President Rodrigo Duterte focused on topics such as illegal drugs, corruption, death penalty, tourism, communications, Bangsamoro Organic Law, education, overseas Filipino workers, West Philippine Sea, poverty, tax reform, salary increase for government workers, disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM), water, land use, agriculture, and the Metro Manila traffic in his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), July 22.
The holding of the SONA is a constitutional obligation delivered by the President every year. Presidents are expected to report the state of the nation, their plans for the coming year, and legislative agenda during SONAs.
Duterte, who was nearly an hour late, started his midterm SONA boasting his high approval and trust ratings, and the landslide victory of his bets in the senatorial race of the May 13, 2019 National and Local Elections. “Numbers speak a thousand words and tell a hundred tales. But the landslide victory of the Administration candidates as well as the latest survey results show that my disapproval rating is 3%,” said Duterte.
Corruption, illegal drugs, and government service
The President did not hesitate to show how he was apparently frustrated because of the continuing corruption and illegal drug problem, which he earlier said he could solve in three to six month’s time if he were elected President. Duterte bared in his speech that it is “selfishness” that allows these to continue. He said, “[t]he illegal drug problem persists. Corruption continues and emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives… it is a sad commentary that we cannot distinguish our need from our greed, our principles from our prejudices, the real from the fake, and the truth from a lie. The reason is because that many of us, what matters above all is the “self.” It is selfishness [at] its worst for no purpose other than personal aggrandizement.” He then asked Congress to pass a law that will reinstate the imposition of death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs and for plunder as a solution to these woes.
He has also asked government workers to simplify government transactions. “‘Pag hindi pa ninyo nagawa ‘yan ngayon, papatayin ko talaga kayo,” Duterte warned. He continued his speech encouraging citizens to file complaints of delinquent, lazy, and corrupt government employees, saying citizens can slap them. “Kayo rin kasi sinasabi ko na sa inyo, be assertive. At ‘pag kayo o ikaw hiningian more than the required payment by government at humingi pa sa iyo, I’ve been telling you mag-eskandalo kayo sa opisina. Make a scene. Sampalin mo ‘yang p***** i** na ‘yan,” Duterte said. He added citizens can utilize the government hotline service to complain.
Later in his speech, Duterte likewise instructed Eduardo Año, Department of the Interior and Local Government Secretary, to be on top of ensuring that local government units (LGUs) process and release permits and clearances within three days.
The President’s legislative agenda
Duterte also asked Congress to pass laws that will create department-level agencies that are expected to oversee efforts, initiatives, and programs for overseas Filipino workers, water resources, and DRRM. The President made the request amid persistent cases of abuse experienced by Filipinos working abroad, the continuing low water supply experienced in Metro Manila, and the threat of earthquakes and powerful typhoons.
Duterte reiterated his call to Congress to pass the second package of the Administration’s Comprehensive Tax Reform Program through the TRABAHO Bill as a means to further the government’s poverty reduction programs. The said bill primarily aims to lower the corporate income tax and rationalize fiscal incentives given to private firms. “It will energize our MSMEs and encourage them to expand their business and hopefully generate… [1.4] million jobs in the coming years. The MSMEs hold the promise of raising a lot of the Filipinos,” Duterte explained. Aside from the TRABAHO Bill, the President also urged Congress to pass bills that would raise excise taxes on tobacco and alcohol.
“I therefore believe that it is now time for Congress to approve a new version of the Salary Standardization Law. Ngayon na.“ Citing teachers and nurses in particular, President Duterte manifested his desire to increase the salary of those working in the government.
According to the Chief Executive, Congress has to postpone the 2020 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections to October 2022 due to “truncated terms,” pass a National Land Use Act to “meet the demands of foreign investors,” and require the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) for Grades 11 and 12.
West Philippine Sea
“The avoidance of conflict—armed conflict—and protection of our territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act.” This is what started what would be a lengthy discussion of President Duterte of the West Philippine Sea. Per his usual statements, the President warned of war should the Philippines continue “standing up” against the super power that is China. “A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake. I am not ready or inclined to accept the occurrence of more destruction, more widows and more orphans, should war, even on a limited scale, breaks out.”
Duterte explained that it is better that he resolve the issue in a “peaceful way.” He said “more and better results can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in public.” He further explained that the West Philippine Sea issue is a complex one.
“The enemy is us.”
President Duterte also made mention of how government workers—employees and officials alike—have led and contributed in the perpetuation of corruption in the Philippine society. “The enemy is us. We are our own tormentors. We are our own demons,” the President said.
“Our goal for the next three years is clear: a comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos. We have made significant strides and accomplished signal milestones as a nation in the past three years. This momentum must continue with greater fervor in the next three years and beyond,” Duterte ended.