July 24, 2018

SONA 2018: The Philippine Government In 48 Minutes

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  • On the 23rd of July 2018, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his third State Of the Nation Address (SONA) in front of 3,000 government officials, and guests at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City.

    Days prior to the address, people have been pondering on the issues that the President will tackle during his speech—Since 2016, the war against drugs, Bangsamoro Basic Law (now called the Bangsamoro Organic Law), and the shift towards a Federal government have been surrounding various news media platforms in the country.

    President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the Joint Session of the 17th Congress at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives Complex in Constitution Hills, Quezon City on July 23, 2018, emphasizes that his intensified campaign against illegal drugs will remain unrelenting for he is more concerned about human lives even if his critics are alleging that his campaign has resulted to violation of human rights./PHOTO King Rodriguez, PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

    This year’s SONA lasted 48 minutes and is Duterte’s shortest SONA yet.

    Former President and now Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the new House Speaker

    Moments before the SONA, Pampanga Representative Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo took an oath as the new leader of the House, formally replacing Pantaleon Alvarez, who in his term, opened the possibility of the Death Penalty Bill’s approval. According to Deputy Speaker Gwen Garcia, the removal of Alvarez had been briefly discussed.

    In 2012, Arroyo was put in hospital detention after a plunder case was filed against her. The case highlights the exploitation of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office’s funds in her term.

    Former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo gestures at the center stage of the plenary hall as she attempts to grab the leadership at the House of Representatives before Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s state of the nation address at Congress in Manila on July 23, 2018./PHOTO NOEL CELIS AFP PHOTO

    War Against Drugs Is ‘Far From Over’

    The war on drugs, even after reaching the international news, is still “far from over.” In his speech, Duterte addressed his high regards for human lives.

    In 2017, reported cases of drug-related fatalities grew in number after an estimated number of 4,000 drug-related operations were led by the police.

    “If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of [your] demonstrations, your protests, which I find, by the way, misdirected, then you got it all wrong,” says Duterte. 

    On Corruption 

    To improve the services of the government, Duterte stressed that corruption must end. “Corruption is like a leech that it bleeds the government of funds programmed for its infrastructure and other social development projects. It saps the morale or the morale of dedicated and honest government workers”.

    As of this writing, the President has already fired 21 officials and signed seven resignation letters of people who allegedly misused the government’s funds.

    The Bangsamoro Organic Law 

    For the Bangsamoro Organic Law, Duterte makes his “solemn commitment of giving Muslims basic legal tools to chart their destiny within the Constitutional framework of our country”.

    In his speech, the President said that the proposed law will be signed and ratified within 48 hours.

    In October 2012, a preliminary agreement between the Philippine government, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front was signed in the Palace.

    Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN news

    Telecommunication services should be ‘reliable, inexpensive and secure’

    In 2017, Duterte was firm in his desire to have a third telecommunications firm. The President ordered the National Telecommunications Commission and the Department of Information and Communications Technology to have the third telco up and running by 2018.

    During a Palace briefing in the same year, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said that the President is very serious about his demand and will automatically approve the issue within seven days.

    “My administration remains firm in its resolve to ensure that the country’s telecommunications services are reliable, inexpensive and secure. A draft Terms of Reference for the entry of a new, major industry player is at hand. The terms will be fair, reasonable and comprehensive. It will be inclusive so it will be open to all interested private parties, both foreign and local. The only condition is that the chosen entity must provide the best possible services at reasonably accessible prices,” he said.

    On The Island of Boracay 

    In April 2018, Duterte approved the total closure of Boracay starting April 26.

    The closure aims to preserve the island by cleaning up its sewers after Duterte called it a “cesspool”.

    The island’s total shut down is a crucial move on the country’s economy since Boracay’s revenue makes up at least 20 percent of the Philippines’ tourism industry.

    After months of waiting, Environment and Natural Resources  Secretary Roy Cimatu stated that the island will officially reopen on October 26. In a hearing held on July 11, 2018, Cimatu said that the island is no longer a “cesspool” and can sustain a good number of tourists if the rehabilitation is successful.

    Also read: Duterte gives DENR 6 months to “fix Boracay”

    The President also said that he will restore Boracay, adding that the island has become a representation of his administration’s negligence.

    Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN law) 

    The President praised the Congress for being able to pass the TRAIN law immediately.  “I applaud Congress for the timely passage of the TRAIN law. You have made funds available to build better roads and bridges, and improve health and education, and strengthen our safety and security. Some have incorrectly blamed our efforts toward a fairer tax system for all the price increases in the past months, and some irresponsibly suggesting to stop TRAIN’s implementation,” he said.

    Also read: TRAIN Package One: A Need-To-Know Guide to Republic Act 10963

    The TRAIN law which was signed  December 19, 2017, will raise the government’s funds allotted for the administration’s ambitious projects and infrastructures.

    The Federal Government

    President Duterte is confident that the Federal constitution will embody the Filipino people’s ideals and aspirations.

    In a federal government, the Philippines will be divided into various states that shall hold autonomy by having a government of their own, and shall only be in constitutional accordance with the central governing body during times when national defense or foreign policy is the main concern.

    See Primer’s write-up on Federalism here.

    Protests During SONA 2018 

    As Duterte addressed the government’s actions and development, people who represent different organizations gathered to rally against him. In a report given by the National Capital Region Police Office, there were at least 8,000 anti-Duterte protesters in  Commonwealth Avenue on the day of the SONA.

    Photo courtesy of Renato Reyes, Jr.

    Written by: Jove Moya

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