Stoking the political fire early  

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    `Duterte’s vitriol against Drilon only stoked the fire of politics in the country very early in the day, at a time when we most need to be united to fight the devastating adversary that is COVID-19.’

    MANY think that President Rodrigo Duterte was off tangent when he started his State of the Nation (SONA) speech before Congress with a jab at Sen. Franklin Drilon. He called the opposition leader in the Senate “arrogant” and gave him a taste of bullying from the pulpit in front of the Cabinet men, senators and congressmen, and the hundreds of thousands of Filipinos watching the proceedings on TV.

    True enough, the early mention of Drilon did not sit well with the audience. About the reactions from the hearers, do let us digress a little. This SONA is unique both as a mediocre Joyce Bernal production and a sleep-inducing monologue. This is the first time that canned applause has been used in a SONA: you can hear the clapping on tape but cannot see who are the people applauding. Even the Cabinet men and the lawmakers were drowsy and uninterested, so that when Duterte ended his speech of one hour and 41 minutes, the President waited a few seconds for the courtesy applause from his live audience, but there was none, until he said, “I am through.”

    The bully pulpit was put to bear on the poor Drilon, who had no other recourse but to bear it, to roll with the punches, because nobody can interfere with a SONA speech like that.

    For a backgrounder, it is obvious that the Chief Executive was slighted when Drilon, a few days ago, admitted that the Philippine oligarchy is wrong and bad for democracy, and that to ensure its genuine demise, there should be an anti-dynasty law duly passed by Congress and signed by the President, as this is in fact mandated by the Constitution. Drilon did not mention Davao or the Duterte clan, but the President took it to mean that his family was being singled out, and charged at the senator.

    Not content with his opener, Duterte again unleashed his rage at Drilon to end his speech, this time linking him to the ACCRA Law office that presumably drafted the onerous contracts of Maynilad and Manila Water in 1997 when Fidel V. Ramos was president, and later extended until 2035 during the term of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

    He also lumped the senator with his arch-enemy, the Lopez family who owns ABS-CBN, the television giant that picked the wrong horse in the last elections.

    The senator had a field day parrying the accusations hurled by the President the next day, saying he was no longer in that law office and was in fact in government service when the questioned water concession contracts were done. Also, Drilon explained that while he is friends with the Lopezes, his position on the ABS-CBN issue is based on his belief that freedom of the press and freedom of expression should not be suppressed.

    As expected, other opposition senators like Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Francis Pangilinan came to the defense of Drilon. “Instead of inspiring hope and presenting a cohesive plan to the Filipino people in the middle of a crisis, the President used his State of the Nation Address to rant about his personal grudge against the media and assail his critics including Senate Minority Leader Frank Drilon,” Hontiveros said. Compared to the President, Drilon is not a part of any political dynasty, she added with sarcasm.

    Duterte’s vitriol against Drilon only stoked the fire of politics in the country very early in the day, at a time when we most need to be united to fight the devastating adversary that is COVID-19.

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