Corruption, drugs, West PH Sea: highlights of Duterte’s 4th SONA

DUTERTE’s 4TH SONA. President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA) at Batasang Pambansa, Quezon City on Monday, July 22. The president’s speech lasted for 93 minutes. | Malacañang photo by Simeon Celi

President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, July 22, delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) that lasted for an hour and 33 minutes.

He arrived 55 minutes late at the Batasang Pambansa Complex and started his speech at exactly 5:15 p.m. After the initial pleasantries, Duterte thanked his supporters, threatened erring government agencies, and laid out the policies he wanted to adopt for his remaining three years in office.

Here are the highlights of his speech:

Illegal drugs

“It has been three years since I took my oath of office, and it pains me to say that we have not learned our lesson. The illegal drug problem persists,” Duterte said.

To fight this “social menace,” Duterte pushed for the reimposition of the death penalty on crimes related to illegal drugs, as well as plunder.

According to him, the help of local communities in the drug war is not enough to crush the drug trade. Corruption needs to be eliminated, as well.

Corruption

Duterte expressed his frustration over the unrelenting corruption pervading the government, vowing that he will spend the remaining three years of his term to fight it.

“Corruption continues and emasculates the courage we need to sustain our moral recovery initiatives,” he said.

The president cited the massive fraud within the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth), conning the government of millions of pesos that could have been used to treat illnesses and save lives, and said he was “grossly disappointed.”

To fix this, Duterte said he ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to arrest and cause the prosecution of those liable. He also appointed retired army general Ricardo “Dick” Morales as the new PhilHealth president to prioritize ridding the agency of corruption.

Duterte went on to say that he has identified the enemy who dumped the country into the quagmire it is currently in.

“I have met the enemy face-to-face and sadly, the enemy is us. We are our own tormentors… We are our own demons; we are as rapacious predators preying on the helpless, the weak and the voiceless,” he said.

“We find corruption everywhere in government with every malefactor watching his cohort’s back in blatant disregard of his oath when he assumed public office… No amount of euphemism can trivialize or normalize betrayal of public trust or any other criminal offense. It is an injury laced with insult. It is both a national embarrassment and a national shame,” he continued.

According to Duterte, catharsis is needed to help stop corruption.

“Catharsis is what we, individually and collectively, need to do today – not tomorrow but today. Self-purgation followed by the resolve to do what is right and proper, is good for the nation’s health,” he said.

Duterte also acknowledged that he does not know when will corruption end.

“Let me ask you: When will corruption end? Kailan ba talaga ‘to? Hanggang kailan (Until when)? Well, I don’t know. I’ve been in – with government for almost 35 years now. I am not singling out myself. It’s the entire gamut of our system,” he said.

“Corruption exasperates. It frustrates. It is also exasperating that there are times when I think that perhaps it is blood that we need to cleanse and rinse away the dirt and the muck that stick to the flesh like leeches,” he added.

Duterte also claimed that there are no sacred cows in his administration, saying he has fired or caused the resignation of more than 100 officials and appointees of government “without regard to relationship, friendship and alliance.” 

He vowed to take responsibility for the shortcomings of his administration and pursue programs that would protect Filipinos as well as improve their quality of life.

“We are now entering a period of consequences. The consequences of what we did and did not do but should have done during my first half of my term. I assume full responsibility for that. As president, I cannot pass the blame to anybody, so it’s on me,” Duterte said. 

“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future. I will push harder in the pursuit of programs that we have started but always within the parameters of the law. I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration,” he added.

Bills pushed

Aside from the reinstitution of the death penalty, Duterte asked the Congress to:

• Pass the bill establishing the Department of Water Resources and Water Regulatory Commission that would enact reforms in water management in the country;

• Fast track the creation of the Department of Disaster Management that would focus solely on disaster and climate change resilience plans and programs;

• Postpone barangay and SK elections to October 2022 “to rectify the truncated terms of sitting barangay officials;”

• Enact a Magna Carta for Barangays that aims to declare barangay officials as regular government officials, and further empower barangays to improve their delivery of government services;

• Establish a Department of Overseas Filipinos that would address concerns of Filipino workers abroad;

• Pass TRAIN 2 or TRABAHO bill – that aims to reduce the corporate income tax rate to 20 percent, broaden the tax base, and rationalize tax incentives to businesses – as well as three remaining tax reform packages that seek to raise the excise tax on both alcohol and tobacco, reform the real property valuation system, and revise the taxes on capital income and financial services;

• Pass a new Salary Standardization Law (SSL) that would raise the pay of government workers, including public school teachers and public hospital nurses;

Duterte also requested the approval of the National Defense Act, Uniformed Separation and Retirement Pension Bill, as well as the revival of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).

Service improvements

The president implored the government agencies to improve their services and ensure their responsiveness to people’s needs. He listed off the Land Transportation Office (LTO), the Social Security System (SSS), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Land Registration Authority (LRA), and the Home Development Mutual Fund (HDMF or PAG-IBIG Fund) as the top five agencies that need improvements in their service delivery.

“Simplify. Just like the others. You can do it electronically… I’ve been asking that from you since three years ago. ‘Pag hindi pa ninyo nagawa ‘yan ngayon, papatayin ko talaga kayo (If you still haven’t done that, I will kill you),” Duterte said.

“Simplify and make your services responsive to – client-friendly. Your client is the Filipino, our employer – from where the money in our pockets come from, from our salaries,” he added.

Duterte also thanked Executive Secretary Medialdea for his work on increasing the number of lines for Hotline 8888, making it more responsive to the public.

Rehabilitations

Duterte touted the successful rehabilitation of popular tourist spot Boracay Island after its six-month closure to the public.

“We cleaned and rehabilitated the island and I allowed it to heal naturally. I am proud to say that it has been restored close to its original pristine state,” he said.

His next focus is the rehabilitation of Manila Bay, which already started back on January 27, 2019.

“Though we have a long way to go, we are encouraged by the test results of the waters near Padre Faura,” he said.

“We will relocate informal settlers — I hope it can happen during my time — along the waterways and shut down establishments that continue to pollute and poison our waters,” Duterte added.

West Philippine Sea (WPS)

Earlier, Duterte said he will educate his critics about the WPS on his fourth SONA; however, his “lecture” was only reiterations of his previous statements before.

According to him, the country is performing a “delicate balancing act” on the WPS issue to avoid conflict with China.

“On the matter of the West Philippine Sea. The avoidance of conflict – armed conflict and protection of our territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act,” Duterte said.

He also said he is not ready to go to war with China.

“A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier. War leaves widows and orphans in its wake. I am not ready or inclined to accept the occurrence of more destruction, more widows and more orphans, should war, even on a limited scale, breaks out,” he explained.

The president said a bilateral discussion would prove to be fruitful than a squabble in public, which is why the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea between the two countries exists.

Duterte repeated that he wanted to resolve the issue in a “peaceful way, mindful of the fact that it is our national pride and territorial integrity that are at stake.”

He also insisted that he was only invoking traditional fishing rights when he granted the Chinese permission to fish in the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Critics have been quick to point out that such an act could be a ground for impeachment, as it violates the chief executive’s constitutional mandate to protect the country’s marine wealth in its EEZ.

However, Duterte cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and said the Philippines can enter into fishing agreements with other countries.

“Our ownership of the West Philippine Sea is internationally recognized. However, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the arbitral award in the case of (Philippines versus China) recognized instances where another state may utilize the resources found within the coastal states exclusive economic zone the arbitral ruling even state,” he said.

In the end, Duterte maintained that the WPS belongs to the Philippines.

“The West Philippine Sea is ours. There is no ifs and buts. It is ours. But we have been acting, along that legal truth and line. But we have to temper it with the times and the realities that we face today,” Duterte said. 

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at ritchel.mendiola@asianjournalinc.com.

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