By Michael Aaron Gomez

The Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) held a live simulcast of the 2018 State of the Nation Address (SONA) by President Rodrigo Duterte, delivered from the Batasang Pambansa, at the 3rd Floor Pakighinabi Room; 8th Floor Training Room; and at the Main Library, American Corner, and the Miguel Pro Learning Commons at the Jacinto campus last Monday, 23 July 2018. A panel of analysts composed of faculty and students from the different departments and student organizations of the Ateneo de Davao sat in the Pakighinabi Room and gave live analysis of the SONA through Pre- and Post-SONA Conversations.

At the Pre-SONA Conversation, the analysts shared their expectations and predictions about the possible subjects which the President might discuss in his speech. Prof. Ramon Beleno III of the AdDU Political Science Department listed the possible subjects he expected Pres. Duterte to discuss, which were “charter change and federalism, the state of the Marawi rehabilitation, and the connection of the TRAIN Law and the admin’s infrastructure program.” In addition, President of the AdDU SAMAHAN Mr. Jerry Huerbana said that he expected “updates about peace and order especially in the context of extra-judicial killings,” and “updates on the development of the Lumad communities in light of human rights abuses and exploitation.” There were also opinions given related to the possible ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), formerly the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL). “How will the President reconcile the editing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, considering his promise not to allow any editing in his previous SONA?” Mr. Jorjani Sinsuat, President of the Campus Clubs Organization (CCO) asked. “Why wasn’t he able to push both Houses of Congress? We heard nothing from him.”

The analysts also reacted to the breaking news of ex-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo ousting Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez as Speaker of the House—becoming the first woman speaker—just hours before the SONA, delaying the event by an hour and a half. Fr. Ulysses Cabayao, S.J., from the AdDU Anthropology Department, diagnosed this event as an “indication of how weak our systems really are,” and added that he was not surprised that CGMA has regained power, saying, “We cannot discount how vengeance is a powerful motivation for politicians to return to power.” Also chiming in was Dr. Anderson Villa of the AdDU International Studies Department, who said “We all know historically that our own politicians keep coming back even after numerous controversies.” Professor of Economics Ms. Mildred Estanda also said that “this kind of politics is reflective of the people who voted for them [the politicians].” “CGMA still has people loyal to her in Congress,” Prof. Beleno said. “Allying with her will solidify majority support for the administration in the House.”

After the SONA, Director of the AdDU Center of Politics and International Affairs (CPIA) Prof. Neil Ryan Pancho expressed satisfaction that Pres. Duterte discussed rising prices of goods, particularly rice. “That’s what the people want to hear,” he said. “I expect a crackdown soon on rice smugglers and rice cartels.” Jamrell Buynay of the school organ Atenews, however, was dismayed that the President stressed the continuation of his notorious War on Drugs, that it will be as “relentless and chilling” as when it began. “These are real people and not just numbers,” she said.

“In presenting himself as a worker of government, he reinforces a populist ideology—the people against the ‘corrupt elite,’” Fr. Cabayao, S.J. said, remarking on the President’s effects on political discourse in the country, and the irony in his self-presentation as a humble worker of government. “In reinforcing this populist ideology, you are not recognizing what is happening on the ground: the ones caught up in your operations are the common people.”

Overall, the analysts assessed this year’s SONA as generally successful, grading it from B to B+. They cited the “more sanitized manner” with which Pres. Duterte delivered his speech—it contained no curse words or profanities, a considerable change for the president who has built his political reputation on his colorful language. Of the speech, Mr. Sinsuat said, “My grade for the SONA is 85%. That’s the percent of the original BBL remaining in the BOL, so that’s my grade.” Also helping to cap off the conversation was Dr. Villa’s statement and call to every Filipino to respond to the SONA. “He [Duterte] wants to change the system but the bureaucracy has been there since colonial times,” Dr. Villa said. “The Filipinos should not wait to effect change—they should be its agents.”

Other members of the panel include Mr. Joshua Tañola, representing the AdDU Political Science Cluster; Mr. Alexander Quilaton of the AdDU Economics Society; Internal Vice President of the AdDU Samahan ng mga Mag-aaral ng Agham Pulitika (SAMAPULA) Mr. Kyre Fernandez; and Mr. Roawie Quimba of the AdDU Committee Against Illegal Drugs (CAID). Chair of the AdDU Theology Department Mr. Lunar Tan Fayloga moderated the discussion.

The discussion on the SONA is done annually so that the University community might be engaged with national politics and discover the ways it affects them, whether directly or indirectly, positively or negatively, as well as to gather insights and commentary on the general direction of the country for the next twelve months which is plotted in the SONA.

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