessness is in the rise, OFW remittances have taken a nosedive, and the ranks of the poor have increased. Tourism, manufacturing and services have also taken a hit from the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
The promise of a golden age of infrastructure under a grandiose “Build Build Build” program will remain just that —a promise—since of the touted 75 flagship projects identified for funding in 2016 and targeted for completion by 2022, less than 10 have actually started or completed.
Given all this, the Catholic bishops are correct in pointing out that Filipinos are like “the proverbial frog swimming in a pot of boiling water.”
In other words, the State of the Nation in 2020 is not good at all, and we ought to take it with a grain of salt when we’re told otherwise on July 27.
Ernesto M. Hilario writes on political and social justice issues for various publications in the Philippines. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of LiCAS.news.