By Genalyn Kabiling
Combating criminality and corruption, promoting inclusive economic growth, and tackling the West Philippine Sea issue will likely take the spotlight in the President Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) today following a “meaningful” past year.
When he faces the joint session of the 18th Congress, the President is expected to highlight his accomplishments in these areas in the past three years as well as plans to “further move the nation forward” for the remainder of his term, according to his spokesman Salvador Panelo.
Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said President Duterte is 100 percent ready to deliver his 4th SONA after editing and cutting his speech to less than 20 pages.
“Ilang beses niya itong inedit from 28 pages, naging 19 pages na lamang ang speech. We are expecting it to be at least 17 to 18 pages to last for 45 minutes and one hour, depende sa speed ni President. Based sa ensayo last Friday, kaya niya ito in less than an hour,” he said.
“On his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), President Rodrigo Roa Duterte will report to the Filipino people the achievements of the administration in the past three years, the present situation of the country, and his plans to further move the nation forward for the next three years,” Panelo said.
“We can expect that he will tackle the promises he made on fighting corruption, illegal drugs, criminality, and rebellion,” he said.
Panelo added: “We can also expect that he will speak about other major issues, such as that of the West Philippine Sea, ways to sustain the growth in our economy, as well as his legislative agenda.”
The President will deliver his SONA amid criticisms from some groups for reportedly allowing Chinese fishermen in the country’s local waters as well as a looming United Nations Human Rights Council inquiry on his bloody war on illegal drugs.
Duterte, who continues to enjoy high public trust and approval ratings, earlier asserted that he has done nothing unconstitutional about his West Philippine Sea policy and intends to “educate” his critics about the matter during the SONA. On the UNHR resolution about the drug war, Duterte maintained that he prefers to face a local court instead of an international tribunal to defend his campaign against drugs and crime.
The Palace has taken pride that the country has reached a “better and constantly improving state” following the President’s hard work to provide a comfortable life for all Filipinos. Among the President’s feats highlighted by Panelo are the reduced crime rate, lower poverty incidence and unemployment, stable economic growth, improved social service, and infrastructure development.
“The past year has been meaningful and we are all excited for what was prepared for tomorrow’s momentous event,” Panelo said.
Ahead of the main event at the Batasan complex, the President had rehearsed the delivery of his speech at the Palace over the weekend.
According to Andanar, the President’s has been “hands-on” in crafting and editing the SONA speeches since 2016.
“The President is really hands-on when it comes to his speech. He edits, reads line per line, every word, word for word. You can see how he looks into details in his speech,” he said.
He said this year’s SONA will likely focus on building the President’s legacy, particularly in the areas of poverty alleviation, infrastructure development, and peace and order. He said the government intends to bring down poverty to 14 percent from 21 percent by 2022 and hopefully propel the country into an upper-middle-class status.
“This Monday will be the day that you will know the future and how the future will look like in the Philippines,” he said.
Andanar said another government priority will be pursuing the “Build, Build, Build” program that includes 75 railways, roads, bridges, airports, and other big-ticket infrastructure projects. He said around 28 to 35 projects would be completed within Duterte’s term.
“At the end of the day, what is important is that President Duterte sets the bar of public service and sets the bar of infrastructure building, policy making, and poverty alleviation so that the next president, the president that will be elected in 2022, will have a bar to look up to and a bar to follow or even a bar to achieve—if not achieve, to surpass. Iyon ang pinakaimportante [that’s the most important],” he said.
A unique addition to this year’s SONA will be the involvement of the world-renowned Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra (PPO) as proposed by director Joyce Bernal.
Andanar said the PPO is expected to play the Philippine national anthem and the President’s favorite songs.
The proposed 2020 national budget, tax and trade reforms, and return of the death penalty are among the administration measures President Duterte hopes the 18th Congress will swiftly pass.
Other measures, including the creation of a Department of Disaster Resilience as well as another department for overseas Filipino workers will also be part of the President’s legislative proposal to the next Congress, according to Panelo.
“Our priority is to provide a comfortable life for Filipinos,” Panelo said in an interview with the Manila Bulletin ahead of the President’s fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday.
In seeking the passage of the proposed 2020 budget, Panelo said the government hopes there will be no repeat of the reenacted budget early this year.
The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) had earlier announced that it intends to submit the proposed P4.1-trillion national budget for 2020 not later than the second week of August.
“We have experienced the impact of a reenacted budget as a result of a budget impasse and we hope that this would not happen again,” Panelo said.
“The welfare of the Filipino people is our utmost priority and therefore we call on the members of Congress to act immediately so that government services will not be hampered,” he said.
Panelo also urged Congress to support the proposed revival of the death penalty in a bid to deter heinous crimes. He said the President, who has waged a relentless campaign against illegal drugs and criminality, has been pushing for capital punishment since day one in office.
“We have seen a decline in crime volume since 2016 but a passage of the death penalty bill will hopefully effect real change and ultimate decrease, if not alleviate, heinous crimes,” he said.
“We hope that our allies in Congress would consider this piece of legislation as it would provide a safer and more secure environment for all,” he added.
To help sustain the country’s inclusive growth and accelerate poverty reduction, Malacanang is also pushing for the passage of other tax reform measures on corporate income tax, property valuation system, and capital income taxation.
The Palace also backed the proposed amendments to the foreign investment act and retail trade liberalization act.
Panelo said they would also continue to call on Congress to immediately pass the bill creating the Department of Disaster Resilience (DDR) to take charge of the country’s overall disaster prevention and response efforts.
“The President stresses the importance of the creation of a disaster department in order to address the country’s emerging challenges to disaster residency,” he said.
The proposed creation of a department catering to the needs of Filipinos abroad has also been endorsed by the President, according to Panelo.
Duterte had earlier said he wanted the new OFW department to be ready by December as he sought to address illegal recruitment and other concerns affecting Filipino workers abroad.