Considering that we're in the midst of a pandemic that we haven't fully gotten to grips with almost a year and a half in, weirdly, we were either looking back to the past, or looking forward to a hypothetical future.
On the streets outside the Batasang Pambansa, progressive groups were, as you'd expect, protesting, railing against the atrocities of the Duterte regime. But at the same time, the air was somewhat festive. This is the president's last State of the Nation Address, which means he'll be out of power soon, at least under ideal circumstances. Just a little more, and it's goodbye to the tyrant, goodbye to the dictator who squashed down rights and swiped away freedoms, all for the sake of saying things have changed.
Inside the Batasang Pambansa, as both houses of the legislature gathered for a joint session, the president was feeling sentimental. On what is - again, ideally - his last State of the Nation Address, he was in a mood to look back at just how successful he was. Look at all the reforms he managed to implement. Look at all the radical changes he brought forth, never mind if they were unpopular, never mind if he had to put his political capital on the line. Look, no more drugs, no more criminality, no more corruption. Am I great or what?
Yes, you're not crazy in thinking this is all really weird. Again, we're in the midst of a pandemic that we haven't fully gotten to grips with. There is still no "clear path out" for the country. Are we working to make sure we can resume our normal lives despite COVID-19 still being an active threat? Are we working to remove the disease from without our borders completely? What about the people whose livelihoods are still in questions, thanks to a rushed and ill-thought-of shutdown of the economy and continuing restrictions on what can and cannot be done? How do we intend to get up and running, as soon as possible, rather than be left behind by our neighbors?
What we got was more talk of illegal drugs, of the threat of communism, of how he's doing all these things for the armed forces, never mind what everybody else hopes to hear.
Well, those are pet subjects of the president. If he needs to talk about something to fill time, he just has to reach for any of those topics and he's off and running. But it points at the increasing disconnect between our government leaders and the immediate needs of the people. You may have realized this if you're a close follower of the president's pre-recorded talks "to the nation". (I'm not one of them, for they happen so late at night and I am constantly fatigued.) Supposedly they're about what the government is doing to fight the pandemic, but increasingly they've become about whatever the president cares about at any given time, to the point that more pressing plans have become an afterthought, perhaps cobbled together hastily in reaction to something we've all seen coming for weeks, perhaps months.
But of course, the government is not supposed to drop everything and just focus on the pandemic. I mean, we're battling the most serious public health issue the world has seen in a century, yes, but there are still other pressing issues that need to be addressed. (Although some may seem more flippant than others considering the context, like the whole "adobo standard" thing.) The government is supposed to juggle urgent concerns and long-term plans. In the past months I have continued working with (again, with, not for) government, talking to high-ranking officials and bureaucrats alike, and we talked about matters made urgent by the pandemic, as well as long-term initiatives that have been put in place before everything went to shit. It's just how it's supposed to be.
Still, it doesn't change the fact that the pandemic remains an urgent concern, and despite vaccination somewhat picking up speed and most of us getting used to this "new normal" foisted upon us, most Filipinos still are concerned over just how the government intends to address this. Fucking face shields aside, it's still not clear how we plan to address both the increasing number of cases (and the increasing pace of increases, if that was clear) and the long-term impact on the economy and, more critically, to the development of the future movers of said economy. We are still left to our own devices, and more egregiously, we are blamed whenever things go south, as they currently are right now.
But that hasn't stopped the president from spending the first two hours of his address just reminiscing about what he has achieved in a little over five years. When he did finally speak about the pandemic, undeniably the most urgent of concerns for Filipinos, it was stuff he's said before, in those late nights people just learn about in the morning. Nothing new, or visionary, or inspiring, even.
I'm not surprised, to be honest. He's long been preoccupied with ensuring the #DuterteLegacy, and in particular, painting him in a really good light. Remember, that hashtag was the theme of his State of the Nation Address back in 2019, just halfway into his term. And now? He had highways and bridges built. He vanquished the communists and the illegal drug trade. He got rid of corruption, even if he himself said nobody can get rid of it. He gave the proverbial middle finger to the oligarchs, eradicated the biased media, stood up to the true terrorists that is the Liberal Party, improved our relationship with our new overlords in the north... and anything bad that happened in the past five years was really just because of the pandemic, which affected the whole world anyway and thus doesn't count. (Hold for applause.) Oh, and those pesky yellows, and all those damn critics who just wouldn't shut up. (Hold for applause.) And besides, as long as they don't get elected, everything will be fine. GGWP, me.