AS PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte acknowledged the presence of three former presidents, he paused and looked for the fourth, his predecessor former President Benigno Aquino III, and found him a no- show and so made it clear at the start of his speech that “vindictiveness is not in my system.”
“We cannot move forward if we allow the past to pull us back,” Duterte said during his first State of the Nation Address as the joint session of Congress opened Monday.
“Finger-pointing is not the way. That is why I will not waste precious time dwelling on the sins of the past or blaming those who are perceived to be responsible for the mess that we are in and suffering from.
“Except maybe extract a lesson or two from their errors, we will not tarry because it is the present that we are concerned with and the future that we should be prepared for.
“I wish to assure everyone, though, that vindictiveness is not in my system. Just like you and I, all, equal treatment and equal protection are what I ask for our people.”
Duterte made his statement even as Davao City Mayor Inday Sara Duterte failed to attend the first State-of-the-Nation Address of her father, citing medical reasons.
“Upon her arrival in Manila early morning Monday, Mayor Inday Sara went to St. Luke’s Hospital for a medical check-up. She was advised complete rest at least for a couple of days by her doctor. But there is nothing to worry. The mayor is doing well now,” Jefry Tupas, Davao City information officer, said in a statement.
Losing vice presidential candidate Senator Alan Peter Cayetano was the only senator who was absent when the Senate under the 17th Congress formally convened and elected its new set of leaders led by Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III.
When outgoing Senate President Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party banged the gavel at 10 a.m. to usher the opening of the first day of session, only Cayetano was not around.
Pimentel, 52, succeeded Drilon who will serve as Senate President Pro Tempore, replacing Senator Ralph Recto, the new Minority Leader.
But Duterte vowed he would not let those who betrayed the people’s trust go unpunished.
“Lest I be misunderstood, let me say clearly, that those who betrayed the people’s trust shall not go unpunished and they will have their day in Court,” he said as the crowd at the plenary hall applauded.
“And if the evidence warrants, they will have their day of reckoning, too.”
Aquino has sent word that he would not be attending the Sona. But former Presidents Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is also a third-termer congresswoman representing Pampanga, graced the occasion and were seated together in the same row.
Aquino, who jailed Arroyo for four years with weak evidence that prompted the Supreme Court to free her, and the one he had put in prison were supposed to be seated side-by-side. But the seat left vacant by Aquino was given instead to Vice President Leni Robredo in the VIP middle gallery. Robredo was also allocated a seat on the session floor alongside the senators.
Former Vice President Jejomar Binay also attended Duterte’s Sona.
“When I decided to seek the presidency of this Republic, I knew what the ills of our country were; I knew their causes; and I was briefed on those who caused the causes,” Duterte said.
“I heard the people on the streets complain that justice had become illusory; that equity and fairness and speedy disposition of cases had deteriorated into hollow concepts fit only for masteral dissertations. It was, and still is, very sad indeed.”
As a former prosecutor, Duterte said, he knew there were always ways of knowing how fast or how slow cases go.
“What I did was to look into the number of postponements and the time difference between each postponement and the next setting. It was simple as that. I will appreciate deeply if we all in government attend to this urgent need,” he said.
“I was determined then as I am now determined and better positioned, to wage war against those who make a mockery of our laws including those who make life for us all miserable,” he warned.
“But we must have the courage to fight for what we believe in, undeterred by the fear of failing or losing. Indeed, courage knows no limits, cowardice does.”
Duterte said his concerns about facts, figures, plans, programs, and solutions will not dissipate or get lost along our way.
“Thus to our religious bishops, leaders, priests, pastors, preachers, imams let me assure you that while I am a stickler for the principle of separation between church and state, I believe quite strongly that there should never be a separation between God and State,” he said.
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