SONA 2018: Duterte cites notable laws passed in his term

Citing notable laws passed during his term, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivered his third and yet shortest State of the Nation Address (SONA) in less than an hour on Monday, July 23, 2018 at the House of Representatives.

President Duterte’s third SONA was free from the usual expletives in his first two SONAs lasted for about 48 minutes. He started speaking at 5:21 p.m. and finished at 6:09 p.m.

His first SONA was 90 minutes and his second was 120 minutes.

A change in the leadership of the House of Representatives, where former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo replaced Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez delayed President Duterte’s SONA for over an hour.

But Alvarez joined Senate President Vicente Sotto III at the rostrum with Duterte while Arroyo sat in the audience along with former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Joseph Ejercito Estrada.

War vs. drugs, crime

Duterte began his SONA by saying that his controversial war on drugs “is far from over,” stressing that he would be more “relentless and chilling” as the day it began.

“I can only shudder at the harm that those drugs could have caused had they reached the streets of every province, city, municipality, barangay and community throughout the country,” Duterte said.

“This is why the illegal drugs war will not be sidelined. Instead, it will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began,” he added.

He also hit human rights advocates and church leaders for criticizing his war on drugs, noting that their protests would never dissuade him from continuing the campaign.

“If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of [your] demonstrations, your protests, which I find, by the way, misdirected, then you got it all wrong. Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” Duterte said.

He also mentioned his campaign against corruption, and warned other government officials from being involved in corrupt practices.

TRAIN law, rice shortage

The President also thanked Congress for the passage of important legislations, including the Ease of Doing Business Act and the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), and urged them to pass other measures including the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund, National Land Use Act and the Universal Health Care, among others.

Duterte defended the passage of the TRAIN law amid inflation and the rise in prices of basic commodities, noting that it was necessary to make funds available “to build bridges and strengthen safety and security.”

“We cannot and should not (stop the implementation of TRAIN). We need this for sustainable growth that leaves no Filipino left behind,” Duterte said.

He said that TRAIN is already helping poor families and senior citizens cope up with rising prices by distributing unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) to 4 million people and 6 million more this year.

Meanwhile, Duterte also urged businesses to cooperate with the government in charging basic commodities and services with fair prices, particularly rice.

He spelled out what the government is doing to lower the price of rice and address its shortage by switching the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system, where rice can be imported more freely.

He asked rice hoarders, cartels and their protectors to “stop messing with the people” and vowed to use his power against them.

“Consider yourselves warned; mend your ways now or the full force of the State shall be brought to bear upon you. I am directing all intelligence agencies to unmask the perpetrators of this economic sabotage and our law enforcement agencies to bring them to justice,” Duterte said.

Bangsamoro Organic Law

After the House of Representatives failed to ratify the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) following an attempt to unseat Alvarez, Duterte failed to sign it into a law. The Senate, meanwhile, unanimously ratified the BOL.

Duterte, however, expressed hope that he would be able to sign the BOL within 48 hours once the House has ratified it and the final version has been submitted to his office.

“When the approved version is transmitted and received by my office… The law has been passed actually and I intend to… Give me 48 hours to sign it and ratify the law,” Duterte said.

Duterte expressed hope that he will “see the promise of Mindanao fulfilled or at the very least, approaching fulfillment” by the end of his term including a peaceful, productive life free from terrorism.

He also thanked soldiers and police officers for protecting the residents of Marawi City from the Maute-ISIS group.

Foreign policy, China

Duterte, meanwhile, reiterated his vow for the government to pursue an independent foreign policy but at the same time reach out to all nations, especially the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN).

Despite the improved relationship between the Philippines and China, Duterte said this did not mean that the government will abandon its commitment to defend the country’s interests in the West Philippine Sea.

“Our improved relationship with China, however, does not mean that we will waver in our commitment to defend our interests in the West Philippine Sea. This is why we engage China through bilateral and multilateral platforms such as the ASEAN-China and the Philippines-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism,” Duterte said.

He also renewed his commitment to protect the welfare of all overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

Endo, environment

Duterte acknowledged that the signing of Executive Order No. 51 meant to end contractualization, “does not satisfy all sectors” but pointed out that it was for Congress to do.

The President also emphasized the importance of protecting the environment such as efforts to rehabilitate the country’s top tourist destination, Boracay Island.

In closing, he stressed anew that he had no plans of staying in power beyond his term and thanked the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked to draft a federal constitution for barring him from reelection and leading the Federal Transition Commission (FTC) should a shift to a federal form of government takes place.

He also expressed gratitude to the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) for setting up government satellite networks (GSN) in remote barangays to allow them to watch his SONA.