President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his sixth and final State of the Nation Address last July 26 at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City. Clocking a little less than three hours—the longest address on record since former President Ferdinand Marcos—Duterte’s speech looked back on what he considered were the accomplishments of his administration before and during the pandemic.
“Never did I imagine that my presidency would not only be judged by how I made good on my campaign promises…but by how well I led our nation during the global pandemic,” remarked Duterte, who has been receiving constant criticism for his handling of the health crisis.
Economic recovery, pandemic response
Duterte acknowledged health workers, frontliners, international partners, and local government units for their contributions to the country’s ongoing fight against COVID-19. In recognizing the private sector’s aid to the government despite the “deleterious effect of the pandemic to [their] respective industries,” he assured that the government is committed to assist the sector in its recovery.
The administration’s main strategy to help Filipinos fare through the crisis, he explained, was by prioritizing increased spending. The Bayanihan to Heal as One Act and its extensions granted the President additional authority over monetary and fiscal policies, sponsoring the launch of “the most extensive” cash transfer programs during the height of strict lockdowns.
However, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Monday, before the address, that the second extension of the Bayanihan law failed to disburse about P63 billion of approved funds.
Meanwhile, as more than 17 million Filipinos have already received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, Duterte implored more citizens to get vaccinated, reasoning that while the government’s health and safety protocols have “proven effective” in slowing the virus’ spread, the best solution is still vaccination.
But as the country sees new cases of the Delta variant, Duterte admitted, “I really do not know what to do. I have to listen to the Task Force (IATF),” lamenting that he may have to reimplement strict lockdown measures should the new virus strain cause a surge. “Maybe we will just have to pray for salvation.”
Increased infra spending, major laws passed
“Five years ago, the first thing I made sure [of] was to increase our infrastructure spending to an average of five percent of the country’s GDP,” Duterte recalled. He attributed the increased spending to the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program—a flagship project of his administration.
Aside from land transportation projects such as the LRT-2 East Extension project and the Stage 3 of the Metro Manila Skyway, Duterte claimed that the MRT-3’s services have also improved, with the rail lines no longer experiencing breakdowns. “We have taken away the misery of public commuting,” Duterte averred.
He also flaunted that the validity of Philippine passports were extended to 10 years and of driver’s licenses to five and that government processes were streamlined under the Ease of Doing Business Act of 2018. Duterte avowed that queuing was supposedly eliminated during his presidency.
He pointed out the passage of social and economic legislation such as the Rice Tariffication Law, the Coconut Farmers and Industry Trust Fund Act, the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, and the Universal Health Care Act.
Duterte also lauded Sen. Bong Go, his former personal aide, for authoring the Malasakit Centers Act of 2019, which established one-stop healthcare shops across the country.
Drugs, corruption remain unaddressed
Solving drugs and corruption were recurring points in Duterte’s speech. He admitted that these were still rife in the government despite being five years into his term.
Calling back to his campaign promise of solving the drug issue in six months, he revealed that he originally thought that coercion, intimidation, and bribery—strongman tactics he said he employed when he was still Davao City mayor—would work on a national scale but that he soon discovered that high ranking police officials were also active in the distribution of drugs.
He concluded that corruption cannot be stopped unless the government is overturned. “If I were the next president, if you think there’s really a need for you to change everybody in the system, then you declare martial law and fire everybody and allow the new generation to come in to work for the government,” he uttered.
Internal security, WPS dispute
He also lauded the modernization efforts of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and PNP in response to different security threats in the country, such as the communist insurgency, separatists groups in Mindanao, and criminality. The modernization is also expected to uphold both territorial integrity and security from external threats.
Duterte also celebrated the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which he said deviated from the usual military approach in handling security issues. The organization, he reported, provided infrastructure and livelihood projects to communities where communist insurgents used to operate. More than 17,000 insurgents have since surrendered and have been placed under the Enhanced Community Local Integration Program, claimed the President.
Duterte also highlighted the passing of the Bangsamoro Organic Law, a culmination of decades of peace talks with Muslim rebels which led to the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao from the framework first established by former President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. The president also urged Taskforce Bangon Marawi to finish rehabilitation efforts in Marawi City.
He also criticized the “tribes” in the Middle East that have employed and mistreated Filipino workers and called for the dismantling of the kafala system, which is used to monitor migrant workers, imploring Congress to pass a bill that would create the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos.
Duterte, in addition, thanked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and other countries for supporting the Philippines and professed that the country has moved beyond the “shadows” of powerful countries into asserting “what is rightfully ours.”
And yet he also questioned what he could do with the arbitral ruling on the West Philippine Sea. “What will I do with a document that is not [legally binding for] China because they were never a part of that arbitration? There was really no arbitration at all because it was only the Philippine side [that] was heard,” he remarked. Retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio later refuted this claim, saying that China submitted a position paper on the matter to the arbitral tribunal to present its side but chose not to participate.
Tirades against ABS-CBN, water concessionaires
During his speech, Duterte alleged that ABS-CBN had been “cheating [the] government” of billions in taxes, specifically mentioning that the media and entertainment firm imported tax-free equipment and misdeclared the size of its property—4.4 hectares instead of 40 hectares—to pay less dues.
Duterte’s claims, however, contradict the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s findings in 2020 that ABS-CBN has been “regularly paying taxes for the past years.” Meanwhile, according to ABS-CBN’s regulatory filings submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission and Philippine Stock Exchange, the network’s main office actually is located on a 4.4-hectare property in Quezon City.
The president also railed against water concessionaires, whose companies were granted water service contracts that “burdened consumers with unjustified water price increases.” The consumers shouldered the water concessions’ corporate taxes, he added.
“Ang dalawang [water] concessionaires, one in the south and the one is north, as the rich cartel dito sa Southeast Asia, ang kina-capture nila ang electricity pati tubig,” Duterte claimed without naming the companies.
Duterte warned that even if he signs the revised concession agreements, he can still go after the water concession firms.
Remaining priority bills
Duterte asked Congress to pass several legislations that would establish new government departments—the Philippine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which would focus on disease surveillance; the Virology Institute of the Philippines, which aims to develop virology research; the Department of Disaster Resilience, which seeks to improve natural disaster response and recovery efforts; and the Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos, which will oversee policies protecting the welfare of Overseas Filipino Workers.
The president also called for the approval of a law implementing the Fire Protection Modernization Program.
On economic affairs, Duterte urged Congress to pass amendments to the Foreign Investments Act, Public Service Act, and the Retail Trade Liberalization Act and called upon legislators to pass the E-Governance Act, which will move government processes online.
Duterte also asked lawmakers to pass a Unified System for Separation, Retirement, and Pension of Military and Uniformed Personnel and a law providing free legal assistance to officers and enlisted personnel of the AFP and the PNP.