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[OPINION] SONA 2023: Fire in the hole

By Joel Pablo Salud Published Jul 21, 2023 1:11 pm

Let’s cut to the chase. A year after Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s presidency, I guess we all have a bone to pick. 

This is no ordinary chicken bone. From where I’m sitting, it appears to be the full skeletal remains of the victims of his drug war, forming a bloody cartography of impunity that has extended its borders from the old and into the new. 

This is my raison d'être for doubting the President, and why giving him the benefit of the doubt feels like a jab at a Viking’s obstacle course. Any talk of economic progress, finance, investments, infrastructure, culture, loses gravitas if the same regime refuses to hold power accountable. 

It is Junior’s biggest “foot-in-mouth” disease. 

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the 17th President of the Philippines

Think of Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war. A mere 12 months after Junior was sworn into office, these were the findings of the UP Third World Studies Center:

“At least 336 drug-related killings have taken place since Marcos became president, most during law enforcement’s anti-drug operations, according to the UP Third World Studies Center […] More than half of these killings or 175 of them took place in the first six months of Marcos’ term, according to the center.” 

That’s close to one death every single day. 

Because of this, Human Rights Watch has given Marcos Jr. a failing mark one year into his presidency. 

“Marcos has done little to address the pending human rights issues. Police and their agents continue their ‘drug war’ killings, though at a lower rate than during the Duterte administration. The authorities remain responsible for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests of activists and outspoken critics.” 

I agree with the group Karapatan when they said that the real problem lies in Marcos Jr.’s refusal to “rescind the policies and operational guidelines” set by the Philippine National Police during the Duterte regime, particularly Oplan Double Barrel and Oplan Tokhang.

Apparently, drug war policies serve a very good political purpose for which Junior will not be blamed as the initial instigator.

According to the UP Third World Studies Center, there have been at least 336 drug-related killings since Marcos Jr. was sworn in as president in June 2022.

There is, of course, the universal principle of reaping what you sow, what some would call karma in full auto. Consider the International Criminal Court’s latest decision: “Today, 18 July 2023, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court delivered, in open Court, its judgment confirming, by majority, ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I’s decision granting authorization to the ICC Prosecutor to resume the investigations in relation to the situation in the Republic of the Philippines.”

Is Junior so naïve that he would risk being associated with Duterte’s drug war? While the ICC’s eyes are trained on Duterte as the mastermind of the drug war, be reminded that the world watches, too. And their eyes are glued on Marcos Jr. 

How much cooperation is Junior willing to give the ICC? Is Marcos Jr. gung-ho about the issue of human rights, or was he simply paying the Constitution wanton and gratuitous lip service?

If you think Junior’s largely decaffeinated reticence on matters of national life will not affect foreign direct investments, I suggest you open your FDI 101 workbooks. In fact, a recent paper published in the peer-reviewed journal, the Oxford Academic’s International Studies Quarterly, breaks the idea down in bite-size donut holes: 

“However, more recent studies suggest that human rights violations, in fact, deter FDI.” 

So many issues, so little time. Maharlika Investment Fund. Low FDI influx, declining 30.7% in March 2023. Runaway inflation. What happened to foreign pledges? Has rampant corruption been addressed? What about pandemic concerns? Let’s not forget agriculture. Junior’s first SONA promised to deal with food supply and spikes in prices. Any real-time update or will we be treated to an exotic array of dead press releases during the SONA?

The President is set to report on the state of the country and bare his administration's future plans on Monday, July 24.

If the SONA is the President’s national report card, then the worse he could do is present an optical illusion, a publicist’s sleight of hand where suspension of disbelief is valued more than critical thinking. 

At the end of each day, the state of the nation is not the state of its economy alone; it is, above all, the state of justice within its borders.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions of PhilSTAR L!fe’s editors and staff.