President Rodrigo Duterte nearly brought the House down during his July 22 State of the Nation Address, when he said the Philippines had become “so corrupt that if you kill all the congressmen, senators and the President, we will have a new day.”  He said he had heard a psychic say that “when the ‘Big One’ hits, the first crack will be at the center of this (Batasan building, where he was speaking)… So I pray that if the earthquake comes, it comes now, this moment, kumpleto na tayo — (we are now complete.) May madamay pa tayo sa harap — (“we might even have some collateral casualties in front”), obviously referring to the special box for diplomats, Cabinet members and former presidents.

In the United States, as dramatized on Netflix, a “Designated Survivor” takes over the presidency if and when the entire government is eliminated by a terrorist attack or an accident. There is no such arrangement here, so in case the entire officialdom perishes in an earthquake, there would be no one, except perhaps for former President B.S. Aquino 3rd, who has avoided gracing DU30’s SONA, to run the state.

DU30’s live audience recognized these remarks as an entertainer’s lines, and reacted with loud laughter and applause.  DU30 said his “dissatisfaction rating,” supplied by the unpunished propaganda fraudsters, was a measly 3 percent, so he could talk about rampant corruption in his government without holding himself accountable for it. Listen to this:

“We have not learned our lesson. The illegal drug problem persists…Corruption continues to emasculate the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives.” These are criticisms he did not want to hear from anybody else, not from former US president Barack Obama, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the International Criminal Court at the Hague, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, or any other political leader. 

He has in fact pulled out of the ICC because of its threat to investigate the Davao Death Squad killings, and threatened to pull out of the UNHRC because of Iceland’s resolution calling attention to the human rights situation in the Philippines. This was supported by 18 of the 47 member-states, with 15 abstentions.

Despite a useful quote from the national artist for literature F. Sionil Jose, DU30’s speech failed to propose any solution to the corruption he denounced. This is part of what he said:

“Honestly, I have identified the enemy who has dumped us into this quagmire we are in,” he said, “I have met the enemy face to face and sadly the enemy is ‘us’.”

This was probably the first time an otherwise serious presidential address quoted a comic strip without acknowledging it. Wikipedia traces the origin of this line to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the hero of the naval battle of Lake Erie—the biggest naval battle in 1812, when nine vessels of the US Navy defeated and captured six vessels of the British Royal Navy. Perry said after the battle, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.” In 1960, Walt Kelly updated this quote in his comic strip “Pogo” to refer to the turmoil caused by the Vietnam war. His authorship is no secret, and it would not have hurt to acknowledge it. But DU30’s speechwriter did not.

DU30 continued: “We are our own tormentors, we are our own demons; we are as rapacious predators preying on the helpless, the weak and the voiceless. We find corruption in government with every malefactor watching his cohort’s back in blatant disregard of his oath when he assumed public office. Even the language has evolved to soften the wickedness of the criminal act — “for the Boys”, “sponsoring an event,” or what-else-have you. No amount of euphemism can trivialize or normalize betrayal of public trust or any other criminal offense. It is an injury laced with insult. It is both a national embarrassment and a national shame.

“For every transaction, a commission; for every action, extortion; and a request that goes on and on — endlessly and shamelessly.”

This is no longer harmless self-criticism to entertain an audience; it is rather strong language, which demands an equally strong medicine for the evil that has been exposed. But we do not hear it from the President.

“Catharsis is what we, individually and collectively, need to do today — not tomorrow but today,” he said.

I first encountered the word “catharsis” in my study of the Greek tragedies, and Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines it as “the process of releasing strong emotions through a particular activity or experience, such as writing or theatre which helps you to understand those emotions.”

Still I cannot pretend to understand what this English sentence means. Nor can I say that any of the newly elected senators or congressmen or the cosmetically carpentered ladies in the audience understood it either.

What seems plain to all, before, during and after DU30’s SONA, is that corruption becomes intolerable in a corrupt and lawless society where the strongman blames the people, instead of the strongman blaming himself, for its man-made ills.

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