Philippine Catholic church leaders found President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation address on July 27 wanting, sounding “like his usual rant.”
The president’s speech, which lasted one hour and 46 minutes, was delivered before a limited audience at the House of Representatives due to health restrictions amid the new coronavirus pandemic.
Bishop Broderick Pabillo, apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Manila, described the president’s speech as “full of motherhood statements.”
“In general, it has no track record to show that he is trustworthy. It is punctuated with bad language, too,” said the prelate.
In the first five minutes of his speech, Duterte slammed an opposition senator and the Lopez family, owners of ABS-CBN, the broadcast network that Congress recently denied a franchise.
“Media is a powerful tool in the hands of oligarchs like the Lopezes who use it in their battle with political figures,” he said.
The president also slammed Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon for supposedly defending the Lopezes.
Duterte was referring to Drilon’s statement that political dynasties must be banned to truly dismantle oligarchy in the country.
Benedictine Sister Mary John Mananzan said she “did not hear anything significant” in the president’s speech, adding that it was just “a usual Duterte speech” that failed to address pressing issues.
The nun said the speech had “no real assessment” of how the government has performed in the past four years since Duterte became president.
“How can you be a president when you do not have an objective way of looking at reality? It is always in relation to himself … what he likes and does not like,” said Sister Mananzan.
The nun said Duterte “should’ve zeroed in on present issues,” especially the coronavirus pandemic and the looming economic meltdown brought about by the health crisis.
“What are we going to do with the pandemic? He did not say much about it,” said Sister Mananzan.
She denounced the president for pressing for the passage of a law that will allow the reimposition of the death penalty in the country.
In his speech, Duterte asked Congress to bring back the death penalty by lethal injection for drug-related crimes.
“I reiterate the swift passage of a law reviving the death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” he said.
Sister Mananzan described the speech as “narcissistic” and centered on what the president “likes and does not like.”
Achievements negated by actions
Bishop Arturo Bastes, retired prelate of Sorsogon, said most of the achievements that the president mentioned in his speech were “negated by his many dire actions.”
The prelate said Duterte has an “endless list” of failures and bad decisions including his approval of the Anti-Terrorism Law and the attacks on press freedom.
Bishop Bastes lambasted Duterte’s “apparent treachery to our territorial integrity” for “his subservience and cowardly attitude toward China.”
In his speech, Duterte said he “cannot afford” to go to war to assert the country’s rights over parts of the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea.
“We have to go to war. And I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can but I cannot. I’m useless when it comes to that. Really, I’m useless to that. I can’t do anything,” said Duterte.
“China is claiming it, we are claiming it. China has the arms. We do not have it. So, it’s as simple as that. They are in possession of the property, so what can we do?” he added.
Failure to understand human rights
Father Edwin Gariguez, outgoing executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action of the bishops’ conference, said the president “does not understand the very context of human rights.”
The priest slammed Duterte for “using and twisting the very words of human rights defenders to justify his war on drugs that killed thousands of innocent people.”
Father Gariguez told LiCAS.news that it is “ironic to vow to uphold human rights and then later threaten to kill drug users with the revival of the death penalty.”
In his speech, the president said his administration “believes that freedom from illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption, and criminality is itself a human right.”
“Rest assured that we will not dodge our obligation to fight human rights,” said Duterte.
Franciscan priest Angel Cortez, executive secretary of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, said the president’s speech “exposed the present government’s inefficiency in acting on the country’s real problems.”
The priest said Duterte did not even mention plans “on how to address the ills of society” that affect mainly the poor and the marginalized.
“Was the speech really reflect the true state of the country?” asked Bishop Dindo Ranojo of the Philippine Independent Church.
“The people are suffering … We are now living under debt and the people will still suffer on how to pay for the debt incurred during this pandemic,” the bishop noted.