On July 25, Philippines President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA). In this special post, nine Asia Foundation staff in the Philippines share their reactions to his speech.
Steven Rood, country representative
The Filipino people got a good look at their new president, Rodrigo Duterte, during his first SONA on Tuesday, some 35 percent of which was ad-libbed rather than read from the script. President Duterte told members of the media later that night that part of the problem was that he was wearing new glasses so that he had trouble reading the teleprompter. While that was perhaps occasionally what happened, the president’s style is very informal, occasionally quite funny, and often scary (intentionally so) when talking about his passion, the anti-drug campaign.
The smooth part of the speech was when he read the parts about government programs and plans from the various departments. This was the conventional stuff, which was praised by business analyst Peter Wallace as the “SONA that said it” – a reassuring list of continuity in good policies from the previous administration, and initiatives on taxation, infrastructure, a streamlined bureaucracy, a balancing approach between economics and the environment, and the like.
With regard to the West Philippine/South China Sea, Duterte merely said: “we strongly affirm and respect the outcome of the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of our disputes.” This cautious rendering in the presence of the Chinese Ambassador (in the audience) and in advance of a visit two days later by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, illustrates the difficulty of the maritime issues facing a militarily weak Philippines.
The headline surprise from the speech was the unilateral ceasefire with the New People’s Army, but one of the key messages was the warning that “human rights cannot be used as a shield or an excuse to destroy the country.” We learned a lot from the SONA, but some of what we heard we already knew.
Maribel Buenaobra, deputy country representative
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