Philippines' Duterte ditches the glitz for frugal national address

MANILA New Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will lay out his goals for his six-year term on Monday and has set a simple tone for his inaugural national address by ordering the event stripped of its trademark swank and opulence.

For years the State of the Nation Address has been one of the top events on the social calendar of the country’s political and showbiz elite, but Duterte has scaled back its budget and told guests to dress down, and leave the posh gowns and designer clothes at home.

The SONA, as it is known in the Philippines, attracts a similar kind of attention on a domestic level as its equivalent in the United States, but with activities on the red carpet usually overshadowing the presidents’ messages.

Filipinos are keen to hear what Duterte wider plans and priorities are, having elected him to office largely on his anti-crime platform. He has yet to elaborate on his plans to tackle poverty and boost infrastructure, and he has been unusually quiet in the wake of the country’s victory in an arbitration case against China over the South China Sea.

The firebrand former city mayor, dubbed “the punisher”, is known less for his rousing speeches and more for entertaining, unscripted and usually profane remarks.

Monday’s address has been carefully choreographed, and therefore completely out of character for Duterte. His head of communications, Martin Andanar, said the speech would “awaken the patriot in every Filipino”.

His aides say he authored the speech himself, while a former winner of the Best Director prize at the Cannes Film Festival has been tasked with ensuring the filming of the event screened live captures the shots the president wants.

The content of the speech remains a secret but it is expected to focus largely on the law and order drive Duterte promised during a bellicose election campaign that carried the logo of a clenched fist, and won him 16 million votes.

His first month in office has seen scores of drug dealers killed and thousands of users surrender to the authorities. Duterte has not commented officially on the deaths, most of which police say were in self defence.

His public approval rating is 91 percent.

Jose Apolinario Lozada Jr, a former ambassador who advises Duterte on foreign affairs, said that although the event had a script, there was no guarantee Duterte would stick to it.

“We’ll really have to watch to see how he’s going to shift from what is written and what is prepared to what’s in the back of his mind,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Robert Birsel)