Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Monday resented President Rodrigo Duterte's accusations during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) that he was lawyering for the Lopezes, owners of the media giant ABS-CBN, which shut down its broadcast operations after failing to get a renewal of its 25-year franchise from Congress.
In taking the cudgels for ABS-CBN, Drilon stressed his "primordial concern" was the freedom of the press and the thousands of employees of the media giant who would lost their jobs.
“The issue was freedom of the press. The Lopezes was just incidental. And the issue was that nobody will lost their job—the 11,000 employees of the ABS-CBN. That was what I had fought for,” said Drilon.
A lawyer by profession, the opposition senator also said he had no debt of gratitude to the Lopezes.
He also stressed he was no longer a part of the team from the law firm ACCRA, which helped an Ayala-owned firm win a water concession contract with the government.
"I would like to ask Drilon, were you a part of ACCRA when this contract of Ayala water was being drafted?" Duterte asked during the SONA."I have no debt with them. They are my provincemates, but other than that, we have not been together," said Drilon, who like the Lopez clain hails from Iloilo.
The senator was squarely in Duterte's glare, even as the annual protesters of the President's SONA changed the way they demonstrated in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities said it was the first time that militant groups ended their protest actions early, at around 12:30 p.m., as they were largely limited to the University of the Philippines campus in Diliman, Quezon City. An afternoon thunderstorm eventually led the protesters to disperse and seek shelter.
The National Capital Region Police Office said it monitored a total of just 34 arrests on the day of Duterte's 5th SONA. At a press briefing, NCRPO chief Police MGen. Debold Sinas said four, who were onboard a jeepney with a red PISTON flag, were arrested in Quezon City, while 24 passengers and a driver on board a commuter van were nabbed in Marikina City.
At the Batasang Pambansa, the SONA drew mixed reviews from congressmen, with his allies praising his accomplishments and promising to support his plans and his critics demanding more action and expressing disappointment for his performance the past year.
House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez said President Duerte expounded on his short-term priorities as expected.
“As I see it, his mission is threefold—first, to protect the Filipino nation from hunger and poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; second, to save precious human lives and minimize the number of people infected by the virus; and third, to ramp up budgetary measures needed to fully implement a responsive and sustainable recovery plan. In short: Kabuhayan, Kaligtasan, and Kaunlaran,” Romualdez said.
“There is no doubt that the country is at war against COVID-19, an unseen enemy. President Duterte, our commander-in-chief, clearly laid out the battle plan for us to emerge victorious in the end. In this fight of our lifetime, each of us are given specific theaters of war to attend to. Everyone is being called to be part of the whole of government response to combat the pandemic,” the Leyte solon added.
As the Second Regular Session of 18th Congress opened ahead of the SONA, Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano called for national sacrifice owing to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The enormity the challenges and severity of the crisis we face require much faith, sacrifice and hard work. Not just from our leaders but from each and everyone of us," Cayetano said.
At the Senate, 17 senators were physically present inside the Session Hall, with six senators attending through digital platforms, as Senate President Vicente Sotto III called on the chamber to "continue to work toward saving lives and easing our common anxiety" amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“This truth is unavoidable,” added Sotto, who noted that the Senate worked for the approval of COVID-related legislations that are now being implemented by various government agencies.
Later, Sotto told local telecommunication companies Smart and Globe to take seriously the President's threat to shut them down for poor service.
"It is time for the public service providers like the telcos to invest in terms of capital expense to improve their services to the public," Senator Panfilo Lacson added.
Senator Imee Marcos said she was amenable to the President's stand to reimpose the death penalty by lethal injection on crimes specified under the Comprehensive Drug Act of 2002.
However, Marcos noted that she has a strict interpretation of punishment for capital crimes involving drugs. “Not all (drug cases). We are still Catholic. It’s difficult to go back to the old ways,” she said.
Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House committee on ways and means, thanked the President for boosting their legislative initiatives in his fifth SONA.
“The President was straightforward about the challenges the country has and will face during this pandemic. We in the economic team of the House take the President’s requests for the quick passage of a second stimulus package and of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE), as unambiguous directions for where we should go,” said Salceda, principal author of the bills.
Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte also pushed for the immediate passage of the Bayanihan to Recover as One Act or Bayanihan 2 as the President asked for in the SONA.
“The Congress needs to arm the President anew with special powers for his government to best deal with the highly infectious and lethal virus that apparently has no intention of going away anytime soon,” Villafuerte said.
Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Migs Zubiri tested positive for COVID-19 for the second time, but his doctors said it's likely that what was detected in his swab test with the Philippine Red Cross was the remnants of the coronavirus.
Zubiri was the second lawmaker, and second invitee to the SONA, to be sidelined by the coronavirus after Deputy Speaker and Surigao del Sur Rep. Johnny Pimentel, who confirmed his positive result a few hours ahead of Duterte's address
Pimentel said he tested positive after taking a swab test on Sunday as part of the requirements for physical attendees of the opening of the House's Second Regular Session and the President's SONA. Like Zubiri, he was among those listed to attend the two events.
In addition, six Palace personnel who were supposed to attend the SONA at the Batasang Pambansa contracted COVID-19, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said Monday.