Duterte  State of the Nation Address
In this handout photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) while Senate President Vicente Sotto III, left, and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano applauds at the House of Representative in Metro Manila, Philippines, Monday, July 27, 2020. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his penultimate State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, Filipino expats gave their assessment of how he steered the country in the last four years.

Trust in the President is still relatively high among OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), but many said he could have done more, particularly in his handling of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis.

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Many said mass testing could have been done earlier to forestall the health crisis while others were more specific in calling out the Duterte government for focusing on controversial issues, including the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law and closure of a Philippine media conglomerate, instead of concentrating his administration’s efforts and resources to curb the pandemic.

Speaking to Gulf News, Patrick Fronda, film director and UAE resident for 12 years said: “The President had a weak strategy. COVID cases are on the rise and instead of revamping the Philippine health department, he (Duterte) chose to defend the health secretary despite the many controversies.”

Patrick Fronda

“The people were also led confused with convoluted terminologies such as MECQ (modified enhanced community quarantine), GCQ, (general community quarantine) MGCQ (modified general community quarantine) and so on,” he added. Fronda added: “The Duterte government also focused on too much politics and prioritised the passage of a controversial bill (Anti-Terrorism Act) that has nothing to do with addressing the pandemic and shutting down of ABS-CBN (media company) that only resulted in more job loss among Filipinos.”

“I would give the President a failing grade. Instead of uniting the country, his government only created division,” he underlined.

7/10 mark

But Dubai resident Wilbert Sayson is still confident of President Duterte.

Wilbert Sayson

“As an OFW, I will rate his government seven out of 10. Although he failed to control the number of COVID cases, we could also attribute this to the lack of discipline by many Filipinos,” he explained.

Sayson also pointed corruption in the distribution of ayuda (Filipino term for aid) in the local government level. “Yes, corruption was blatant but the President obviously could not control everything,” he added.

‘I voted for him’

Dr. Rex Venard Bacarra, dean of General Education and professor of Philosophy at American College of Dubai, said: “I still give my highest respect to the President, and I think he is doing his best like other leaders during these trying times. But the government’s handling of the pandemic is fraught with incompetence.”

He explained: “Going by the numbers, the COVID-19 infection has now surpassed 80,000, with the number of active cases currently standing at over 54,000 which is currently the highest in Southeast Asia.”

“Although we can say many Filipinos lack discipline but it is hard to argue with numbers. A global concern of this scale needs good leaders and the citizens’ cooperation. Without the active collaboration of both, there is no way out of this predicament and will only result in more infections and deaths,” he added.

Bacarra continued: “I like Duterte and I love the Philippines. I still believe he has the will, and his heart has the intention to make the Philippines better, although I can also see how his methods can go to absolute extremes. I voted for him, and I sense the vestiges of genuineness in his intentions, but recent events have changed my assessment.”

More COVID tests needed

Long-time Dubai resident Josephine Alava Sanchez, who works as commercial director, added the Philippine government should focus more on curbing the spread of COVID-19. “More testing must be done to resolve the health crisis,” she noted.

Romeo III Tumayao Puncia, 33, an emergency medical technician and ultra-athlete residing in Al Ain, said Filipinos inside and outside of the country must give full support to President Duterte.

“I also voted for him and I did not regret that decision. Instead of complaining, why not be a part of the solution by helping our kababayans (countrymen) who are in need,” Puncia said.

Susan Francisco, Dubai resident and financial advisor, said: “Amidst the controversies surrounding the president, I hoped he just cooled down and focused more on issues that hounded many Filipinos.”

Susan Francisco

“There should have been concrete programmes that addressed the problems of unemployment brought about by the pandemic and a more concrete recovery plan post Covid,” she added.

Proper strategy needed

Ion Gonzaga, 36, blogger and 14 years UAE resident, told Gulf News: “The (Philippine) government did not handle COVID-19 with top urgency. It lacked proper strategy and many Filipinos did not feel the president’s empathy because of his inconsistent policies.”

“Many Filipinos were frustrated because of the government’s leniency with political allies who violated the laws themselves. There were bad decisions and I hope the government will rectify these and put in place a proper strategy and clever plan to address COVID-19 issues, including rising unemployment,” Gonzaga underlined.

Another Dubai resident, Rem Sagarino, added: “In my opinion, the President needs to focus in handling the COVID-19 crisis. The plight of LSIs (locally-stranded individuals), unemployment, and hospital capacity need to be addressed soon.”

“The Congress should immediately pass the bill that will provide the funds to resolve the pandemic. Controversial bills are not a priority for a country greatly affected by COVID-19. As an OFW, I believe the (Duterte) government must double its effort. May God bless our President and the country,” he prayed.