Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Each year, the State of the Nation Address provides Filipinos an opportunity to hear about how the country has progressed in the past year, straight from the President.
With less than a week to go before President Duterte’s fourth SONA, having reached the halfway point of his term, many Filipinos are anxious to hear what he has to say. We have yet to be informed regarding what the President plans to impart with this year’s speech, other than a recent statement he made about possibly using the SONA to “educate” Filipinos on why allowing Chinese fishermen to operate in Philippine waters is constitutional. (He did not mention whether it was for the country’s best interests.)
CNN Philippines Life talked to 14 young Filipinos to ask them what good news they hope to hear from this year’s SONA. The answers uncovered a wide range of issues and pressing matters that they care about, including public transport, healthcare, the welfare of the working class, rights and protection for women and the LGBTQ+ community, and the war on drugs — a welcome sign that even in times like these, hope and initiative prevail. Below are edited excerpts of their responses.
Paulyn dela Cuadra, 23, student
“We need to hear how the President aims to enhance agricultural productivity without compromising our own farmers. The effect of the Rice Tariffication Law, which liberalizes the importation of rice, is already palpable to our local rice industry. The government has always struggled to strengthen the “weakest link” in our economy but its measures should not be at the expense of our fellow Filipinos. Hence, the President needs to elaborate his agricultural agenda and this should include the promotion of our farmers and fisherfolk’ livelihood and welfare. I also hope that this SONA addresses the almost 213 farmers killed during the military’s ‘peace and development operations.’”
Stephany Bracewell, 22, graphic designer
“I personally would like to know about the president’s good promises: are concrete steps being taken towards the end of contractualization? I hope to hear that our unemployment rate is getting lower and that there will be more jobs for our fellow citizens. I hope they have plans about creating a more sustainable life for Filipinos, may there be more livelihood programs planned for Filipinos on the poverty line.
I also wish to hear about ending the so-called 'drug war' as there are plenty of innocent people considered 'collateral damage' that will never get their justice and that instead of focusing on executing drug users, they aim for rehabilitation. I earnestly hope that the government plans on allocating more funds and creating more programs for agriculture, health care, and education.”
Bernice Castro, 23, strategic communications consultant
“It’s been heartening to have the Universal Health Care (UHC) Bill signed into law, and for this to be addressed specifically is something that I hope the president will do on the 22nd. For all that I’m critical of this current administration, tackling health at this level is something I’m cautiously supportive of. However, this issue brings to fore frictions at a fundamental level. For one, this was achieved on the backs of countless advocates — the health sector, definitely, but also international partners, senators and other legislators from the opposition, health champions on the ground — for whom diplomacy proved key. And yet this is an administration that seems to be content to burn bridges, gesturing vaguely at the fire as a symbol for change. Consider also: Health, being political — being that it drives progress and grows economies — is a fundamental human right. And yet this is an administration that doesn’t seem to care for rights in general. Signing UHC into law is great, it’s good news, but it feels thin, given everything else.
Duterte would have to speak on starting to repair damage. Suspend this bloody violence against the poor and start treating the drug problem as a health issue, work from there. Extend an olive branch to parties (and countries with whom untried senators have threatened to cut ties) who’ve been critical and encourage collaboration instead. Outline comprehensive policy instead of shooting from the hip. These are but a few of what I expect to hear from a president — but for this one, it’s at least the bare minimum.”
Angelo Del Rosario, 23, youth activist
“The best news I would want to hear from our president in his upcoming SONA, not only for me, but for the whole nation, would be him coming clean with his records for the first half of his administration: the human rights violations, the coddling of foreign powers, and the ill-gotten wealth he has amassed, among many others. This straight-up, no-candy-coating confession to the Filipino peoples, coupled with his irrevocable resignation, would be the best news for the millions of Filipinos he has swindled, murdered, and betrayed, over the past few years.”
Amrie Cruz, 22, voice captioner
“What I want to hear from the upcoming SONA is how much tangible good they were able to bring into someone’s life.
My parents have been working since they were teenagers and they tell me that they wish to quit their jobs. Our family lives from paycheck to paycheck and they barely have any savings, let alone a retirement plan. Some of my friends who are fresh graduates are having a hard time looking for jobs, let alone one that pays enough to help them escape a less than ideal home situation. I want to hear the administration focus on national industrialization so our country can generate jobs that raise our standard of living instead of instilling dependency to the U.S. and China through national projects focused on drawing more foreign investors.
As the annual additional take-home pay rises for Filipinos who are already making more than a million a year, the number of deaths among Filipino children due to undernutrition grows. I want to hear the administration take back their regressive TRAIN packages which raised consumer taxes and reduced personal income tax.
Nearly 20,000 poor Filipinos have died from [the] war on drugs and 210 farmers have died due to lawless violence during Duterte’s term. I want to hear the administration move to amend or rescind the ratification of Executive Order 51 and Senate Bill 1826, as well as the Rice Tariffication Law. Instead of allowing impunity to suppress the effects of a struggling economy, they should end mass contractualization and support the agricultural sector.”
Kenneth Rementilla, 21, student
“If I were to be positive, the first thing that comes to mind that I would regard as a piece of good news is Duterte finally admitting that his war on drugs accomplished nothing but the death of poor innocent lives including children — a three-year-old being the youngest among them. Countless human rights violations have already been committed against Filipinos, especially those from the marginalized community. Putting a stop to this bloodshed and the Duterte regime assuredly being held accountable for this meaningless war is what I demand to hear from the upcoming SONA 2019.
He still has three remaining years in his term of presidency, but we have not heard our own president uphold national sovereignty and territorial integrity of our own country. The people urgently need him to condemn China for harassing our fishermen and stealing our resources.
If he really cared for our land and people, he would give an order to stop military attacks against the Lumad community. There are mining operations in ancestral domain lands which forced our Lumad brothers and sisters to leave their own homes for the sake of the capitalist agenda. Those who fight for their rights are killed and even their rights to education are being violated — Lumad schools are being harassed, closed down, and destroyed by the military.
I also need him to address in his speech the plight of NutriAsia workers, Zagu workers, PEPMACO workers, and other workers who are victimized by the exploitative companies they work for. They only call on regularization, fair wages, and safe working conditions, however, their concerns are constantly ignored and they are silenced by police violence.”
Audrie Bernas, 22, writer
“For his midterm year, I hope Pres. Duterte tells us more about the development in pushing for lesser violence and discrimination in Lumad and the Indigenous People (IPs) communities. These factions have been greatly affected by numerous cases of exclusion by the local government; Congress pushed for better allocation of time, community management and funds for written regulations on these factions. I really do hope they concur on these matters. Freedom of using indigenous lands for our native tribes should be a great step, starting from regulating corporations on land acquisition.”
Effy Elmubarak, 21, student
“Honestly, I’m having a hard time trying to be optimistic. These past three years have been terrifying, we’ve lost so many innocent lives (including children as young as three years old who could’ve had their whole lives ahead of them) and we’re only halfway through this term. The least he could do is to be held accountable for this anti-poor and oppressive governance. It’s time to finally listen to the marginalized and shed light to how unjust this has been to them.
Indigenous communities are still struggling for their land and rights and are constantly being displaced, Lumad schools are being bombarded by forces, more and more farmers are being murdered, poor people are being killed off in the streets like ants, workers are still trapped in unethical and unhealthy conditions without proper compensation, our fishermen are being gaslighted. Another thing is to finally acknowledge that treating substance abuse as a crime problem more than a public health problem is counterproductive, and it will never justify having to murder over 20,000 fellow Filipinos.”
Audrey Pe, 18, student, founder and executive director of WiTech (Women in Technology)
“In an ideal world, Duterte would use this year’s SONA to apologize — for the EJK ‘collateral damage,’ demeaning remarks against women, and foreign relations fiascos that seem straight out of a Donald Trump tweet. But realistically, we don’t just want apologies; we want actions.
As a student and an advocate for gender equality, I want to hear our president treat women with equal respect and dignity. I wish for the person who is supposed to be the face of our country to step up to the Philippines’ high ratings of gender equality (according to the World Economic Forum).
Stop the rape jokes, the remarks about women’s underwear, and start giving the other half of our country’s population the dignity and respect that we deserve. I don’t know if the president or his supporters realiZe this, but every time the president disrespects women verbally or through his actions (e.g. inappropriately kissing a female OFW at a live event), he sends a message to the boys of my generation that it’s okay to act as he does toward women.
If we want to live up to our country’s representation as a fairly gender-equal country, we must begin by holding our leaders accountable — and that starts with our president.”
Gabriel Reyes, 25, quality analyst
“I wouldn’t say that the past year’s events had impacted me and my family in the most positive of ways, what more with those who were in the most need of the government’s support, but I could definitely say that there is still so much to hope for — and maybe so little to expect.
The inflation rate has lowered since this time last year, I’ve learned, and because my parents tend to a very small store in our neighborhood, I want to know how things would continue for smaller businesses such as theirs in the coming months. I would also like some insight on the state of public transport in the country, particularly in Manila, where things seemed to have only fared well for car-owners and not so much (possibly even worse) for daily commuters and transport operators over the past 12 months.
As for women’s and LGBTQ+ rights, we still have a long way to go. It has been a constant debate in my workplace about how the country is still not ready to accept divorce, abortion, and the poorly acknowledged parts of the LGBTQ+ community. Now that people in the Senate have been stepping up more to help everyone understand the positive impact of propositions supporting these currently ill-perceived topics, and now that a majority of countries has finally started to pass similar laws such as these, when exactly is the best time for our people to embrace them?
I am looking forward to addressing issues that will not only bring a patronizing sigh of relief to the upper class, but also some semblance of hope to hold onto for the poor. Here’s to hoping for more positive changes and less unnecessary swearing.”
Regina Rebueno, 22, development worker
“It’s been three long years since Duterte assumed office and for a development worker and activist, it’s also three years of blatant violence, misogyny, corruption, and repression. So what else should I expect from him this year besides another sexist joke or a statement defending China’s threat against our sovereignty?
I believe that the culture of impunity in this country is becoming worse because of this administration — so I don’t think I would expect anything good from his incoming SONA. But if I were to be hopeful, I am praying Duterte would take at least an ounce of accountability for his anti-poor policies such as the war on drugs and the TRAIN law. I am also hoping he would have the guts to address the Filipino people’s questions on China’s growing involvement in the country’s development plans and on his stances regarding China’s stubbornness on the West Philippine Sea dispute — I believe both supporters and critics are waiting for his answers on these issues. It would be a breath of fresh air if the president uses his platform to actually discuss the state of the nation and to not deviate to politicking like his last two SONAs — but what should we expect from an administration that turns a blind eye from everything that’s actually happening in the homes and streets of the Philippines?”
Gabriela Serrano, 23, video editor and illustrator
“As a relatively recent graduate and a new member of the workforce, I hope to hear about developments to the country’s public transport systems. Although we still have a long way to go in terms of updating and modernizing our transportation infrastructure as a whole, I’ve been pleased to find small but efficient improvements in my commute this past year, as well as hearing news about the construction of the Metro Manila Subway earlier this year. I hope the President could address specific plans and updates for a major and long-overdue overhaul in the country’s train and bus systems.”
Kaj Palanca, 19, filmmaker and sociology student
“Duterte has yet to prove that he’s truly a man for the people, as is promised by his thorough, and still ongoing, campaign: it’s supposedly his appeal to the masses, his charisma, that makes him and his politics different, more immediately effective. But there seems to be nothing more to this charisma than just that, an outward wear that’s never translated neatly into concrete and mass-oriented policy. Duterte, ever loyal to the logic of strongman politics, aims for a legacy that is physical and outward. Every year there’s the promise of more infrastructure, of buildings and highways and trains that will outlive his administration but forever serve as physical evidence of its imagined success.
Already, even as his rule unfolds, there’s an attempt to revise collective memory to secure public trust in himself and his allies. But these results only work to distract the public from the fact of his murder: the national police continue to proceed from his instruction to kill on sight anyone caught with drugs. Three years into his term, the drug problem is nowhere near solution, and the poor have suffered the most. This approach to the problem needs to be reimagined, so that it recognizes that the drug crisis is structural, and not merely the fault of individuals. Duterte should work to institute policies that address and directly tackle the problem of poverty rooted in class conflict.
Peace negotiations must be resumed and made a state priority, especially now that basic social services, such as education and healthcare and housing, have taken a backseat to his sweeping anti-drug, and anti-poor, policies. His loyalty remains nestled in the hands of his few elite allies. His charisma is regularly renewed to protect his brand of politics from scrutiny: to this end his camp of supporters is always committed. After three years of bloodshed, of endless criticism from even his liberal opponents and especially the mass movement, why not renew it for the better? It’s time that a truly people-centric politics be enshrined in our institutions. It’s high time that all political energy and resource be oriented towards its true object, those who need it most: workers, farmers, fisherfolk, indigenous peoples, women and queer people across all regions. Duterte must learn to cast off his liquid macho politics and actually begin to work for the people.”
Cheska Famatiga, 21, incoming law student
“I think the greatest news would be if Duterte were to announce that he would step down from his presidency. But in all seriousness, everyday I hope that the war on drugs would be put to a complete stop. Not just a change in execution, not just a temporary pause in the operation. We’re at the halfway point of his term. Three years since he declared this ‘war on drugs.’ Three years since thousands of Filipinos have been killed, and thousands of families have been affected.
Three years of repeatedly hearing deaths on the news everyday, and as the years went by, these lives are reduced to numbers and statistics on a screen. We may have become indifferent to it nowadays since it doesn’t seem like the most pressing issue and there has seemed to be a decrease in killings. However, instances like the death of a three-year-old child just this month because of this war on drugs continues to remind us that we haven’t woken up from this nightmare. And that the death of a child is just ‘shit’ that apparently ‘happens.’”