Highlights and Insights: President Rodrigo Duterte’s first SONA

Last July 25, 2016, newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), a speech traditionally delivered by the incumbent President of the Republic every year on this month in the august halls of Congress.

He started by taking the moral high ground; conveying clearly that he will not play the blame game with the past administration, which he acknowledged in his other public speeches to have done well in many respects. He committed to be more forward-looking.

As expected, he reiterated his campaign battlecry to eradicate illegal drugs, criminality, and corruption in the government bureaucracy. He admitted to the complexity of these challenges, and the need for all instrumentalities of government to cooperate and jiu-jitsu their way in this fight.

Interspersed throughout his speech was his repeated commitment that this will be a clean government.

Fight Against Criminality and Illegal Drugs
From his SONA we can expect that the “fight against criminality and illegal drugs and corruption will be relentless and sustained.” He committed to muster the force of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in this campaign. But first he intends to clean up the PNP ranks by ordering the National Police Commission (NAPOLCOM) to hasten the conduct of investigation and adjudication of administrative cases against police officers involved in criminal activities and illegal activities and prescribe policies on lifestyle checks for PNP members. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) was also directed to strictly monitor how LGUs perform their supervision functions of the police and those found not performing will be sanctioned including the loss of police deputation from the NAPOLCOM. He envisions to create an Inter-Agency Committee on Illegal Drugs that will integrate efforts and strengthen the partnership of all stakeholders.

The President also was clear about what to do towards rehabilitation of drug users. He mandated the increase of residential treatment and rehabilitation facilities in all regions of the country, with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) facilitating the preparation for the use of military camps and facilities for drug rehabilitation.
Laudably, he also committed to intensify the war against human traffickers and illegal recruiters that prey on migrants. He placed it in parity with illegal drugs.

Improving Access to the Justice System
He has made a very clear commitment to speed up the wheels of justice and look into the equity, fairness and speedy disposition of cases. As a former prosecutor, he committed to wage war against those who make a mockery of laws through tactics to delay court proceedings. He mentioned equal treatment and equal protection for the people. To address backlogs and low prosecutorial effectiveness and efficiency, the investigation and case management processes shall be streamlined including those for illegal drugs and heinous crimes. He also asked Congress to enact the Whistleblower Protection Law while the present Witness Protection Program shall be strengthened. The number of lawyers and support staff in the Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) regional and district offices shall be increased to provide indigents with more access to counsels.

Human Rights, Social Justice
On human rights, he committed that his administration shall be sensitive to the State’s obligations to promote, protect, and fulfil the human rights of our citizens, especially the poor, the marginalized and the vulnerable. Social justice will be pursued and the rule of law shall at all times prevail. He also committed to implement a human approach to development and governance, as we improve our people’s welfare in the areas of health, education, adequate food and housing, environmental preservation, and respect for culture. For informal settlers, he mandated that there should be no demolitions without relocation. He also vowed to protect women’s rights and people against human rights abuses. He thus ordered agencies and oversight bodies and local government units down to the Barangay level to fully implement the Magna Carta for Women.

Indigenous Peoples
He recognized that the government has already issued the Ancestral Certificates Domain Title covering vast tracts of land especially in the Island of Mindanao. The Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Act (IPRA Law) and the National Commission (NCIP) on Indigenous Peoples are in place to protect the IP communities. He said that since the government has given them the legal tool to improve themselves financially, economically and socially, the IPs should make use of their ancestral domains and not let them remain idle.

Peace and Security
His government intends to address the grievances that have been time and again expressed, not only by the Bangsamoro but also by other indigenous peoples and other groups for security, development, fair access to decision-making and acceptance of identities. He also recognized the role of the international community on the aspect of peace processes, stating that the Philippines shall remain committed to work under and with international partners achieving lasting peace and progress in the country. In the effort to reach out a hand of friendship, the President declared a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately, calling for the leader of the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly.

Relatedly, he tackled the issue of internal security threats ,transnational crimes and fanatical terrorism, aggravated by the existence and activities of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. He committed to apply the full force of the AFP to crush these rogue and lawless elements. He also recognized the need to strengthen coordination with Indonesia and Malaysia to suppress the kidnappings especially in the South.

Fight Against Poverty
To strengthen the delivery of social services, the government will intensify its protection programs, so it can use its resources and expertise to make a dent in the country’s poverty levels. He wanted genuine efforts to reduce the vulnerabilities, build resiliency and empower individuals, families and communities. Thus, he said that the beneficiaries of 4Ps (a program to assist the poor through educational support) shall be made to become independent and self-reliant after they have graduated from the program.

Economy and Taxation
Recognizing that what has been achieved by the previous administration need not be reinvented, he committed continuity as regards macroeconomic management, highlighting the importance of prudent fiscal and monetary policies that can help translate high growth into more and better job creation and poverty reduction. He also emphasized investments in human capital and ensure equal access to economic opportunities.

He envisions to pursue tax reforms towards a simpler, and more equitable, and more efficient tax system that can foster investment and job creation. He promised to lower personal and corporate income tax rates and relax the bank secrecy laws. He recognized that at the household level, sufficient income for all Filipinos to meet the basic food and non-food needs for their families is important.

Bureaucracy and Red Tape
The President also envisioned to enhance local business environment by addressing bottlenecks in business registration and processing, streamlining investment application process and integration the services of various government offices. He committed that processing time in issuing permits and licenses shall be reduced to the barest minimum.

He also tasked the Land Transportation Office (LTO) to lengthen the validity of driver’s licenses, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to lengthen the validity of Philippine passports. Documentary requirements shall also be streamlined.

Infrastructure Development
He intends to build more access roads and tourism gateways to service centers and tourist sites. Road development projects shall complement with the thrust to provide modern agriculture, irrigation facilities and establishment of modern harvest and post-harvest facilities to minimize losses. He also espoused acceleration of infrastructure spending by improving national roads and bridges and implementing the Mindanao Logistics Infrastructure Network and other road network master plans, and also pursue inter-island linkage projects. For Metro Manila, he committed to implementing structural mitigation measures to address of the perennial flooding in Metro Manila and neighbouring areas. New pumping stations shall be built in strategic places. The revival of the operation of the Pasig River Ferry Service System was also mentioned as a viable option for the severe traffic congestion in Metro Manila, serving as an alternative mode of transportation. Upgrading and improvement of the light rails transit systems will also be pursued.

Elsewhere, he plans to build more rail projects, such as Mindanao Rail Project, the Davao Transit System, the Cebu Transit System, the North and South Luzon Railways and the Panay Railways Project.

The Clark Airport is envisioned to be the main airport gateway. But it will require building a rail system to connect Metro Manila to Clark Airport.
Related to telecommunications, he directed the newly-created Department of Information and Communication Technology (DICT) to develop a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the deployment of fibre optics cables and wireless technologies to improve internet speed.
He also came up with some directives towards speeding up developments in the power sector.

He is bent to intensify the fight against illegal logging, illegal mining and other destructive practices that aggravate the devastation of our natural resources. The Laguna Lake shall be transformed into a vibrant economic zone showcasing ecotourism by addressing the negative impact of the watershed destruction, land conversion and pollution. To have adequate disposal facilities for the Metro Manila Garbage, the final closure and rehabilitation of the Carmona Sanitary Landfill shall be pursued while the adoption of appropriate waste-to-energy facilities will be explored. When it comes to the environment, he committed that the interest of the country must come first.

Education and Health
He plans to increase spending on basic education and incorporate mandatory education about the evils of drugs, and intensify and expand Alternative Learning System (ALS) programs. The professional competence and operational capabilities of government hospitals and health facilities will be strengthened.
Foreign Relations in the Region

He committed to develop partnerships with nations sharing common interests and concerns with the Philippines and maintain and sustain bilateral and multilateral consultations and dialogues. His exact words were: “With regard to the West Philippine Sea otherwise known as [South] China Sea, we strongly affirm and respect the outcome of the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of our disputes.”

He pushed for the people to consider a modified form of Federalism as the form of government, and directed the DILG to undertake nationwide information and campaign on federalism in partnerships with various alliances and with LGU, civil society, grassroots and faith-based organizations. He linked it as a lasting solution to the plight of the people of Muslim Mindanao.

Freedom of Information (FOI)
He tasked the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) to coordinate the implementation of the recently approved Executive Order on the Freedom of Information, which aims to make transparency and integrity as yardsticks in government performance, savings and expenses while engaging the public to be vigilant in participating in government programs and projects.

To better manage public information, he asked Congress to create the People’s Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), replacing PTV-4, the government-run TV station, which now aims to replicate international government broadcasting networks, observing editorial independence through innovative programs and intelligent treatment and analysis of news reports, as well as developments of national and international significance. He aims to integrate the government’s Bureau of Broadcast Services, better known as the Radyo ng Bayan, with the PBC. He aims to put up broadcast hubs in the Visayas and Mindanao. Davao City will also be the first site of the first Muslim channel, to be called Salaam Television, and the first Lumad channel.

Occasionally the President veered away from his prepared speech and spoke extemporaneously, at times with humorous undertones. It seems to have been done deliberately in order to connect with the person in the street. Overall it was a good SONA that aimed to clarify to the people the directions which he plans to take regarding the many issues and concerns faced by his administration.

It was evident that the three-pronged fight against criminality, illegal drugs and corruption in government will be at the forefront of his attention. It is nevertheless comforting to hear him cover the whole gamut of other issues, from environment to foreign relations, that will need government’s attention, many of which have direct impact on the ease of doing business in the country. He gave due attention to inadequacy of infrastructure red tape issues, which in many ways are the sources of culture shocks and create profound effects on the temperament of foreign investors. It would have been also good if it was mentioned in the SONA how the present government will replicate the success of PEZA as an effective and consistent approach.

The matter of federalism as a form of government has been a subject of prolonged discussions in the past, but mentioning it in the SONA in the context of addressing the concerns of the Bangsamoro people encourages the people to revisit the pros and cons again in a different light.

He signed the Executive Order on the Freedom of Information within the first 25 days of his term, showing the ability of his administration to act on issues with decisiveness. In a country where strong political will is required in order to move things forward, his leadership style might just exactly be what is needed for the Philippines to continue rising economically and socially, following the upward trend set by the previous government.

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by: Rodolfo T. Azanza, Jr.