President Duterte delivers first SONA

Almost a month after his inauguration, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 25 at the Batasang Pambansa. After Duterte vowed to hold only a simple ceremony, Malacañang reminded guests to wear business attire to the SONA and confirmed the “simple Pinoy merienda” menu before the event.

Duterte’s first SONA was marked with personal anecdotes and jokes, and often the President would deviate from his original 38 minute-long speech. The SONA had a runtime of over an hour and a half.

The Philippine National Police reported that Duterte’s first SONA was the “most peaceful” in recent times.

Equal treatment, equal protection

Duterte began by stating he would not be “dwelling on the sins of the past” or blaming the previous administration. It can be noted that in his previous SONAs, former President Benigno S. Aquino III frequently blamed his predecessors for government anomalies.

Despite this, however, Duterte emphasized that those who betray the public’s trust shall not go unpunished. Duterte reiterated his stance that, as a former prosecutor, he believes in equal treatment and equal protection for all. He recalled people’s laments that “justice had become illusory,” and called on his fellow government officials to attend to the urgent need of equity, fairness, and speedy disposition of cases. He also pledged to “wage war against those who make a mockery of our laws” and underscored the need for equal treatment and equal protection of the Filipino people.

Duterte also revealed his belief that despite being a “stickler for the principle of separation between the Church and the State,” they should never be separated.

The continuing war on drugs

Early on in his speech, Duterte also emphasized his stand on the war on drugs, and highlighted that the fight against criminality and illegal drugs in the country will be “relentless and sustained.”

“We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier, and the last pusher have surrendered or are put either behind bars or below the ground, if they so wish,” he stressed.

He called on the National Police Commission to speed up the investigation and adjudication of investigation cases against police officers involved in criminal and illegal activities, and to prescribe lifestyle checks for policemen.

Duterte also mentioned that reservists will be tasked to mobilize for an information campaign against drug use and about drug rehabilitation programs of the government.

Despite having previously quoted as saying that drug pushers are better off dead  than stay in rehabilitation centers, Duterte also said that rehabilitation of drug users must be a priority. To aid in this endeavor, he said that the Armed Forces of the Philippines will be tapped for the use of military facilities for drug rehabilitation.

Human rights and dignity

Duterte mentioned that the people need to feel secure in order for there to be “real, tangible, and felt development.” He vowed to promote and protect the rights of the citizens, especially the poor, marginalized, and vulnerable. “Social justice shall be pursued, even as the rule of law shall prevail at all times,” he further stated.

Duterte proclaimed that human rights must work to uplift human dignity, but cannot be used as an excuse to destroy the country. Duterte previously called the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) “naive”  when the constitutional office pointed out a possible violation of the law when Duterte made a rape joke during the campaign period. The CHR has also called out Duterte for the spate of killings as a result of his call to wage war on drugs, but Duterte has stated he will maintain his stance on the said killings.

Related read: Getting to know President Duterte

Non-traditional threats

To answer the challenges of non-traditional threats of transnational crimes, and fanatical terrorism, Duterte said that amendments on laws on human terrorism, terrorism financing, and cybercrime will be made to strengthen counter-terrorism programs. Meanwhile, on global warming, Duterte maintained that while it should be a top priority, it must not stifle the country’s industrialization.

Duterte also commented that the outcome of the case of the West Philippine Sea before the Permanent Court of Arbitration is important for the country in pursuing peaceful resolution of territorial disputes in the area. Duterte previously hinted that he was willing to set aside the Hague award  to resume bilateral talks with China regarding the disputes.

Duterte also called on rebel groups to end “centuries of mistrust and warfare.” He also proclaimed a unilateral ceasefire with Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front effective immediately in order to stop violence and restore peace in communities. The ceasefire failed to include the Abu Sayyaf, however, and Duterte has previously stated that he will use the “full force” of the armed forces to “crush” the Abu Sayyaf.

Economics, taxation, human capital

Duterte stated that his administration will continue current macroeconomic policies put into place and even further such policies.

Regarding taxation, Duterte mentioned that his administration will push for a tax system that is simpler and more efficient. He stated that personal and corporate income tax rate will be lowered and the bank secrecy law will be relaxed.

To curb unemployment rates, Duterte said that the administration will continue to attract investments to generate jobs suitable for the poor and less skilled members of the labor force.

Duterte also highlighted the implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which must be “put into full force and effect” in order for couples, especially the poor, to have the freedom of informed choice on the number of children they can provide for, which will then make them more productive members of the workforce.

Related read: Deconstructing Duterte’s 10-point socio-economic agenda

Tourism, ecology, and traffic

Duterte shared that more access roads and tourism gateways will be constructed in service centers and tourist sites. Infrastructure spending will be accelerated by improving national roads and bridges and implementing the Mindanao Logistics Infrastructure Network, along with other road network master plans. Inter-island linkage projects shall also be pursued, according to Duterte.

Additionally, he said that structural mitigation measures shall be implemented to address flooding in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces. Duterte also mentioned the Pasig River Ferry Service System, citing that its revival is a practical solution for the worsening traffic condition in Metro Manila. The ferry service system can serve as an alternate mode of transportation, especially for those coming from Manila, Mandaluyong, Makati, Pasig, Taguig, Marikina, and Quezon City. Since campaigning, Duterte has been a staunch believer of decongesting Metro Manila through dispersal.

On the worsening traffic condition in Metro Manila, Duterte noted that the situation can be addressed if the Congress will accord emergency powers to agencies concerned.

Federalism addressed

Duterte also advised that if ever a federal system of government will be implemented, the role of the president should still exist within the government. He also commented that the system of France should be emulated by the country, so as to not let the government become fully parliamentary.

On transportation woes

Additionally, he is considering the issuance and distribution of license plates through motor vehicle dealers instead of the Land Transportation Office once vehicles are sold.

Similarly, he proposed that the validity of driver’s licenses be extended from three years to five, and for train tickets to be made available at stalls and stores in malls, in order to reduce queuing time at ticketing stations. He also mentioned suggestions to increase the number of running trains, train speed, and headway times for the Light Rail Transit.

To decongest the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Duterte suggested the option to shift operations of domestic and international airlines to the Clark airport, on the condition that a fast railway system similar to a bullet train will be built to transport passengers to and from the airport.

On communications

Duterte ordered the Congress to create the People’s Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) to replace the government-run TV station PTV-4.

On the recent Executive Order on the Freedom of Information signed by Duterte on July 23, he said that the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) will be coordinating with the Office of the Executive Secretary and Presidential Legal Counsel in its implementation.

Duterte also said that the PCO and Office of the Executive Secretary are in the process of creating an Administrative Order on a task force on media killings. “This government does not condone violence and repression of media,” Duterte declared, adding that the bona fide media has always been a partner for change. This declaration comes after he said that corrupt journalists who were slain or killed “deserved” it.

Directives to executive departments, other government agencies

Duterte called on the Congress to enact the Whistleblower Protection Law and to strengthen the Witness Protection Program to “eradicate the prevalent cultures of fear and silence that have hounded our justice system.”

Duterte vowed that the government will work towards amending the 1996 Passport Law to extend the validity of passports from the current five years to 10 years. Duterte also called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to streamline documentary requirements and open more consular offices to decongest Manila sites.

He also called on the newly-created Department of Information and Communications Technology to develop a National Broadband Plan to speed up the process of distributing fiber optic cables targeted at improving internet speed. He also promised free wi-fi access in selected public places.

He also asked the Congress to consider merging agencies to create a department exclusively for overseas workers.

To address squatters proliferating Metro Manila, Duterte said that no demolitions will be conducted without assurances of relocation. He also called on utility companies like Meralco to exercise corporate social responsibility by providing direct utility connections to relocation sites and depressed areas.

Duterte also emphasized the need to industrialize. He also stated he had no qualms about energy emissions. He also hit “ambassadors” for calling out the Philippines to limit its emission levels. In March this year, Duterte called the United Nations and other industrialized nations “hypocrites” for pushing developing countries to take part in combating climate change. Duterte has also stated before that he will not honor the Paris climate pact, which many countries including the Philippines agreed to in December last year.

On social welfare, Duterte stated that the delivery of social services will be strengthened, and vowed that the government will intensify its protection programs to decrease the country’s poverty levels. In addition, Duterte mentioned that the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program will be fortified.

On the education front, Duterte said he plans to increase spending on basic education as well as incorporate mandatory education about the “evils of drugs.” He added that the Alternative Learning System will be intensified and expanded under his administration.

Regarding healthcare, Duterte mentioned that the government will strive to provide universal health insurance for all Filipinos. He also stated that government hospitals and health facilities will be improved.

On women’s rights, Duterte aired his concern that women’s rights must be protected, consistent with the country’s international obligations and national mandate. He ordered all agencies and oversight bodies to implement the Magna Carta for Women.

Finally, Duterte also mentioned the Lumad in his speech. He emphasized that the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples exist to protect and assist them.

Emphasizing the war on drugs

Duterte concluded his speech by again mentioning statistics about the war on drugs. He boasted that 3,600 drug-related arrests have been made and 120,000 drug dependents have surrendered since July 1. “It could take the entire resources of this government to fight this war,” he reiterated. The Philippine Daily Inquirer also estimates that around 364 people have been killed in drug-related circumstances since June 30, and 411 since May 10.

Despite the rampant proliferation of drugs in the country, Duterte said that the people should not despair. “We are imbued with resiliency that has been tested and proven,” he stated.

“And the Filipino, disciplined, informed, involved, shall rise from the rubbles of sorrow and pain,” he ended.

By Paulyn Navarrete

By Althea Gonzales

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