Philippine economy

Expect little talk on security issues in Duterte’s SONA – analysts

JC Gotinga
Expect little talk on security issues in Duterte’s SONA – analysts

Malacañang photo

Security threats like terrorism and Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea won't figure much in Duterte's yearly address but most Filipinos won't mind it, analysts say

MANILA, Philippines – Chinese boats in the West Philippine Sea and suicide bombers in Sulu make for a grim picture of the country’s security situation, so don’t expect President Rodrigo Duterte to bring them up in his upcoming State of the Nation Address (SONA), said analysts from the University of the Philippines.

“I’d say, yes, of course he should talk about it, right?” said Herman Joseph Kraft, convenor of the Strategic Studies Program at UP Center for Integrative and Development Studies (CIDS).

“But if this is about the President, then we should understand the choices he is making about which kinds of ideas he can put forward and for what purposes.”

Kraft was among 8 UP professors who led a roundtable on Wednesday, July 17, about Duterte’s SONA set for Monday, July 22.

Duterte pretty much avoided tackling external security in his past SONAs, Kraft said, noting that Duterte hardly touched on foreign incursions into the West Philippine Sea and international terrorist groups gaining a foothold in the Philippines in his past addresses.

The President earlier said he would use his SONA to “educate” the public about his supposed “fishing deal” with the Chinese in the West Philippine Sea. Kraft said it is characteristic of Duterte to add a “twist” whenever he mentions the subject, usually to avoid antagonizing China.

The latest Pulse Asia survey showed the recent Recto Bank incident in which a Chinese vessel hit and abandoned a Filipino fishing crew did not make a dent on Duterte’s popularity. News of a Filipino suicide bomber in Sulu probably won’t change that either, Kraft said, because the rest of the country tends to “ignore what happens in Mindanao.”

“Violent extremism in the Bangsamoro, I think, will not sail that much in the SONA of President Duterte,” Julkipli Wadi, project leader of the Islamic Studies Program at UP CIDS, told the forum.

Although the Duterte administration has managed to start Muslim Mindanao’s transition into the Bangsamoro political unit, Wadi said there are many loose ends that Duterte would find difficult to explain or justify.

For instance, Duterte must be aware that foreign governments will be listening to his speech, including those that gave assistance to war-torn Marawi City.

“From the perspective of foreign governments, ‘How could we help you this time, when you have shown a poor showcase of Marawi in terms of its rehabilitation?’” Wadi said.

Duterte could so far only express frustration at the slow pace of the Bangsamoro transition, and concern over the emergence of alleged suicide attacks – nothing in the way of a “concrete legacy” with which to impress observers of his program for Mindanao.

“The liberation of Marawi did not necessarily end radicalism. The preconditions of violence and ideology that spawned the war in Marawi have simply morphed into new forms,” Wadi added.

Middle class issues

Duterte’s Cabinet have started the practice of holding “pre-SONA” forums to enumerate their agencies’ accomplishments ahead of the actual SONA.

Because of this, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Duterte won’t have to say much in his own speech anymore, and so it will be “short.”

On Wednesday, the Cabinet’s Security, Justice and Peace Cluster gave its pre-SONA forum in Davao City.

The West Philippine Sea, violent extremism, and the communist insurgency took up much of the speeches by the Cabinet members, who diligently outlined their accomplishments.

“The problem is, unlike the SONA which is really political theater and everybody actually watches it, yung mga pre-SONA forum, sino yung nandoon? (those pre-SONA forums, who shows up for those forums?)” Kraft said.

Besides, even if Duterte brought up national security in his SONA, analysts at the UP CIDS forum said most Filipinos wouldn’t pay attention to it anyway.

The Filipinos who trust and approve of Duterte the most are the poor, according to the same Pulse Asia survey. Kraft said sovereignty and national security are “middle class issues.”

Malayo sa tiyan ’yan. (That’s far from the gut.) So we can talk about sovereignty and all of that but who responds to that, right?” –

For highlights of President Duterte’s 4th SONA, check out our live blog.

For related stories, visit Rappler’s 2019 State of the Nation Address page. 

Rappler takes a deeper look at the first half of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency – its highs and lows, its achievements and shortcomings: 
Duterte Year 3: The Halfway Mark 

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.


JC Gotinga

JC Gotinga often reports about the West Philippine Sea, the communist insurgency, and terrorism as he covers national defense and security for Rappler. He enjoys telling stories about his hometown, Pasig City. JC has worked with Al Jazeera, CNN Philippines, News5, and CBN Asia.