President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in his third State of the Nation Address on July 23, 2018. Image courtesy of PCOO/ROBINSON NIÑAL JR.
QUEZON CITY, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte did not veer away from his script during his 48-minute-long State of the Nation Address on Monday (July 23) at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, contrary to earlier expectations that the President might opt for an extemporaneous speech.
His moment was almost snatched after more than an hour delay because of a sudden “leadership row” at the House of Representatives between House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Pampanga Representative Gloria Arroyo.
But as the saying goes, “the show must go on” for the President and here are the main points of his third SONA.
War on Drugs
The President began his speech emphasizing on his government’s top campaign – the war on illegal drugs. He said “the illegal drugs war will not be sidelined. Instead, it will be as relentless and chilling…as on the day it began.”
He also slammed critics of his anti-drug policy stressing on the “terrible harm that they cause to the people and communities” and the future, especially to the youth. He said human rights advocates and church leaders criticizing the government on war on drugs are “misdirected.”
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” the President said.
“You worry about the present; I am concerned [about] both the present and the future. I worry about the future because I know what crimes can do to the youth of this country. If not stopped, crimes can make human cesspools of succeeding generations. I will not allow it to happen. Not during my term,” he added.
Lower price of rice
The President vowed to provide a long-term solution to the country’s rice problems such as rice shortage and high prices. He said that lowering the price of rice is a top agenda.
As he certified it as urgent, the President asked Congress to prioritize the passage of a rice tariff system.
“We need to switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system where rice can be imported more freely. This will give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to 7 pesos per kilo, and lower inflation significantly,” he said.
He warned “rice hoarders, cartels and their protectors” to stop their illegal practices as he directed “all intelligence agencies to unmask the perpetrators of this economic sabotage.”
Likewise, the President urged Congress to “pass at the soonest possible time the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund” that would help the coconut farmers.
TRAIN will not stop
In his speech, the President stressed that the government will not allow the suspension of the implementation of TRAIN or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law as it is needed for the country’s sustainable growth and has helped improve infrastructure.
“TRAIN is already helping poor families and senior citizens cope up with rising prices…We cannot and should not. We need this for sustainable growth that leaves no Filipino left behind,” he said.
Thus, he urged Congress to pass all five packages of the administration’s Comprehensive Tax Reform Program (CTRP). These packages will include additional taxes on alcohol, tobacco, and reform in property valuation, reform in capital income and financial taxes, and an amnesty program
President Duterte was pleased to announce that the government’s campaign against contractualization and the end-of-contract scheme or Endo “has resulted in the regularization of more than 300,000 workers as of early this month.” He added that through Executive Order 51, workers will somehow get the protection of their rights to security of tenure.
The President, however, said that though he understands that the E.O. does not satisfy all sectors, he does not have the power under the Constitution to end the said labor scheme.
“That is why I add mine to their voices in asking Congress to pass legislation ending the practice of contractualization once and for all,” he said.
On Mining and the Environment
The President emphasized in his SONA that “the protection of the environment must be the top priority and extracted resources must be used for the benefit of the Filipino people, not just a selected few.”
Thus, he warned the mining industry of “restrictive policies” not just taxes, if mining operators continue to compromise the country’s resources and destroy the environment.
“I warn irresponsible miners, along with their patrons, to stop destroying our watersheds, recharge areas, forests, and aquatic resources,” he said.
He ordered the mining operators to “repair what they have mismanaged.” The President warned them of “radical reforms” and among them is the prohibition of open-pit mining.
“For as long as I am here I said: you will just have to contend with me. I expect you to do your part in ensuring our nation’s sustainable development, starting now,” the President stressed.
The President also urged the Senate to urgently pass the National Land Use Act “to put in place a national land use policy that will address our competing land requirements for food, housing, businesses, and environmental conservation.”
He stressed that what happened to Boracay is an indication of the decade-long mismanagement of the country’s land that resulted to abuse and destruction.
The President said his Cabinet already approved “for immediate endorsement to Congress the passage of a law creating the Department of Disaster Management.”
“We need a truly empowered department characterized by a unity of command, science-based approach and full-time focus on natural hazards and disasters, and the wherewithal to take charge of the disaster risk reduction; preparedness and response; with better recovery and faster rehabilitation,” he said.
On Friendship and Corruption
President Duterte said that though he values his friends, he is willing to let go of them if they go against his anti-corruption policies.
“I value friendship. Make no mistake about it. But it has its limit…Do not make it lonelier by forcing me to end our friendship because you gave me a reason to end it,” he said.
Duterte has fired several high ranking officials, who were close to him because of corruption allegations. However, he remained under fire after some officials accused of irregularities remained close to the President such as Agriculture Undersecretary Pompee La Viña, former Customs Commissioner-turned Civil Defense administrator Nicanor Faeldon, and Pampanga Representative Gloria Arroyo.
The President also issued a stern warning against government agencies particularly under the executive branch which was reported to have the most number of red tape complaints.
“I particularly call the attention of the agencies with the [most] number of red tape-related reports from the public, make your services truly customer-friendly. Our people deserve efficient, effective, and responsive government services. They deserve nothing less,” he said.
He also directed all local government units to implement the law on ease of doing business and make the process simpler.
President Duterte expressed confidence that the Filipino people will support him in achieving his campaign promise of shifting to a federal form of government.
“I am confident that the Filipino people will stand behind us as we introduce this new fundamental law that will not only strengthen democratic institutions but will also create an environment where every Filipino… will have an equal opportunity to grow and create a future,” he said.
The Consultative Committee formed by the President has submitted a draft federal charter to Congress.
Bangsamoro Organic Law
The President promised to sign the Bangsamoro Organic law within two days in his commitment that his administration “will never deny our Muslim brothers and sisters the basic legal tools to chart their own destiny within the Constitutional framework of our country.”
Duterte said “the law has been passed actually,” but he asked for the next 48 hours to read, sign and ratify the law to make sure that nothing unconstitutional has been inserted therein.
The President was supposed to make history by signing the BOL during his SONA. However, the signing was delayed after the Lower House failed to ratify it due to the “power struggle” on House Speakership hours before the SONA. The Senate ratified the BOL without objection even earlier on Monday. — UNTV News & Rescue