By Ben Rosario
Leaders of the two minority blocs in the House of Representatives tried to upstage each other by swiftly delivering their respective “contra-SONA” a day after President Rodrigo Duterte made his two-hour speech on Monday.
Minority Leader and Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez and Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman of the so-called Magnificent Seven aired different views on the performance and proposals of Duterte but were in agreement in assailing the way the chief executive tackled the drug problem.
“Hence, while it is understandable that the use of illegal drugs is an urgent and important problem to address, we must pursue measures that will deal with other issues of national interest such as hunger, poverty, and unemployment,” said Suarez.
The Quezon lawmaker noted that the government has been gaining victories in the drug campaign but stressed that its implementors, particularly the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, need sufficient funding to totally win the war against pushers and traffickers.
“If we are to suppress an industry which makes this amount of money, we have to be at par with its capability. We need funds for intelligence, operations, transportation, and gears to enhance efficiency in capturing drug pushers and drug lords,” he said.
On the other hand, Lagman decried the rising drug-related deaths that has become the butt of criticisms locally and internationally for being state-sponsored..
“He refuses to realize that the drug problem is both a health and poverty issue, not simply a police matter,” the Liberal Party lawmaker said.
Claiming that his contra-SONA piece is the “real” speech that makes a critical examination of Duterte’s SONA, Lagman, nonetheless, lauded the chief executive for calling on the Supreme court to lift the temporary restraining order issued on the implementation of the Reproductive Health law.
“However, the President’s remonstration against the High Court came too late because the Supreme Court has already issued a final decision upholding the TRO and even extending it to other contraceptives, unless certified by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they are not abortifacient in a process akin to a quasi-judicial jurisdiction,” Lagman lamented.
Lagman also warned Duterte to “be wary” of China’s offer to construct two bridges “for free”, saying that he should review the Kenya engineering disaster.
“We likewise hope that the policy of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) where Filipino rated contractors play major roles is not abandoned, as is the trend now, in favor of foreign capital whose chosen firms construct the projects,” he pointed out.
According to the opposition stalwart, Duterte’s vow to stop abuses committed in the mining industry should be taken with a grain of salt and set in the backdrop of his failure to push for the confirmation of the appointment of former Environment Secretary Gina Lopez.
“Contractualization remains an instrument of exploitation of labor. Instead of affording workers the right to sell their labor power directly to the capitalist end-user, they are forced to sell cheap to the middleman,” Lagman noted.
For his part, Suarez said Duterte;s announcement that he has accepted tobacco manufacturer Mighty Corporation’s proposal to pay P25 billion to settle its tax liabilities should not end there.
“Mighty Corporation’s tax evasion coincided with the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s and the Bureau of Customs’ consistent incompetence in missing their collection targets during the previous administration,” Suarez said
He added: “We must investigate how Mighty was able to evade taxes and penalize the proper government officials during the past several years prior to this administration.”
Suarez also noted that while the president has approved the establishment of a National Government Portal and a National Broadband Plan, “the realities of telecommunication industry makes this NBP a pipe dream.”
“How can we achieve nationwide connectivity when Internet connection in our country is among the most inefficient services in the region? Everyone will agree that our Internet services are slow and inconsistent. If at all, the services rendered are consistently inconsistent. We are curious how the relevant Cabinet and government agencies can achieve these goals,” the Quezon solon said.