Late-night talks with Duterte


Weeks into the enhanced community quarantine, President Duterte continues to address the nation to supposedly discuss the actions that the national government is taking to handle the COVID-19 situation. However, this act, initially geared towards providing reassurance to restless citizens, seems to have lost  its track, as the public continues to feel placed in a vulnerable position amid the pandemic. Rather than hearing about concrete actions being taken, the nation is further plagued with topics far from the COVID-19 concern. Moreover, the manner in which these prerecorded public addresses are aired at such a late hour also compromises the power of the media to further amplify and provide full real-time coverage of the public addresses. This reduces the amount of criticism it may receive, prompting an increase in tolerance for incompetence and laxity.

The President’s late-night public addresses show a consistent pattern spinning around the following: Reaffirming the role and power of the military, criticizing individuals, hinting on officials to do their jobs, reminding citizens to stay at home, and generally giving vague updates on the concrete plans of the government. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that to some degree, there are indeed some updates made regarding relief efforts for the COVID-19 situation, such as the prioritizing of the cash amelioration program and ordering of rapid testing kits. Even so, topics of lesser importance end up stultifying relevant information discussed, defeating the purpose of the public address itself.

Citizens continue to face the constant threat of imprisonment for disobedience, as well as band aid solutions, which they assume are sufficient for all social classes to simply abide by with no complaints. Perhaps it is time for the government to acknowledge the problem as it is, a health and socioeconomic crisis, rather than an issue of discipline and order. An address to the nation must regain its purpose of bridging the leader of this nation to his constituents, and not being a platform to subtly frame the people as the enemy without heeding the situations they are in. 

Aside from dismissing those who demand competence from the government, much of the address could instead prioritize discussion on mass testing, contact tracing, protection of frontliners, and economic support for all individuals. Finally, with the special powers and budget given to the President under the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, reports on the governmental funds spent throughout the pandemic must be made clear.

With the uncertainty and public outcries of the Filipinos, it is but right for the President to detail out a concrete plan on how he plans to lead the nation past this pandemic. After all, transparency and accountability partly constitute good governance.