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A report on last year’s SONA

President delivers on promises on healthcare, Bangsamoro region, anti-corruption drive

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By Genalyn Kabiling

President Duterte will be taking the stage for another State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, aiming to show his plans to build on the administration’s gains and cement his legacy before his term is up.

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo (OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo
(OPS / MANILA BULLETIN)

The government’s peace and order efforts, poverty alleviation program, anti-corruption drive, and West Philippine Sea policy are likely among the key issues that will be featured in the President’s upcoming national address.

“We expect that the President will be concise and straightforward in narrating what the administration has accomplished and what will come in the years forward,” Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said in an interview with the Manila Bulletin.

“The Philippines is in a better and con­stantly improving state because of the Presi­dent’s hard work, sincerity and endless effort to provide a better and comfortable life for all Filipinos,” he said.

But before the President makes another list of promises in his 2019 SONA, let’s look back at the progress of Duterte’s initiatives during his 2018 national address.

1. CHILLING DRUG WAR

The President started his 2018 SONA with a firm declaration that the war on drugs will be as relentless and chilling as on the day it began.

“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” he said.

Just recently, the anti-drug campaign suffered a setback after the United Nations Human Rights Council approved a resolution seeking a report on the alleged mass killings and other abuses linked to the drug war. The Iceland-led resolution on the Philippines has earned condemnation from the Duterte government.

Panelo said the President’s campaign against drugs continues to be relentless, cit­ing the arrest and surrender of thousands of drug offenders, seizure of illegal drugs worth P24.41 billion, and declaring 12,099 barangays as drug-free areas. He however strongly de­nied allegations that the drug-related killings were state-initiated or sponsored.

2. MINDANAO PROMISE

As promised in his SONA 2018, the President signed Republic Act No. 11054 that establishes the Bangsamoro region replacing Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). The interim government has been installed to lead the region until the new lead­ers are elected in 2022.

Panelo said the government’s move to institutionalize barter trade was an “invest­ment for peace and for inclusive, equitable, sustainable development especially in the new autonomous region.” “It will help address endemic poverty and avoid triggers of insta­bility and insecurity in these porous areas of the Bangsamoro region,” Panelo said.

3. RICE SHORTAGE

In the past year, the President sought to address the problem of artificial rice shortage by waging a crackdown on rice hoarders and cartels as well as signing a law that lifts import quota on rice and imposes tariffs instead.

“President Duterte decisively addressed the issue of soaring inflation. He signed Re­public Act No. 11203 which liberalized rice imports and made this staple food among Filipinos more affordable with retail prices this summer cheaper by P5 to P10 per kilo compared to 2018,” Panelo said.

He said the Department of Justice has directed the National Bureau of Investigation to join in the government’s drive against rice hoarders and cartel groups.

4. UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE

Another SONA priority bill was signed into law by the President. The Presi­dent signed the Universal Health Care Act, a measure that provide healthcare coverage for all Filipinos. The law seeks to provide equitable access to quality and affordable health services and protection against fi­nancial risks.

5. TAX REFORM

In his 2018 SONA, the President urged Congress to pass several other tax reforms, such as higher excises on alcohol and tobacco, but not all were delivered.

In February, the President signed Repub­lic Act No. 11213 or the tax amnesty bill but partially vetoed provisions on the “overgen­erous” general amnesty. He asked Congress to pass another bill which would lift bank secrecy for cases of fraud.
“For this year, we are pushing for the approval of the rest of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program component, including Package 2 which aims to reduce the corporate income tax rate to make it par with regional average; Package 3, which institutes reforms in the property valuation system; and Pack­age 4, which rationalizes capital income taxa­tion,” Panelo said.

6. END ENDO

A year after urging Congress to pass a bill ending “endo” or end of contract practice, the President has yet to sign a law that guarantees the security of tenure for employees.

Panelo however assured that there was no hindrance for the President to sign a bill prohibiting labor-only con­tracting. “It is a fact that our priority is always the welfare of the Filipino people, in this case, our workers,” he said.

Based on data from the Department of Labor and Employment, at least 462,428 workers have become regular employees from August 2016 to May 2019. Of this figure, 334,983 workers were regularized through voluntary regulariza­tion while 127,445 workers were regularized through in­spection.

7. DESTRUCTIVE MINING

When he faced Con­gress last year, the President warned the mining industry not to destroy the environ­ment, telling them to change their management radically.

Of the 26 mines audited by independent experts so far, Panelo said at least three have been canceled while 23 were found to have a viola­tion that requires correc­tions, payment of fines and monthly reporting of accom­plishments.

Meantime, the govern­ment’s ban on open-pit min­ing is still in place, according to Panelo. The Mining Indus­try Coordinating Council, however, might support the lifting of the ban amid the “positive action” of mining companies to remedy the damage caused by their operations, he added.

8. DISASTER RESILIENCY

Last year, Duterte endorsed the passage of a law creating the Department of Disaster Manage­ment, similar to the United States’ Federal Emergency Management Agency. The bill, however, has not yet been enacted into law.

Panelo said the measure is the govern­ment’s “pro-active move to have safe, adop­tive and disaster-resilient communities as it is our common goal to quickly respond to the country’s natural disasters and ensure recovery in this age of climate change.”

9. CORRUPTION AND FRIENDSHIP

Corruption has no place in the administration as the President continued to dismiss several officials for alleged ir­regularities.

Panelo said the President has fired mili­tary and other government officials for cor­ruption or incompetence, including longtime friends and allies. He has also responded to letters addressed to Malacañang by referring them to various departments and agencies for immediate action and launched hotlines for companies and emergences.

The government also launched a 24-hour hotline to address complaints about corrup­tion, red tape, and other concerns. A new tv program dubbed “Digong 8888 Hotline” also made its recent debut to resolve public grievances.

10. FEDERALISM

The President’s pitch for feder­alism has yet to become a reality.

Panelo said the President was leaving the proposed shift to a federal form of govern­ment up to Congress. “The President believes that federalism will improve governance, particularly in the local government units, as well as speed up economic growth in the provinces,” he said. The President would not pursue federalism if it would only burden the people, he said.

11. THIRD TELCO

The government is at last mak­ing progress in allowing a third major tele­communications player in the country.

According to Panelo, Dito Telecom­munity Corp., formerly known as Mislatel Consortium, is expected to start commercial operations next year after it received its Certificate of Public Convenience and Ne­cessity Frequencies from the government. In its bid, he said the group has promised to increase the basic internet speed to 55 mbps and cover 85 percent of the population in the next five years.

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