Anakbayan welcomes President Rodrigo Duterte’s first State of the Nation Address (SONA) as a breath of fresh air from the typical SONAs of the previous administrations characterized by empty rhetoric, unwillingness to listen to the people, and wanton violence against peaceful protesters and activists.
We extend our approval to Duterte’s announcement of a unilateral ceasefire on the part of government forces as a goodwill measure in order to push forward the peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines. This should mean the immediate military pullout from Lumad and peasant communities and a halt to rights violations.
We support the resumption of peace negotiations between the Duterte administration and the revolutionary movement. We hope this would finally mean government finally giving attention to resolving the roots of the armed conflict by uprooting social injustice and inequality in the country.
The president’s mention promising the streamlining of government services, freedom of information, protection of informal settlers from demolition without relocation, the saving of the environment from destructive mining, and the keen awareness of the need to modernize agriculture and industrialize the country seem to point in this direction.
Nevertheless, we take notice of a paucity in an understanding of the ills posed by the perpetuation of neoliberal economic policies. There is no mention of the continuing US imperialist stranglehold on the country’s economy, politics, military, and foreign affairs. The SONA was silent on agrarian reform, putting an end to contractualization, and pressing youth issues like the burdensome K-12 program, the annual tuition and other fees hikes, and the commercialized state of education.
At the same time, we urge the president to always respect human rights and follow due process in his administration’s war against illegal drugs. While we are one with his fight against illegal drugs, we lament the way some of his pronouncements may be construed as an endorsement of vigilante killings.
Ultimately, Duterte’s campaign against crime can succeed only if it is anchored on genuine social change through genuine land reform and national industrialization and the rehabilitation of parts of the populace that have been victimized by the drug trade out of poverty and desperation.
Duterte’s first SONA demonstrates the potentials and limits of a critical engagement with his administration in pursuing progressive change. In the end, the Filipino people’s collective action still remains the most potent instrument to forward the people’s nationalist and democratic interests.