If boredom could kill, thousands would have died during the first 30 minutes of President Duterte’s fifth state-of-the-nation address last Monday. Thousands more would have fallen by the wayside in the last 30 minutes of it.
It’s a miracle that the President survived his own boredom.
“Kung hindi ninyo naintindihan ang binabasa ko, lalo na ako,” he said in subdued frustration while reading his prepared speech on a prompter. “It’s my eyes,” he blamed his diminishing vision, literally, for his faltering message, although it may have been more intellectual ennui than aging visual acuity.
All told, the SONA didn’t stir men’s blood, to borrow from Shakespeare. More like a yawn, to quote G. K. Chesterton, which he characterized as a shout.
You can’t blame the man, who has been more at home with spontaneous expression and off-the-cuff authenticity than artificial, let alone, mechanical public speaking. It’s not just his style.
Blame also the new set-up. The audience arranged in a classroom-like format while wearing face masks or poker faces. Nobody knew for, sure, not even the man of the hour, what kinds of emotions and expression were behind those masks as he meandeared along in his prepared narrative. It was hard task, talking to people that way. It’s a good thing the opposition, or what passes for it, wasn’t physically present in the venue.
The pandemic must have taken its toll as well on the man, a mere human, not a superman who announced earlier in his term he would a jet ski and stop China from annexing the West Philippine Sea.
Evidently, Duterte needs new and better speechwriters. The SONA didn’t soar; it sank. No wonder there were more questions than answers after a shared ordeal of the nation. Great writers shape their client’s mind, even untentionally. Words have power. Clumsy SONA writers produce poor SONA messenger.
With one more SONA left to improve, although that’s not a certainty yet, Duterte can start firing his speechwriters along with the corrupt in his government. Who knows this could start a great revival in this Administration.
For a fact, the SONA started off with a rant, got stuck somewhere in a rut of a recyled narrative, and ended with something akin to a rot. His latest call to restore the death penalty by lethal injection reeks. A speech is so much like life; it ends eventually, no matter how long or short it is, good or bad. A good life is sometimes forgotten but a bad one is long remembered after it’s interred, so Shakespeare once wrote.
In fairness, making Franklin Drilon the headnote of his speech, equating him with his nemesis, the Lopezes, by being friends with his enemies, may be Duterte’s own authorship. The rest was old hat, as many would recall.
The fifth SONA was a give-away or a red-herring, or both. Given the number of times Sen. Bong Go had copious cameos in the audio-visual or real-time cam panning, the real alter ego or ego-masseur could be having a moist eye on Duterte’s perch and perks. The paeans to the neophyte senator were generously showered while the contributions of the second highest official of the land, Leni Robredo, were nonchalantly buried in the “cast of thousand” billing of appreciation. They also serve who criticize.
And there was the usual cloying and unabashed reverence for Ping, not the Lacson, but the one with the Xi who Duterte doesn’t want to piss off, even if he pisses on Philippine territories with his nine-dash-line legal fiction.
And did he prostrate himself before his demigod by imploring that the Philippines should be included in China’s priority list of anti-COVID 19 vaccine?
On the other hand, there was the unbridled irreverence to a real God when he castigated and threatened the two leading telcos in the country to either shape up or ship out. “I want to call Jesus Christ in Bethlehem on Christmas”, he bellowed with more arrogance than respect,” the lines must be cleared.” Nothing in his more than four years in office has indicated he has the Lord’s number.
Hasn’t he heard about unli calls? Of course, even this promo isn’t consumer-friendly perfect, but at least it keeps you more in touch with what’s happening on the ground. And, it follows , given the ABS’ debacle, the telcos will oblige with the browbeating, pronto.
After doing his fifth SONA, Duterte must be tired of the presidency and all the power it brings to him. Which can help partly explain his apparent lack enthusiasm with his penultimate report on the nation’s state. It could be power-fatigue or success fatigue.
“Unless a man has been taught what to do with success after they get it, the achievement of it leaves him prey to boredom,” the British philoso pher Bertrand Russel warned. Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac, Henry Kissinger, noted. Or it could also be the ultimate downer.
Besides, the President must be sensing the rising pressure of democratic forces closing in on him, especially with the massive opposition to the anti-terror law that’s seen like” an anaconda on the chandelier”, by political analysts here and abroad.
For all its obvious softness, if not outright acquiescense , to Duterte’s previous biddings, the Supreme Court is faced with a real deal it can only ignore at its own peril: bravely protecting the country’s much-cherished democratic heritage or blindly putting it at great risk
The President, as fresh-looking and energized as he was when he did his fifth SONA, seemed inclined to get it over with his speech quickly, as with his being the principal tenant of Malacanang.
For those who to look forward to a change in the country’s political landscape, last Monday’s SONA allowed a peek into what’s possible and doable as Duterte prepares for another — and presumably his last — SONA.
It’s carpe diem for the opposition.
The fifth S0NA was a letdown, especially for those who were still hoping for some kind of a real vision or redemptive plan for the remainder of Duterte’s term. His last should tell us whether he would leave the nation divided or united, better or worst than when he first found it.
Like it or not, his redemption is ours, too.