By John Ezekiel J. Hirro

President Rodrigo Duterte’s 2020 has been a year full of rants, controversies and challenges.

The Philippines recorded 474,064 Covid-19 cases in 2020, but the global pandemic wasn’t the only threat Duterte had to oversee.

In January, the eruption of the Taal Volcano killed 39 and forced 400,000 others out of their homes.

Asked if he would be able to visit affected families despite the ashfall, Duterte said: “Kainin ko pa ‘yang ashfall na ‘yun. T***… Pati ‘yang Taal na ‘yan ihian ko ‘yan. P***** i**, b***** na ‘yan.”

Duterte also initially shunned imposing a travel ban on flights from China, the origin of the pandemic, on Jan. 29.

“Mahirap ‘yang ano — sabihin mo you suspend everything because they are not also suspending theirs and they continue to respect the freedom flights that we enjoy in their country,” he said. Duterte also said his government would only take measures “if there is the slightest possibility that a contamination could occur in the Philippines.”

The president would eventually implement a travel ban, but in a Feb. 3 media briefing, Duterte said the coronavirus would “die a natural death.”

“Ito matatapos rin ito. But would it worsen in the meantime? Maybe. But you know the progress of medical science now is far too different from — of the yesteryears,” he said.

On March 16, Duterte placed the entire Luzon island under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), which would later become the longest lockdown worldwide.

Under the ECQ, stringent measures including social distancing were implemented: classes and mass public transportation were suspended, mass gatherings were prohibited and land, air and sea travel were banned.

Duterte also told Filipinos to consider the virus as a serious threat, saying: “We are at war against a vicious and invisible enemy, one that cannot be seen by the naked eye. In this extraordinary war, we are all soldiers.”

In April, Duterte ordered state forces to shoot quarantine violators dead.

“My orders are sa pulis pati military, pati mga barangay na pagka ginulo at nagkaroon ng okasyon na lumaban at ang buhay ninyo ay nalagay sa alanganin, shoot them dead,” he said.

“Naintindihan ninyo? Patay. Eh kaysa mag-gulo kayo diyan, eh ‘di ilibing ko na kayo. Ah ‘yung libing, akin ‘yan. Huwag ninyo subukan ang gobyerno kasi itong gobyerno na ito hindi inutil,” he added.

Duterte also reappointed Harry Roque as his spokesman.

In April, policemen murdered Winston Ragos and planted evidence in the crime scene after a commotion.

After then-National Capital Region police chief Maj. Gen. Debold Sinas was caught partying amid ECQ, Duterte came to his defense, saying Sinas was “a good officer, he’s an honest one.”

“Hindi niya kasalanan kung may mangharana sa kanya sa birthday niya,” he added.

Duterte in July told Filipinos that the country would be “back to normal” by December, citing progress in Chinese companies’ vaccine development.

“Meron akong bakuna. Ang hingin ko sa inyo ganito, magtiis lang kayo ng konti dahil nga sa hawaan,” he said in a televised address.

“I promise you, by the grace of God, I hope by December we will be back to normal,” Duterte added.

Also in July, the president claimed masks could be reused, as long as they were disinfected with alcohol or Lysol and hung dry.

Those without alcohol and Lysol, he said, could try the soaking face masks in gasoline.

“Iyong wala, ibabad mo ng gasolina o diesel, p*****g ina Covid na ‘yan. Hindi uubra ‘yan diyan. Totoo. Kung wala kayo — if you want to disinfect, maghanap ka ng gasolina. Ibabad mo lang iyong kamay mo. Layo mo lang kay baka — huwag sa loob ng bahay ninyo,” he added.

Roque would later say that the president was “only joking”: “”Kayo naman… apat na taon na si Presidente, parang hindi ninyo pa kilala si Presidente. Joke only. Bakit naman tayo maghuhugas ng gasolina ano.”

President Rodrigo Duterte on July 14, days after ABS-CBN was denied a broadcasting franchise, said he was happy he had “dismantled” the oligarchy in the country without declaring martial law.

As to which oligarchs Duterte was referring to, Roque said the president referred to Lucio Tan, the Zobels de Ayala and Manuel V. Pangilinan, not the Lopezes, which own ABS-CBN.

Duterte delivered his penultimate State of the Nation Address on July 27.

He went off against opposition critics and “oligarchs,” accusing them of taking advantage of a “pre-occupied government.”

Duterte branded Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon as a defender of the Lopezes who own the shuttered ABS-CBN Corp, whose franchise application was rejected by lawmakers earlier this month.

“Media is a powerful tool in the hands of oligarchs like the Lopezes who used their media outlets in their battles with political figures,” he said during his penultimate SONA.

“This is the oligarchy that controls the Philippines by taking control of the water and the electricity and power. ‘Yan ang oligarchy mo, Drilon,” he added.

Duterte also called on Congress to reinstate the death penalty on drug-related crimes in his fifth SONA.

“I reiterate the swift passage of a law reviving death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002,” Duterte said.

Duterte also told Smart and Globe to improve their services or face “closure” or “expropriation.”

In August, Duterte said he was willing to be the first to be injected with the Russian vaccine to assure the public of its safety.

“Pagdating ng bakuna, in public, para walang satsat diyan, magpa-injection ako. Ako ‘yung unang pag-experimentuhan,” he said.

“Kaya ako, para ipakita ko sa kanila na nagtiwala ako at hindi sila nagkamali mag-offer… ako ang unang magpabakuna. Kung puwede sa akin, puwede sa lahat,” he added.

In September, Duterte said he granted “absolute pardon” to homicide convict US Marine Joseph Pemberton because he was treated unfairly while detained.

“You have not treated Pemberton fairly, so i-release ko. Pardon. Ang pardon, walang mga question ‘yan,” Duterte said in a televised address.

“I am not favoring anybody, neither Pemberton nor the [Laude] family,” he added.

Duterte participated in the United Nations (UN) General Assembly for the first time since assuming the presidency in 2016

Speaking before the UN General Assembly, Duterte vowed to defend Filipinos’ human rights despite groups’ alleged attempts to “weaponize” them.

Duterte claimed well-meaning and ill-intentioned interest groups have “weaponized” human rights during his presidential stint.

He accused such groups of intending to stain his administration.

“They attempt to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly elected government which in its last two years, still enjoy the same widespread approval and support,” he said.

Duterte touted the country’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Law which he said was necessary for eradicating terrorism in the Philippines.

“Terrorism looms large. Our 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act shores up the legal framework by focusing on both terrorism and the usual reckless response to it,” he said.

He then said all countries should have equal access to Covid-19 vaccines.

“When the world finds that vaccine, access to it must not be denied nor withheld,” Duterte said. “It should be made available to all, rich and poor nations alike, as a matter of policy.”

He asserted the Philippines’ legal victory against China over the South China Sea.

“The award is now part of international law, beyond compromise and beyond the reach of passing governments to dilute, diminish or abandon,” he declared during his first UN address.

“We firmly reject attempts to undermine it,” he added.

Duterte’s performance rating rose to 91 percent amid the Covid-19 pandemic, results of a Pulse Asia survey released in October showed.

On Oct. 7, Duterte ordered the Department of Justice to probe the entire government for alleged corruption as part of his administration’s campaign against corruption.

“I hope that all government workers, officials are listening. This is a memorandum from me, the president, to Secretary Menardo Guevarra… Ang subject is: ‘[Investigation] of allegations of corruption in the entire government.’ Lahat.” he said in a meeting with Cabinet officials.

On Nov. 6, Duterte fired off a tirade against the Philippine Red Cross for suspending free Covid-19 testing services due to Philippine Health Insurance Corp’s (PhilHealth) P930.99-million debt.

“Mukhang pera,” Duterte said in a meeting with Cabinet officials.

Also in November, Duterte went on a misinformed rant against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo.

Duterte started his Nov. 17 public address with a rant against Robredo, whom he called “dishonest” for allegedly competing with him and claiming he was absent in calamity response efforts in the aftermath of typhoon “Rolly.”

Robredo said she never questioned Duterte’s actions and that the president was misinformed.

“I just called out Secretary (Salvador) Panelo for peddling fake news. I am also calling out whoever peddled the fake news to the president, kaya ganito siya ka-pikon. I never said ‘Where is the president?’ You can review all my tweets,” she said on Twitter.

Duterte repeatedly accused Robredo of misleading the public on his absence amid the onslaught of “Ulysses.”

Duterte said he was monitoring the country’s situation as he attended a virtual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.

He added that he was a “night person” and that he usually started working from 2 p.m. to past midnight.

“Alam mo, ‘yung pakana [ni Robredo] na wala ako sa bagyo. I was here, dito. I was attending a summit, Asean summit ‘yun, so virtual lang, palit palit kami. We were talking electronic. Nandito ako noon. Kasagsagan ng bagyo, dumaan diyan sa labas, nag-uusap kami dito,” Duterte said.

“Ngayon kung sabihin mo may emergency, natutulog ako sa umaga, hindi ako natulog noon. Gising ako ng umaga because of the summit,” he added.

Duterte claimed that state forces were deployed two days ahead of the landfall of “Ulysses.”

“Hindi mo na kailangan orderin ‘yan sila kasi two days before, deployed na yan sila doon po. Nasa bodega na yan sa mga gobyerno. Naka-deploy na ‘yan, pati na nga yung sa Davao, yung security ko kinuha, dinala dito in anticipation. Sunod-sunod kasi,” he said.

“Kaya ako lumipad sa Bicol, inunahan mo pa ako pakunwari. But do not compete with me and do not start a quarrel with me kasi ikaw wala ka talagang ginawa except ‘yung mga tawag-tawag,” Duterte added.

Robredo said calamity relief efforts should not be a political contest.

“Sa panahon ng matinding sakuna, dapat lahat na tulong, welcome. Hindi ito contest. Hindi tayo nag uunahan. Lahat tayo dapat nagtutulong tulong para sa ating mga kababayan,” she said.

Also in November, Duterte appointed Sinas as the new chief of the Philippine National Police.

“Akin na ‘yun. At kung may kasalanan siya doon, pardon na siya. Wala akong nakitang kasalanan na masama na may moral implications, may kasamang malisya, wala,” Duterte said.

On Dec. 7, Duterte said he just realized the importance of testing.

“Alam mo ang importante pala sa totoo lang and I realize now it’s the testing — ‘yung swabbing pati ‘yung test,” he said in a public address.

He urged Filipinos to comply with health protocols this holiday season, saying there would be a curtailment of usual traditions and celebrations to avoid Covid-19.

“We are saying sorry that there will be a curtailment of so many things that you have been used to during Christmas time. Look at it this way, all of the Christmas of your lifetime, ngayon lang naman ito isang beses hinihingi ng gobyerno para sa iyo,” he said in a televised address.

Duterte floated his plan to ban fireworks nationwide in 2021, just like what he did in Davao when he was mayor.

“May one year pa kayo next December. Baka next December i-bawal ko na ang putok because it is really a dangerous thing and for reasons of public safety and health. Public safety, mamatay ka, magkasakit ka. Health is ma-ospital ka, maputol iyong kamay mo. It’s a health problem actually iyong inhalation ng powder smoke. So, it is a problem of health, public interest and public safety,” he said.