Duterte delivers 5th SONA: Perseverance, patience, determination amid Covid-19 crisis

Amid the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic in the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his 5th State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the House of Representatives on July 27, 2020, before a limited audience of 50 selected Congress and cabinet officials.

Duterte mentioned the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. “We live in a troubled time. Our dream of prosperity for our country was suddenly snuffed by a pandemic virulent virus. No nation was spared. Neither rich nor poor were exempt from the onslaught of this deadly disease.”

“The gains we achieved in the first three and a half years were put to a test when the pandemic suddenly struck the global community. While I am aware that the road towards a comfortable life for all would be far easy if pandemic had not occurred and along the rest of the world we suffered.”

“The global scale and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented. Yet in the throes of this global health emergency, we have been able to withstand the headwinds generated by this coronavirus,” Duterte said.

But he remarked that there is hope for a vaccine to solve the crisis and expressed gratitude to fronliners. “Let us not despair. The vaccine is around the corner. Sooner and not later, the virus that gobbled up thousands of lives will itself be laid to rest,” he said.

“Let us express the nation’s gratitude to those who courageously and willingly put their lives on the line to serve the people and country. We share the griefs of their families and no amount of tears can compensate their great losses,” Duterte said.

Critics and ABS-CBN franchise issue

Duterte said that “while the government focuses its attention and resources to battle the coronavirus, there are those who take advantage of a pre-occupied government.”

Duterte mentioned Senator Franklin Drilon, who according to him “arrogantly mentioned among others that oligarchs need not be rich. Then he linked the anti-dynasty system with oligarchy and the topic was my daughter and son. This happened after the Committee on Franchise voted 70-11 to deny the grant of franchise to ABS-CBN. Obviously, he was defending the Lopezes that they are not oligarchs.”

Duterte said he is a casualty of Lopezes, who used ABS-CBN media outlets to promote political figures in the 2016 election.

Criminals and corruption

Duterte blasted illegal drug peddlers who took advantage of the crisis situation to step up their activities.

He also mentioned corrupt government officials who exploited the fear and confusion in the communities during the pandemic. “The financial and material assistance of the government to the unemployed, the sick and the destitute running into billions of pesos, are not spared from corruption and ineptitude. Even the donations from well-meaning private persons are skimmed before reaching their intended beneficiaries. It is like snatching food from the mouths of babes,” he said.

“If we allow greed, self-interest and ambition to rule us, then as stated by one prominent physician, we will be left with nothing better than the lesser evil instead of the greater good.”

“But let me assure you, for as long as I am President, there can never be a runaway crime in any of our cities. Hindi ako papayag ng ganun. I can assure you we will remain peaceful,” Duterte said.

Government efforts to help the poor and promote economic recovery

Duterte mentioned the efforts of the government to provide assistance to the poor during the crisis:

  • Over 4.3 million poor families benefitted from the Pantawid Pamilya;
  • Over 9.2 million beneficiaries received subsidies under the Unconditional Cash Transfer program;
  • Free tertiary education;
  • Universal health care to increase access to healthcare services by continuously hiring and deploying more than 20,000 health professionals by 2021 that will augment the health workforce in the LGUs, particularly in isolated and disadvantaged areas. Projects to establish and improve Barangay Health Stations, Rural Health Units, and other healthcare facilities will be implemented;
  • Public utility drivers were given assistance through the Pantawid Pasada Program;
  • Streamlining of processes of consular services, building and business permits, and services for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).
  • Passports and drivers’ license validity were lengthened to ease the burden of the public.
  • Infrastructure projects under the Build Build Build Program;

Laws passed and Orders issued

Duterte mentioned the following laws that were approved as among his administration’s achievements:

  • Barangay/Sangguniang Kabataan elections postponement that saved much-needed government funds and ensured the implementation of projects under the current barangay officials;
  • He acknowledged Senator Bong Go’s efforts in the Senate, including the passage of Malasakit Law with 75 centers all over the country;
  • Salary Standardization Law of 2019 that increases the salary of civilian government workers
  • Establishment of the National Academy of Sports that enabled the Philippines to foster pride, patriotism, genuine sportsmanship, and camaraderie during the 2019 Southeast Asian Games.
  • Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act that eliminates overregulation in government services.
  • Executive Order No. 100 establishing the Diversity and Inclusion Program as a national program to end the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression, and other character traits.
  • Executive Order No. 92 creating the National Council Against Child Labor to protect the rights of children will be amplified to prevent, reduce and eliminate any form of child labor, extolled by an overwhelming number of member-States in the UN Human Rights Council at 44th session in June 2020 last June.
  • Executive Order No. 104, imposing ceilings on the retail prices of at least 133 drugs and medicines, and directed a continuous review of the retail prices of others.
  • Administrative Order No. 18, directed concerned agencies to strengthen the development of Special Economic Zones in areas outside Metro Manila.
  • Executive Order No. 114 institutionalized the Balik Probinsya, Bagong Pag-Asa Program to consolidate and refocus existing economic and social welfare programs, activities, and projects toward the countryside.

Economic and fiscal management

The county’s economic and fiscal management remains prudent and the banking system is robust, Duterte said. “We are in a better position to weather the crisis caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.”

  • The Philippines received a BBB plus credit rating despite a sea of credit rating downgrades and negative outlook revisions worldwide. The Japan Credit Rating Agency upgraded the country from BBB plus to A minus in June 2020;
  • Moody’s affirmed and maintained the Philippines’ ratings at Baa2.

Covid-19 mitigation initiatives: “Buhay muna, bago ang lahat”

Duterte said he decided to prioritize life over other considerations when the Covid-19 pandemic struck the country.

  • According to experts, the interventions that the government had put in place prevented as much as 1.3 to 3.5 million infections;
  • There are now 93 accredited testing laboratories nationwide and the government is aiming to conduct 1.4 million tests by the end of July and ensure a quick turnaround time of 48 to 72 hours;
  • Under the Social Amelioration Program, the government we allotted PhP205 billion for poor and low-income households who were affected by the pandemic — who thrive on a “no-work, no-pay” arrangement;
  • The COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program extended financial assistance to over 650,000 affected individuals in the formal sector;
  • The Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers Project (TUPAD) provides temporary wage employments to displaced marginalized workers;
  • through the TUPAD Project. Our indigent senior citizens were also provided with a stipend for the [first] semester of the current year;
  • Bayanihan to Heal as One Act provided the needed funds against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aid to OFWs

To the overseas Filipino workers who face the hardships and challenges in working abroad, Duterte said the government will continue to provide assistance for them and for their families during the pandemic:

  • 110,000 OFWs abroad, and almost 83,000 repatriated OFWs got financial assistance from COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program;
  • The Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) launched an online mode of livelihood and skills training. There are 71 free online training to help upskill trainees for the right opportunities to retool our OFWs so they can find employment opportunities here at home;
  • The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) should provide scholarship programs for the qualified dependents of our OFWs;
  • The Department of Agriculture and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) should come up with agri-business and entrepreneurship projects to help displaced OFWs rebuild their livelihood;
  • The Land Bank of the Philippines (LANDBANK) and other government financial institutions should continue providing low-interest loans to our OFWs.

Economic recovery

To facilitate the country’s economic recovery, Duterted called on Congress to fast-track the passage of the following proposed measures:

  • The Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises or CREATE Act to cut the corporate income levy from the current 30 to 25 percent and give the government flexibility to grant a combination of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, among others;
  • The Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer or FIST Act to set up mechanisms allowing banks and other financial institutions to dispose of and transfer non-performing assets and loans to asset management companies similar to Special Purpose Vehicles.

The government’s economic managers have seen infrastructure investment as an effective tool to help spur high growth, attract investments, create jobs, and achieve financial inclusion for all Filipinos.

  • The Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) has resumed the construction of the North Luzon Expressway Harbor Link, the NLEX-SLEX Connector, the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, the R-1 Bridge Project, the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway Project, and the Subic Freeport Expressway Project, to name a few.
  • To realize the maximum benefit from the country’s investments, the infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build Program, which is labor and capital intensive, are not mere springboards for the country’s swift recovery after the pandemic. They are economic benefits — economic benefits to be distributed to all corners of the country and push sustainability in urban centers, particularly Metro Manila.

Aid to MSMEs

“As we embark on these efforts towards inclusive recovery, we should acknowledge that all forms of government support will go to naught if the new MSMEs do not thrive because of lack of consumer support,” Duterte said.

  • The government will intensify its efforts to help businesses, especially our micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs, by providing responsive government assistance and services, capitalization, and business operations support as we adapt to the next normal;
  • Commercial establishments are requested to give grace periods [or] allow deferment of payments, especially for MSMEs that were forced to close down during the quarantine period. Let us help them recover;
  • To pump-primed the recovery and rehabilitation of MSMEs. The DTI, through the Small Business Corporation, set up the PhP1-billion COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises or CARES Program to provide zero-interest loans for MSMEs affected by the pandemic. As of July 10, 2020, over 2,600 loan applications worth PhP182.5 million have been approved. “We are optimistic that this initiative will help our MSMEs stabilize and recover from their losses,” Duterte said;
  • The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and banks operating in the country should provide regulatory relief for our MSMEs and allow loan payment extensions, without incurring penalties and charges. “We need your help to prevent the collapse of companies saddled with accumulated amortizations and payables caused by the closure of their businesses at the height of the strict quarantine periods,” Duterte said.

Tourism and recreation industries

The tourism and recreation industries, which are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, count on the government for full support. While the country slowly tries to put the fun back in local travels, Duterte said the national government agencies and LGUs must harmonize their policies to boost tourism while ensuring everyone’s well-being. “We enjoin our people to help boost the economy by traveling locally once the necessary systems are in place,” Duterte said.

Online systems

The national government shall lead the way in the country’s transition to online systems. “I reiterate my call for all government instrumentalities to implement systems that shall make physical queuing a thing of the past,” Duterte said.

Duterte directed the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA,) and other concerned agencies and instrumentalities of government to make services available online. “We need to adjust to and adopt a paper-less type of business and work performance. We need e-governance to provide our people with the services they need [from] the comfort of their homes or workplaces. It will enable our bureaucracy to better transition into the ‘new normal’ and cut or minimize red tape.”

The Department of Science and Technology (DoST) offers its Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program to enable businesses to access training that will help them transition to online and contactless operations.

While there are welcome developments for the e-commerce industry, the major economic activities take place in a borderless environment with meager regulatory controls. They expose consumers to various risks related to security, data privacy, and misrepresentation.

In this regard, Duterte directed the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure the empowerment of Filipinos on their consumer rights, and coordinate strategies between public and private organizations in building a fair, safe, resilient, and sustainable economy.

“We must patrol the country’s cyberspace and enforce online consumer and data protection and privacy laws. We must run after online scammers and those undermining the people’s trust in online transactions. We must continue to protect Filipinos in the new normal and remind the world that we are responsible stewards of data. I am committed to protecting both the physical and digital lives of our law-abiding countrymen,” Duterte said.

Online learning systems

Duterte said the government must implement online learning, modular learning, and TV- and radio-based broadcast, which students coming from different backgrounds can avail. The Department of Education
(DepEd) will provide printed modules for those who cannot afford online learning.

In support of the Learning Continuity Program through blended learning, the government plans to increase the number of schools with Information and Communications Technology (ICT) equipment in the coming months.

The DepEd and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) are building up the Public Education Network (PEN) that will connect all public schools and DepEd offices nationwide. “We will prioritize the connection of all Last-Mile Schools and those with no electricity supply can have it via satellite and energized via solar panels. By 2022, before I step down, the PEN shall be realized. [applause] I’m referring to the program. I will — I will do it,” Duterte said.

TV frequencies reverted back to the government for shall be used to cope with the demand of the next normal. These will be used to provide uninterrupted quality education to our children in our shift to e-learning.

The government should come up with an integrated program and implementation mechanism to ensure that these TV frequencies are fully utilized by the government through the facilities of PTV4 for the benefit of the Filipino people, Duterte said.

Warning to telecommunication companies

Duterte called on Globe Telecom and Smart Communications to “improve their services lest we be forced to take drastic steps to address the less-than-ideal service that the public is getting from you.”

Duterte said: “Sometimes we are a government pictured to be weak and incompetent because we cannot really force our mandate. Alam mo itong nagbibigay ng mga public services, you better improve. Huwag naman ninyo kaming pahintayin sampung taon bago kami makakamit ng mga services that the other countries are enjoying. If it’s just a question of added capitalization or the infusion of money, go and look for it. Maghanap kayo because if you are not ready to improve. I might just as well close all of you and we revert back to the line telephone at kukunin ko ‘yan, i-expropriate ko sa gobyerno. I’ll be straight, iyong Smart pati itong Globe, ilang taon na ito, at ang sagot palagi sa akin, “the party cannot be reached. Eh kung ganoon lang naman ibigay ninyo sa amin, we are a republic, a sovereign country, bear that in mind because the patience of the Filipino people is reaching its limit, at I will be the one to articulate the anger of the Filipino people. And you might not want what I intend to do with you.”

“Kindly improve the services before December. I want to call Jesus Christ to Bethlehem. Better have that line cleared. Alam mo sa totoo lang, at the end — naa-ano na ako sa inyo. I have been a citizen of this country and parang nilalaro lang ninyo. Kayong may pera, May pera kayo? Negosyo kayo. Wala kayong pera? Umalis kayo dito. You know, you give us half deals, half-cooked transactions, lousy service. Tapos ang tao nagbabayad.

“Tell us now if you cannot really improve on it because I will work by December. I have two years. The next two years will be spent on improving the telecommunications of this country without you. I will find a way. I will talk to Congress and find a way how to do it.”

Peace and security

Duterte said the government needs to address internal security by pursuing a whole-of-nation approach to bring peace and order and development in the countryside through the implementation of Barangay Development Program. Martial law in Mindanao ended without abuses by the civilian sector, by the police, by the military.

Priority bills

Duterte indicated the priority bills he wanted Congress to pass in the remaining two years of his administration.

  • Establishment of the Department of Overseas Filipinos for addressing the concerns of Filipinos abroad and their families;
  • Reviving the death penalty by lethal injection for crimes specified under the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. “This law will not only help us deter criminality but also save our children from the dangers posed by illegal and dangerous drugs,” Duterte said;
  • The National Housing Development bill and the Rental Housing Subsidy bill to enable all Filipinos—regardless of social status—to live in decent homes where their families can lead meaningful lives;
  • Amendment of Republic Act No. 10912 or the Continuing Professional Development Act of 2016. In this time of great pandemic and forthcoming reconstruction, requiring our professionals to undergo seminars is burdensome and not realistic;
  • Nursing Education Act and the law instituting the Medical Reserve Corps.
  • Creation of National Disease Prevention and Management Authority to better respond to future outbreaks, protect lives, and allow development to proceed even during a pandemic;
  • Unified System of Separation, Retirement, and Pension of the Military and Uniformed Personnel without however diminishing the benefits that our uniformed personnel are entitled to under existing laws;
  • Modernization of the Bureau of Fire Protection and the Bureau of Immigration;
  • Creation of the Department of Disaster Resilience to establish evacuation centers in every city, province, and municipality throughout the country;
  • The National Land Use Act FOR extraction and equitable distribution of natural resources;
  • Creation of the Boracay Island [Development] Authority or BIDA to sustain the rehabilitation of Boracay Island, which showcased the government’s resolve to safeguard the environment;
  • Establishment of the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund;
  • Rural Agricultural and Fisheries Development Financing System Act;
  • Internet Transactions Act (ITA) shall build trust and confidence in online transactions, stronger protection for online consumers, and enabling measures for online businesses.

Unity to victory vs. Covid-19

Victory in the global battle against COVID-19 would take longer than we expect. Everyone’s cooperation is needed. I know that you, the Filipino people, have sacrificed a lot. But we have no other choice but to work together and to do even more,” Duterte said.

Duterte said, “the strength of a nation rests in the hands of the people acting as one with government, in the pursuit of common goals and objectives.” He told officials of each LGU in the country – from the barangay to the autonomous regions to “set aside partisan politics and selfish interests to do what is right and good for all.

“All I ask is that you continue to put your faith in your government and work with us in achieving what is best for our country and our people. Together, let us do the most that we can to ensure that the health, safety, and well-being of every Filipino—especially those severely affected —are taken care of.”

“Together, we shall fight this pandemic with the same fervor as our campaign against illegal drugs, criminality, insurgency, and corruption in high places and entrenched parochial interests.”

“From the rubbles of adversity, a more resilient and stronger nation built on Bayanihan and Pagkakaisa shall rise. Together, we shall overcome,” Duterte said. (PinoyPulse.com)