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Post-Sona reflections

No cussing, no name-calling, no misogynist jokes, no colorful words. These were my immediate thoughts on President Rodrigo Duterte’s third State of the Nation Address last Monday, July 23. It was a somber Digong who faced the nation. As I was watching him, I was half-expecting something extraordinary any minute. So it was actually a pleasant surprise.

Outside of the manner by which the Sona was delivered, a closer look at its content is more important. First, breaking tradition, Duterte did not do a report to the people of what his administration has so far accomplished. He said that it would be self-serving. Instead, he said that he had ordered the production of a document on this.

I do not understand how a verbal narration is considered self-serving and a written one is not. Still, it would be good to have a sense of what this administration considers its accomplishments. Surely, some are waiting to have these fact-checked. After all, the government’s function is to protect the country’s (and people’s) welfare and interests.

The President has endorsed to Congress the passage of bills in his legislative agenda that include: ending contractualization, creation of the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund, free tertiary education; national land use policy; the creation of the Department of Disaster Management; the prohibition of open pit mining; tariff system in rice importation so it can be imported more freely; the universal health care bill; and the package 2 of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law.

The passage of many of these bills into law will redound to better services to and protection of our people. I know for a fact that the bills on national land use policy, universal health care, and ending contractualization have been languishing in Congress for many years now. It is, thus, to President Duterte’s credit that he certified them as urgent. Congress should act accordingly.

I do not know if what the administration wants to do regarding preparedness for, resiliency in, and better management of natural calamities needs the creation of another department. We already have a very good law in the Philippine Disaster Reduction and Management Act (RA 10121) that created the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council.

Should not the administration first focus on the full and efficient implementation of the law and the strengthening of the NDRRMC? If needed, perhaps RA 10121 can be amended for the law to be even stronger. Creating another department adds to our already bloated bureaucracy and requires a lot of resources. I hope the Cabinet takes a second look at this.

Congress should also be very, very careful in its consideration of the TRAIN 2 bill. As it is, ordinary Filipinos are already battered by the increases in prices of goods and services. The cost of everything has increased well beyond what TRAIN 1 anticipated, or at least what its proponents said. It is the poor, especially those who are not formally employed (and there’s lot more of them than those with regular employment) that are hardest hit. Coupled with the further weakening of the peso and the record-breaking inflation rates, this is hardly the time to pass TRAIN 2.

No, Duterte did not outrightly endorse the draft federal Constitution submitted to him by his appointed Consultative Committee. He also did not ask Congress to convert itself into a Constitutional Assembly. But make no mistake, he endorsed the shift to federalism to Congress. What this administration will do in the following months on this major issue will be very interesting.

Oh, Duterte somehow inserted in his Sona the political endorsement of Bong Go and Harry Roque. This may be a sign that the elections in 2019 will push through despite all the no-el talks.

Of the things he said during his Sona, two other things disturbed me the most: His pronouncements on the drug war, and the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte again chided human rights advocates. He said that their concern is human rights but his is human lives. The thing is, human rights and human lives are inseparable. Human rights is concerned not only with being able to stay alive but equally, about the quality of life we have. Actually, this is what Duterte said when he expounded on the topic.

However, when he said that “the drug war will be as relentless and chilling,” we are actually warned that the killings will continue. This should seriously concern everyone especially in the light of recent killings that victimized decidedly innocent people. In his SONA, Duterte again gave the green light to his people to kill in the name of the war on drugs.

As regards the WPS, the President said that the re-energized relations with China does not mean that the administration is wavering in its commitment to protect our interest in WPS. He qualified this by saying that this will be pursued through bilateral and multilateral platforms. He claimed that his efforts had resulted in Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that intends to resolve disputes peacefully.

Hopefully, the administration will make public the said code of conduct so people know if our interests are indeed protected. This can be good since peaceful ways towards the resolution of disputes should always be pursued, not war. However, we should be negotiating from a position of strength, and Duterte failed to mention the most important way by which our WPS interests are assured—by implementing the ruling of the UN Tribunal on the case we filed and won.

Ignoring our victory and instead pursuing other ways “to settle disputes” while China continues to occupy and build on our territories is dangerous. This may be construed as agreeing with what China is doing and we lose what we have won.

Outside of the good bills Duterte endorsed to Congress and the drive towards federalism, it seems that we can expect business as usual with this administration—more killings and more kowtowing to China.

@bethagsioco on Twitter Elizabeth Angsioco on Facebook

Topics: State of the Nation Address , Rodrigo Duterte , Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law , West Philippine Sea , National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council , Philippine Disaster Reduction
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