RECAP: What Duterte said in his last 5 SONAs

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  • As the president delivers his last SONA, we look back at the last five addresses he’s done and the things he said—on- and off-script
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on the podium delivering a speech

President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) today. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque Jr. said Duterte, who will address the Congress later today, July 26, will focus on the country’s development, social and infrastructure programs, peace and security, and foreign policy.

The Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) said this year’s address will be “simple, modest yet impactful.” In the past, Duterte, the 16th president, was known to occasionally go off-script, unafraid to hit critics and government officials alike.

2016: Setting the tone for ‘change’

In 2016, Duterte delivered his first SONA as the newly-elected president. The address lasted over one and a half hours. In it, he laid down what would be his policy against drugs and assured his fellow Mindanaoans in the Bangsamoro of peace talks. “We will strive to have a permanent and lasting peace before my term ends. That is my goal, that is my dream,” he said.

It was also the first time the president drifted away from the script. Speaking in Filipino, he said, “Wala na ito sa script (This is not in the script). You know, ako maka-garantiya (I can guarantee), 101 percent it [this government] will be clean.” 

He also talked at length about his administration’s transportation and infrastructure plans as well as the military’s role in enforcing environmental laws. Duterte even singled out then Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) secretary, the late Gina Lopez. He defended her appointment, saying, “But si Gina pati ako (Gina and I), we share the same paradigm: The interest of the country must come first.”

It was a robust debut that set the tone for his term. During the length of the speech, he was able to address many concerns through his administration’s plans across various sectors.

2017: Defending his controversial decisions

The following year, it took the president slightly longer to set out his agenda: two hours, understandably so given the breadth of topics he covered.

[READ: LOOK: We simplified #SONA2017 for you]

A few months before his address, Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao as a response to the armed conflict in the region, particularly in Marawi City. During his second SONA, he said declaring martial law was what he saw as the quickest and safest path to peace.

The first year of his drug war campaign was also met with criticism and opposition, including from the United Nations. He asserted that his war on drugs was for the safety of future generations. “The fight will be unrelenting… despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop,” he said.

He also warned mining companies against “unbridled and irresponsible destruction of our watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources,” one point we agreed on

The occasion also marked the president’s first report on accepting financial assistance from China, while also giving an update on the supposedly “warmer relations with China” on the matter of the West Philippine Sea.

2018: A ‘relentless’ drug war

Duterte wrapped his third SONA in under an hour in 2018. As expected, he jumped right on to defending his administration’s flagship drug war campaign, stating that it will be “relentless” and “as chilling as the day it began.”

[READ: Duterte’s war on drugs was always going to be against the poor]

Mindanao and peace talks also took center stage that year with the president promising to sign the Bangsamoro Organic Law within 48 hours of Malacañang receiving Congress’ approved version.

On his third SONA, he also continued with the rhetoric of environmental protection, which included closing down Boracay for rehabilitation, passing the still pending National Land Use Act, and taking a harder stance on mining. Duterte went on record to tell the mining industry not to “destroy the environment or compromise our resources,” and warned them that if they don’t radically change their management, “you will have restrictive policies.” 

(Three years later, he overturned the nine-year moratorium on new mining agreements issued by then President Benigno Aquino III in 2012. He cited the need to boost government revenue, create more jobs and prop up the pandemic-battered economy. This is despite progressive groups’ warning that the move would adversely affect the country’s water, food supply, forest, biodiversity, indigenous communities, and fragile island ecosystems.)

[READ: Why is Duterte so mad about mining?]

2019: ‘Gusto ko na ring mag-resign’

In 2019, Duterte arrived late to deliver his SONA, starting his speech an hour late than usual. That year, PhilHealth’s “ghost patients” scandal marred the administration’s efforts to combat corruption, prompting the president to say “I am grossly disappointed” and to order the National Bureau of Investigation to arrest those involved.

[READ: 4 key takeaways from Duterte’s fourth SONA]

Other than the “successful” rehabilitation of Boracay, Manila Bay’s renewal was also bannered. 

Notably, on the foreign diplomacy end, Duterte delivered conflicting statements about our ownership of the West Philippine Sea. While he acknowledged the legal ruling based on the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he said, “We have to temper it with the times and the realities that we face today.” He added, “The avoidance of conflict on our national waters compels us to perform a delicate balancing act. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake.”

For the first time in his SONA, Duterte also revealed feelings of exhaustion from the job. “I’m tired. Gusto ko na ring mag-resign (I want to resign). I’m not happy anymore,” he said.

2020: COVID and calling Jesus Christ

COVID-19 become the central subject of concern for Duterte’s government in 2020 (and it still is). In his fifth SONA, the president was able to touch on the country’s recovery plan, the United States and China, and talk about martial law in Mindanao. He even managed to squeeze in a few pats in the back for his right hand Senator Bong Go, and lambasted Senator Frank Drilon for his anti-oligarchy comments.

Having been in Malacañang for four years, he seemed to be more comfortable sharing some “relatable” quotes that seemed off-topic but nonetheless are interesting by themselves. Remember when he told telecommunication companies to improve their services before December because “I want to call Jesus Christ to Bethlehem”?

Will we see more of that on his last SONA? According to Malacañang, this year’s address will focus on his “legacy of change” and his government’s achievements. So we might hear his favorite topics once more for the last time—and hopefully, progress that has been made too.

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