Noon, the 30th of June, 2016: the term of the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines officially starts. According to the program, the newly-inaugurated president would give a speech, a few choice remarks.
Before we get to the speech itself, let’s mention one standout thing observers noted in a photograph of President Duterte and outgoing president Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino III together:
President Duterte was wearing a pin of the flag of the Republic of the Philippines. BS Aquino was still wearing a Yellow ribbon.
BS Aquino’s use of the color yellow is partisan, a symbolism, critics point out, of putting the color of his clan and his party, the Liberal Party, above all else, including the nation. It was aggravated by the “with us or against us” mentality espoused by Aquino and his followers in his actions and speeches: if you didn’t support the Aquino government 100%, if you criticized him even for just a bit, you belong to that group called “everybody else” whom Aquino and company tried their best to ignore.
As small a change as it may seem, the use of the flag pin by Duterte is not only refreshing, as some observed, it is one that is more significant than BS Aquino’s “no wangwang” policy from when his own term was starting.
As for the speech itself, it was fifteen minutes long (just the right length), and the content sustained interest without devolving into self-aggrandizing, self-congratulatory rambling. Reaction to it on social media has been positive for the most part; some netizens called the speech “inspiring”.
You can find the transcript of the speech here or watch the video below.
Observers also pointed out other “refreshing” contrasts to speeches done during BS Aquino’s time:
The speech was (mostly) in English. The other “national language”, Filipino, contrary to popular belief, is not a dominant language in the Philippine archipelago; it is merely one among hundreds of languages spoken by the many ethnic groups here. As a “national language” it is rather useless because it favors one ethno-linguistic group above the others. It is divisive.
BS Aquino’s insistent use of Tagalog was there to make him look “maka-masa” (one of the masses), but the forced tone (hindi natural ang dating), together with his exclusive and condescending attitude and behavior, served only to alienate others, and to sow further division among Filipinos.
English, on the other hand, is a neutral language that does not favor any ethno-linguistic group in the Philippines; all of them struggle to learn it equally. It is also the global lingua franca, and the international language of commerce and knowledge.
From my personal and professional experience, Bisaya speakers (like Duterte) are really good at speaking English. Comparatively speaking, they generally speak it better than our northern countrymen. Duterte’s command of it during the speech didn’t disappoint. There is no putdown here; it is my personal observation. It is not hard for me to admit this despite my own roots being from the northern Philippines.
There was something I bet Duterte’s critics expected to hear in the speech but was missing. The speech contained no cussing and no invective. During the presidential campaign, the electorate had heard a lot of swear words and strong words, like “putang-ina” (son of a whore), or “papatayin kita” (I’ll kill you) thrown around liberally by Duterte as part of his tough guy and “one of the masses” image. Deeper observers had seen through the act, however, and had been rather surprised that Duterte can be civil and restrained in his speech as needed. This inaugural speech was merely one of those times of restraint. Very presidential indeed, a good way to start.
Those who had dismissed Duterte as a mere vulgar, uncultured, buffoonish hooligan should probably be eating crow by now.
From the start, BS Aquino became predictable, because his speeches would more often than not contain mentions of his predecessors. He was too quick to blame them for the problems he faced, and keep mentioning and blaming them to the very end, it seems. Duterte’s own contained none of these. Again, observers note, it was refreshing to hear no blame game, and instead, a focus on the future and what lies ahead coming from the President.
What else was missing? The speech contained no pandering phrases like, “kayo ang boss ko” or “eh di wow”. The former was a pandering statement, unbelievable from the start, which indicated that BS Aquino had no leadership bone in his body. Eventually, it turned out to be false. The second phrase is one which has no equivalent in English but is an exclamation of anti-intellectualism, prevalent in this corner of the world.
For lack of a better word, President Duterte started on the right foot with his speech, with an address dignified and becoming of a proper leader. The Philippines has been starving for one for six years.
President Duterte highlighted a few things: first, change is required from all of us, everybody from the highest government official to all the citizens on the streets of towns and provinces everywhere in the Philippines. Second, he emphasizes that his government is going to be for the poor, and aimed at making lives better for Filipinos. And third, he and government serve everyone and not any one class of interests in the Philippines.
“Tinud-anay nga kabag-uhan. Mao kana ang tumong sa atong pang-gobyerno.” (Real change. This is the direction of our government).
We will hold you to that, Mr. President.
Of course, we shouldn’t be carried away by his pronouncements just yet. It is one thing to start on the right foot. It is yet another to be able to stay on the proper course as time goes by. And it is yet one more thing to be able to recognize when mistakes have been made and to correct them.
It is our job as citizens to hold him accountable to his campaign promises and to make sure he performs to our benefit. But if we are to help him by criticizing him, we must do so without being obstructionist, stubborn, and downright plain destructive to the cause of making the Philippines a better place.
And with that, let the term of the 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines commence! May the odds ever be in our favor.