Lame jokes, tired lines, more threats


    PRESIDENT Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) lasted just a shade under 100 minutes consisting of rehashed lines, off-script harangue against his critics, and attempts at cracking jokes that fell flat on an unresponsive audience.

    The glassy-eyed gallery was treated to a reprise of why the Philippines cannot assert its rights against China in the West Philippine Sea, the justification for the bloody war on drugs, the urging for Congress to revive the death penalty, and the promise to iron out the kinks in the process of putting up businesses in the country.

    Duterte started out with a fusillade of rants against Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and ended his speech with more of the same, accusing the opposition lawmaker of protecting oligarchs who made life difficult for ordinary people.

    There were a few candid admissions.

    He acknowledged that the distribution of the billions of pesos in cash assistance by his government has been a disappointment; that the improvement of internet service he promised years ago has not happened as telecommunications reach remain spotty in large areas; and that the country would have been a lot worse under the COVID-19 pandemic were it not for the selfless acts of health care workers, civic-minded businesses, and the cooperation of ordinary people.

    As in the past, when trying to make a point, he resorted to threats.

    He warned local government officials of punishment if they do not improve the distribution pace of the social amelioration funds and threatened to go after owners of telecommunications companies if their services do not prove at par to his satisfaction.

    His attempt to crack jokes – including a request to have a line cleared so he can call Jesus Christ in Bethlehem by December – found few takers.

    In all, Duterte’s fifth SONA was applauded 37 times – one of which had to be prompted by his pointed remark about the lack of reaction to his espousal of the capital punishment.

    The loudest and most spontaneous one came at the end when he told his audience, “I am through.”

    Deputy speaker Johnny Pimentel of Surigao del Sur yesterday tested positive for COVID-19 and missed Duterte’s fifth SONA.

    Pimentel, who became the third House member to test positive for the virus, has remained asymptomatic but has isolated himself at home.

    The lawmaker was among the lawmakers, staff and guests who underwent reverse transcription – polymerase chain reaction’s (RT-PCR) last Sunday at the Batasang Pambansa as part of the health protocols for the SONA.

    Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said he has tested negative for the deadly virus. Guevarra said he underwent the PCR swab test as part of the requirements for those who will attend the SONA.

    Attendees of the President’s SONA were required to undergo RT-PCR swab test on Sunday and rapid test on Monday.

    “I’m okay. (I’m) asymptomatic for the moment and I’m in isolation now. I learned at 11:30 pm last night (that) I was positive,” Pimentel said.

    The lawmaker was informed of the test result by Dr. Richard Dizon, head of the House of Representatives health medical service.

    On Saturday night, House Secretary General Joel Montales announced that Sulu Rep. Samier Tan was the second lawmaker who tested positive for the virus. Bulacan Rep. Henry Villarica was the first House member who had COVID-19.

    Pimentel is now considered the 23rd case of the House. Of these 23 cases, three employees have died.

    House sources said three other staff members also tested positive as of lunch time yesterday while at least 10 others from different offices in Malacañang and the Presidential Security Group also tested positive. – With Wendell Vigilia