President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last July 27 was indeed a calibrated blockbuster yet sober in so many ways.
The day was as much like a scheduled Manny Pacquiao fight as it was during his first SONA. Not only that what he was to say was anticipated by many, the speech itself was closely guarded as to what was to come out from the President’s noted acidic tongue, like what haymaker will the Pambansang Kamao release in every round of his fight.
Already, we have given a bird’s eye view of the possible meat of the President’s SONA in our earlier column. We think further these things are worth sharing for the benefit of those among us who, for one reason or another, failed to see and hear the SONA of the first Mindanaoan President.
We consider his preference for human lives more than hasty re-opening of the country’s economy worthy of top notice. Another is his commitment to make all telecommunications companies improve their service by December this year. He warned the Telcos that should they fail to comply he will be “the one to articulate the anger of the Filipino people.”
President Duterte also talked about his administration’s plan to consolidate services and concerns of Overseas Filipinos Workers (OFWs) in one office to avoid hassles in responding to their concerns. That is, the immediate creation by Congress of a Department of Overseas Filipinos.
Duterte pleaded to landlords not to drive away their tenants. Instead he called on them to allow their tenants some concessions to help them recover. In addition the President asked the Bangko Sentral and other government and private banks to relax some of their regulations in regards to their loan grants and payment policies to help small and medium businesses that are most affected by the CoViD 19 pandemic.
He made a strong pitch for a paperless type of governance to better transition to the so-called “New Normal.” He noted that adopting this transaction system in government offices can help make the fight against corruption succeed.
The President also disclosed in his fifth SONA his desire to do away with the Continuing Professional Education (CPE) to the thousands of the country’s professionals which is made a condition in the renewal of their licenses every year. He noted that attending training and seminars related to their profession is additional expenses for those concerned since most if not all of these are at their personal expense.
Duterte as well was emphatic in saying that the country be given a leeway to industrialize. Hence, it has to have its way of ensuring that more Special Economic Zones be built outside of Metro Manila. In reviving the country’s lost tourism industry vibrance the President disclosed that he is working on the creation of the Boracay Island Authority (BIA) as an initial move.
Duterte also revealed his administration’s intention to have Congress adjust the uniformed personnel’s pension system. However, he insisted that the adjusted system, when operational, must apply only to new hires.
In the same SONA last Monday, the President humbly admitted that he is inutile in imposing on China our sovereignty over some islands in the Western Philippine Sea based on the decision of the Hague, Netherlands-based Arbitral Tribunal granting the Philippines the jurisdiction of the disputed islands.
The President told his audience the only way to gain possession of the islands occupied by China is to go to war against the giant neighbor and win it. But he said China has the arms and manpower while the Philippines does not have. So, he’d rather that our government adopt the safer diplomatic strategy.
The more discerning viewers though, may have noticed that the President’s SONA did not dwell extensively on the details of what new strategy, if any, the government will adopt in fighting the still raging CoViD 19 health emergency in the country. He however said that this is the time that “We have to bring out the best in us.”
Duterte though, started his SONA with some blistering attacks on Sen. Franklin Drilon who he intimated to have strongly protected the Lopez family in their battle to get their ABS-CBN franchise renewed by Congress.
The President also ended his SONA by repeating his tirade against the Ilonggo senator asking him whether he worked with ACCRA Law behind the scene in the preparation of the water concession agreements between the Ayala-run Manila Water and the Lopez-controlled Maynilad.
Duterte did not have any hesitation in saying that the agreements with the two water distribution firms were disadvantageous to the government and is undergoing a thorough review.
And while the President was litanizing what he considers his administration’s accomplishments and areas needing improvements inside the Batasan Session Hall, hours before last Monday’s SONA there was an unusual scene at the vicinity of the venue. The normally “tumultuous” protest by militants and oppositionists was nowhere seen. Instead the protest rally was held at the University of the Philippines – Diliman grounds.
In the past the vicinity of the Batasang Pambansa was transformed into a garrison-like facility surrounded with barricades. In fact there was a time in previous administrations that empty cargo vans and barbed wires were put up as barricades surrounded by a phalanx of policemen and swarms of intelligence officials to prevent militants protesting the SONA and the government in general from getting near the Batasan building. In the past SONAs the police hardly had smiles on their faces; their hands clutching hard their shields and sticks just to be ready to thwart any attempt of the protesters to break through their lines to come closer to the Batasan ground.
In last Monday’s SONA the militants were far from the SONA venue and their protest activities were held much earlier than the SONA of the President.
Does the prevalence of the CoViD pandemic deserve to be thanked by the government with the relatively peaceful SONA last Monday?