Today, July 27, 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte has delivered his second to the last State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the SONA will not have its usual red carpet where officials and their spouses show off their intricately-made outfits and pose for photos. Only selected Cabinet members, senators, and other public officials were invited to physically attend the event—even media outlets were not allowed to be on the premises of the Batasang Pambansa.
But despite the changes in this year’s SONA, many are still hoping for a detailed speech about the country’s current state amid the pandemic. Both elected officials and the masses are expecting a comprehensive report on what has happened to the Philippines’ economy, education, and other sectors in the months prior to and during the pandemic. It is also expected that the president will be detailing the government’s COVID-19 response. (Read: 3 Prayers of Guidance and Enlightenment for Government Leaders)
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar has said that the speech was expected to only be around 1 hour and 20 minutes—which means everything that has happened in the last year and the years prior can’t all be tackled. But as taxpayers, we all deserve to know the real state of the nation under the administration. So, we looked for resources on how the government has fared in the past four years.
Struggling Farmers Amid Pandemic
According to a Rappler article, farmers and fisherfolk still feel “unseen” by the administration, especially during the pandemic. They have been forced to throw away their harvest because it has been left to spoil as there were no opportunities provided to them to deliver their goods to markets. (Read: San Miguel to Build Hubs Where Farmers Can Sell Produce Free of Charge)
In a “State of the Peasant Address” held on July 25, and attended by various groups including Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the farmers expressed their dismay that they are not able to feed their families during the pandemic because there is a lack of support from the government.
Lack of Government Support
But the agriculture sectors’ plight didn’t just start during the COVID-19 pandemic—it goes way back. Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura chairperson Antonio Flores said that even before this health crisis, farmers have already been “barely recognized,” and cited that farmers had to drop prices of their products and pay higher sums due to the rice tariffication law. And some were even displaced due to the building of the New Clark City.
Fisherfolks are also saying that the administration has barely given them any attention. For example, the Reed Bank incident where FB Gem Ver 1, a fishing vessel carrying multiple fishermen, was struck by a Chinese vessel that caused them to sink. The fishermen were left in the middle of the sea and the government failed to represent and protect them. (Read: Retired Justice Antonio Carpio’s West PH Sea Lecture Now Available Online)
On top of these, over 260 farmer and peasant leaders have been killed under the current administration since 2016—190 have been killed since February 2020.
Support for Businesses
The Philippine economy has obviously fallen due to the pandemic, and it is struggling to get back up. Businesses, especially small ones, have either closed or are now facing closure because of a lack of income. They have not been given many opportunities and assistance by the government to get back up, which is why the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Employers Confederation of the Philippines, and Philippine Exporters Confederation are asking for a clear strategy for economic revival.
They recommended that the president approve the Accelerated Recovery Investments Stimulus for the Economy (ARISE) and the COVID-19 Unemployment Reduction Economic Stimulus (CURES) to help those who are greatly affected by the health crisis. (Read: ABS-CBN Employees Share How the Franchise Denial Affected Their Lives)
Aside from this, the government has also loaned almost P400 billion for the COVID-19 response, where the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is the top lender for the Philippines, lending around P130 billion to the country. These debts will be paid until 2049, as the repayment period of each loan from various lenders has an average period of 15 years.
As of April 2020, the total loans of the Philippines has already ballooned to around P8.6 trillion.
Women and Children
We are no stranger to sexist remarks and “rape jokes” made by the president himself, and this actually reflects how gender equality has been during the past four years. Despite saying in his 2016 SONA that women’s abuse is “unacceptable” and promised to protect their rights, President Duterte has never passed a priority bill that gives importance to women, children, and families. There also has not been a priority bill on gender equality that has been passed in his four years in the position.
Minimum Age of Consent
Many have already petitioned to raise the minimum age of consent from 12 years old—the lowest age in Southeast Asia—to an older age, as 12-year-olds cannot properly give out consent. This is problematic as 12-year-olds are susceptible to rape and because they are “of age,” the perpetrator can actually claim it was consensual, thus letting them off the hook. (Read: Catholic Nun on Rape Culture: ‘Stop Victim Blaming’)
Laws Regarding Rape
Another issue that has concerned many groups and lawmakers is the conditions when it comes to rape. The Anti-Rape Law of 1997 says that there should be evidence of “physical resistance” to deem it as a non-consensual act. A rapist can also be cleared of charges if he and the victim get married.
There are a plethora of issues surrounding gender equality and protection in the Philippines, and sadly, none of them have been resolved until now.