Many would have understood if President Rodrigo Duterte had devoted a big portion of his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) to blaming his predecessor. After all Duterte did acknowledge, just the same, that the Philippines is still in a “mess” and that Filipinos are suffering. But Duterte’s first SONA came across like a breath of fresh air to an audience who, at last, did not have to listen to blaming and finger-pointing in a presidential speech.
Duterte, for his part, assured the people that vindictiveness is “not in [his] system” and stressed the importance of mustering the courage to face challenges “undeterred by the fear of failing or losing”. This is a leader who faces the future equipped with a clear vision he aims to fulfil. When a leader has that vision, courage comes naturally. In Duterte’s SONA, the courage behind every word he utters is palpable. Filipinos will likely follow Duterte into battle if asked to fight. This is as much as any people can ask of a leader — that he be made of the right stuff.
Amidst all that, the president still emphasised: “Finger-pointing is not the way of honourable men,” an obvious dig at his predecessor, former President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III. Unlike Duterte who made a name for himself with his tough stance against crime and injustice, Aquino had made his mark as a blame gamer, taking every opportunity to attribute all the ills of his administration to the handiwork of his predecessors. In this commitment to run with what’s been handed to him without looking back, Duterte also shows he intends to play the hand that was dealt him astutely.
The first SONA is, of course, always an easy one — because a new president just starting to warm his seat is still in a honeymoon with his office and his constituents. The excellent statesmanship Duterte has thus far exhibited is yet to be tested against the hard standards that reality subjects those who face it armed with bold plans. That fact, however, is not enough justification for the scornful dismissals Duterte’s detractors’ heaped upon social media timelines during the speech. Then again this, after all, is stuff coming from quarters in Philippine society that remain beholden to the cast of characters of that vindictive administration that Duterte uses as a model of what his government should not become.
Observers and commentators, as a result, seem to be having a field day trying to reduce the Duterte presidency to a simple punchline. This is, suffice to say, a difficult task considering that the scope of Duterte’s vision as laid out before today’s audience is broad and potentially packs substance. The easy target, evidently, is the “human rights” angle the usual suspects latch onto because of the easy play it presents to deep-seated fears that (they think) continue to linger in the Filipino psyche.
The alleged “extrajudicial killings” (EJKs) that have come to mark the first month of the Duterte presidency may resonate amongst a small inbred clique of traditional bleeding-heart “activists”. Unfortunately for these “activists”, the tired appeals to emotion backdropped by victim and violence porn no longer move the broader sentiment of a public sick and tired of the endemic criminality of Philippine society. That style harks back to the 1980s when the bruised and bloated remains of Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr were put on exhibit to highlight the violence of his “sacrifice”. It seems, Filipinos no longer buy the idea that there is something saintly about being a victim. Rather, they now likely see in the latest image of a bloodied stiff sprawled on a Manila street one less menace and not “the most recent EJK”. Perhaps it becoming more evident that “human rights” activists are now seriously miscalculating the effectiveness of what has become an obsolete approach to mounting these so-called “awareness” campaigns.
Former President Aquino, after all, is an easy act to follow, and the Filipino people, today, an easy people to please. Duterte has, as it turns out, his predecessor and the “mess” he left to thank for the strong mandate he enjoys today to do what needs to be done to clean that mess and that sorry legacy he inherits.[Photo courtesy Yahoo! News.]
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