President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday rallied Filipinos to “rise as one nation” amid the threats of the more transmissible Delta variant of the novel coronavirus and the persistent problems of corruption, drugs, and insurgency that beset the country.
“A peaceful and prosperous Philippines is no longer a distant dream, but one that is within our grasp if our future Filipinos would continue and seize the opportunity to work together. We have laid down the groundwork and are continuing to push for landmark reforms and key accomplishments to the last day of my term,” the President said in his final State of the Nation Address that ran for two hours and 46 minutes, the longest SONA since 1986.
“I have full confidence that the Filipino spirit will persevere and triumph together. And together, let us rise as a nation,” said the commander-in-chief.
Not a swan song
Duterte, who has toyed with the possibility of running for vice president next year to avoid becoming a lame duck leader in his remaining 11 months in office, said his last SONA is “by no means my swan song.”
“I shall never cease to implore Congress to pass vital and critical legislation, as well as to push the entire government to ensure that othing less than the full recovery and revitalization of our country,” he said.
The 76-year-old Duterte devoted large chunks of his address to his "unyielding" war against drugs that has officially killed more than 6,000 people even as rights groups put the figure in the tens of thousands.
He hailed his signature drug war policy, but lamented there was a "long way" to go in the controversial crackdown.
'I will kill you because I love my country'
"We still have a long way to go in our fight against the proliferation of drugs," he said, lamenting how critics only saw the casualties in the anti-narcotics campaign and not the victims of illegal drugs
Government data showed some 293,841 drug suspects were arrested since July 1, 2016, of which some 6,147 were killed.
“The problem is this: You only see the dead criminals. And what about their victims?” he said as he taunted the prosecutors of the International Criminal Court that wanted to probe his administration's anti-drug campaign.
"The ICC can record this: Those who destroy my country, I will kill you. Those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you. Because I love my country," the President said.
Corruption cannot be stopped
On the anti-corruption front, Duterte said while major strides have been made, corruption is “endemic in government.”
“You cannot stop corruption unless you overturn the government completely,” he said.
“If I were the next president, if you think there's really a need for you to change everybody in the system, then you declare martial law and fire everybody and allow the new generation to come in to work for the government,” he added.
Duterte, however, vowed to be relentless in hunting down corrupt officials in government. “I will reach you,” he said.
Continue eroding the communist movement
The President also trumpeted his administration's achievements in dismantling communist fronts across the country.
“Peace must be realized. Peace and security is not only just a military concern. That is why we deviated from the traditional purely military approach in dealing with matters of national security,” the commander-in-chief said.
“In our continuing efforts for safe and conflict-resilient barangays, we have worked towards the sustainable rehabilitation and development of communities where the communist used to operate. Because of these interventions, more than 17,000 former communist rebels have surrendered to the government. They have returned to the fold of the law and are happily reintegrating to the community,” he added.
He said some 15 communist fronts have already been destroyed by the police and the military.
"With the support of our local government units, I am confident that support for the communist movement will continue to erode in the next few months," Duterte said.
Brace for Delta
The chief executive also warned Filipinos to remain vigilant against COVID-19, especially with the entry of the more transmissible and more aggressive Delta variant.
“If ever the Delta variant will spread – I hope it will not go any further but if something wrong happens, I have to be strict and there will be (lockdowns) just like what happened in the early days,” he said.
“I really do not know what to do. I have to listen to the task force,” he said. “Maybe we just have to pray for salvation.”
The arrival of more life-saving vaccines, however, is an encouraging development, Duterte said.
“We cannot continue living in the shadow of this potent enemy, especially now that science and medicine has proven that it is possible to live with – if not entirely defeat – this virus. The health and safety protocols we put in place have proven effective in slowing the spread of the virus. But the best solution is still vaccination,” the President said.
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