by Genalyn Kabiling, Reuters, and AFP
President Duterte threatened yesterday to put a stop to the export of local mineral resources as well as “tax to death” those who do not repair the damage caused to the environment.
In his State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) before a joint session of Congress on Monday, the President said that if possible we shall put a stop to the extraction of mineral resources for export, stressing that these should be processed domestically.
He likewise laid down his “non-negotiable policy” of putting premium on the protection of environment over mining activities, saying concerned companies could face ruin if they don’t stop their irresponsible operations.
He warned mining firms and contractors to refrain from unbridled destruction of watersheds and natural resources.
“Mining firms have neglected their responsibilities to preserve the environment. I will hold mining firms responsible for the quick clean up and rehabilitation of areas damaged by mining,” Duterte said.
The President devoted large chunks of his annual SONA to push his law-and-order policies that have made him hugely popular with many Filipinos but been condemned by human rights groups and other critics.
In the same SONA, President Duterte reiterated that his war on illegal drugs will be unrelenting, notwithstanding criticisms here and abroad.
“The fight will be… unrelenting despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease, they have to stop because the alternatives are either jail or hell.”
He likewise called on his critics to use their efforts in educating the people on the ill effects of illegal drugs.
“I have resolved that no matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because it is the root cause of suffering,” Duterte said.
Duterte swept to victory in last year’s presidential elections after promising an unprecedented crackdown on illegal drugs.
Since he took office on June 30 last year, police have reported killing nearly 3,200 people in the drug war.
More than 2,000 other people have been killed in drug-related crimes, according to police data.
Duterte urged lawmakers to reintroduce the death penalty.
“I ask Congress to act on legislation to re-impose the death penalty on heinous crimes, especially illegal drug trafficking,” Duterte said.
He emphasised that capital punishment was about “retribution” as much as deterrence.
“In the Philippines, it is really an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. You took a life, you must pay it to die. That is the only way to get even.”
The lower house of Congress this year passed a bill to bring back the death penalty, but the Senate has yet to approve it.
STREET PROTESTS PEACEFUL
Meanwhile, the street protests outside the Batasang Pambansa complex were generally peaceful.
Along Commonwealth Avenue, some 11,000 rallyists marched to bring their sentiments to the attention of the President.
Quezon City Police District (QCPD) chief Guillermo Eleazar said the rallies were generally peaceful as was last year, attributing it to the earlier arrangements and meetings held with leaders of the groups.
“Communication was open between the QCPD and the groups,” he said.
According to the Quezon City Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office (QCDRRMO), as of 4 p.m., there were some 8,500 members of leftist and other cause-oriented groups, while about some 2,500 were from groups supporting President Duterte.
Eleazar said that while there were no threats of violence, they separated the groups to avoid any untoward incidents caused by the two groups.
There were around 6,500 policemen deployed to secure the Batasan area. Also, some 200 policemen from Region 4A were sent to augment security force.
Members of militant group BAYAN from Metro Manila and nearby provinces had started gathering as early as 7 a.m. at the Elliptical Road and Commonwealth Avenue and marched to the Batasan building starting 10 a.m.
At 2 p.m., the groups met with their fellow protesters from the University of the Philippines at the St. Peter’s Church before continuing towards the Quezon City Polytechnic University where authorities, reportedly following a dialogue, had set up their protest area some 300 meters away from the Batasang Pambansa south gate.
Five-hundred meters away from the militant groups was the area allotted for supporters of President Duterte, who were mostly from Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD NECC).
Unlike the protesters, the supporters came in small groups.
Bobby Brillante, MRRD NECC spokesman, said they came from local chapters in the NCR, and Cainta, Rizal.
Militant groups who marched towards Commonwealth Avenue carried placards with calls to resume peace talks, end to martial law in Mindanao, dumping of contractualization and provide free housing to the poor as among the major issues.
Several Kadamay leaders dubbed their protest action as the “Araw ng Sona ng Bayan’’ insisting the government to accord the right of the poor to free housing.
Also along Elliptical Road, hundreds of farmers from Central Luzon, Southern Luzon, and Mindanao staged a protest program in front of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR) central office airing the list of their grievances against the president in his first year in office revisiting the plight of farmers.
The number of protesting farmers who joined the march towards Batasang Pambansa merging with other protesters said the government failed to act on the plea of the farmers who they claimed to be the poorest among the country’s sector.
Protest leader and Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao criticized the government’s failure to address the plight of the struggling Filipino farmers around the country.
Casilao added that cases of harassment and human rights violations on farmers have steadily increased pointing to the current administration as the one liable for the death of 70 farmers and agricultural leaders.
In Manila, pro-Duterte supporters gathered in Mendiola to express their support for the President.
At least 30 members of Liga Independencia Pilipinas (LIP), under the scorching heat, reaffirm their support to the President’s programs on economic reforms, corruption, and peace and stability.
“If I will grade the president, I think I will give him 85 (percent). Why? May political will siya. Pag sinabi nya, ginagawa nya. May vision sya for the country, (He has political will. He does what he says; he has a vision)” said LIP Secretary General Professor Melvin Mitra.
Mitra said that some of the members of the administration could not adjust on its policies. (With reports from Vanne Elaine P. Terrazola, Chito A. Chavez, and Analou De Vera)