Comprehensive or lacking? Lawmakers weigh in on Duterte’s SONA

WAS IT ENOUGH? President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his second State of the Nation Address. Photo by Noel Celis/AFP

MANILA, Philippines – Self-confessed “bully” President Rodrigo Duterte may have hit some of the right notes during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), but legislators from different parts of the political spectrum were left in want of discussions on key social issues that the Chief Executive himself had raised.

Legislators wondered why Duterte, who won the 2016 elections on the promise of change, left out key promises in his SONA, such as the end of contractualization, emergency powers to solve traffic in Metro Manila, legislation to create a trust fund for the P75 billion coco levy fund, and a Freedom of Information (FOI) law.

Those issues were key promises raised during the 2016 campaign or in the months between the election and the beginning of Duterte’s term.

“Campaign commitments shouldn’t end up as unfulfilled promises. Once this becomes the case, those at the margins – the workers fighting for security of tenure, the coconut farmers seeking their share of the coco levy fund, and many others – end up shortchanged by this government,” observed Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao, a Liberal Party (LP) member who is part of the House majority.

“I would describe the President’s second SONA as isang (one) bad open mic performance. Parang same old, same old lang (It’s the same old, same old); the usual,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, a member of Akbayan.

The President spoke for more than two hours, shifting from a prepared speech to long, off-the-cuff spiels. He spoke extensively about his rejection of criticism against the war on drugs, his stance against mining, promises to streamline government processes and services, among others. (READ: HIGHLIGHTS: Issues mentioned in SONA 2017)

But what some saw as a more relaxed SONA of Duterte came off as a mere “show” to others.

“It’s classic Duterte showtime! Rambling, shouting, warning, and bullying his ‘enemies.’ He knows what issues click, what emojis to use. To be populist than being right,” said Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin.

His “enemies” during the speech included alleged drug lords, critics of his drug war, long-time foe detained Senator Leila de Lima, the media, the Left, and those opposed to a Mindanao-wide martial law.

Both Hontiveros and Villarin are part of the minority blocs in both houses of Congress.

Senator Juan Edgardo Angara said the SONA was "comprehensive and very lengthy." The senator himself became an unwitting subject of Duterte’s quips as he called on the Senate to passage his proposed tax reform package in full.

Missed chances, contradictions

Anakpawis Representative Ariel Casilao, a member of the leftist Makabayan bloc in the House, said Duterte “missed the opportunity to revert back to the path towards fundamental reforms for the benefit of the marginalized sectors.”

Casilao, who was among the many militant leaders who was invited to the Palace after Duterte’s first SONA in 2016, noted that the President “avoided” talking about genuine agrarian reform, “essentially patronizing his audience belonging to the hacendero and comprador classes.”

The President did call on legislators to "immediately pass" the National Land Use Act (NALUA). “In a time when we have confusing responses from government when it comes to the rational and just use of land – from mining to conservation – we need this particular measure more than ever,” said Bag-ao.

Ifugao Representative Teddy Baguilat Jr, an LP member from the minority, said he “strongly identified” with Duterte’s lengthy arguments against mining and discussion on NALUA.

“Maybe he could have devoted more time to discussing his socio-economic agenda if he didn’t stray too often from his talk,” added the legislator, who is among Duterte’s most vocal critics in the House.

“We were expecting, however, to hear more about his accomplishments and future plans to end ‘endo.’ We believe that there is an immediate need to strengthen our labor law compliance system to ensure that companies will truly adhere with our labor laws,” said Senator Joel Villanueva, a member of the majority.

Both Casilao and Kabataan Representative Sarah Elago also noted Duterte’s “silence” on the issue of contractualization. “It shows his true nature: the highest representative of the ruling class,” said Elago, who is also a member of the Makabayan bloc.

Duterte has repeatedly declared himself as poor, just like the bulk of Filipinos. He has also repeatedly hit “oligarchs” who "abuse" the Philippines.

“I am warning all mining operations and contractors to refrain from the unbridled and irresponsible destruction of our watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources,” said Duterte, who threatened to raise taxes on the industry if they didn’t cooperate.

Elago, however, saw contradictions in Duterte’s talk and his walk.

“Duterte prods the rehabilitation of areas affected by mining, but effectively rejected DENR secretary Gina Lopez and replaced her with ex-AFP chief Cimatu, as part of the ‘military junta’ that complements attacks on communities and national minorities following mining operations,” she said.

Lopez was rejected by the powerful Commission on Appointments dominated by Duterte allies.

Drug war

Most opposition legislators also expressed alarm over Duterte’s vow to be “unrelenting” in his drug war, despite criticism at home and abroad.

“War on drugs,’ yung pagmamaliit sa karapatang pantao to the point of calling it ‘trivializing crime fighting’; to the point of calling due process ‘trivializing crime fighting’ sa halip na human rights and due process being essential parts sa demokrasya at bahagi rin sa lahat ng maayos na programa ng gobyerno, pati ang maayos na pagsugpo ng krimen,” said Hontiveros, among the many critics of Duterte’s war on drugs.

(Belittling human rights to the point of calling it trivializing crime fighting; to the point of calling due process trivializing crime fighting. Instead of human rights and due process as being essential parts of democracy and part of all the government’s plans, including crime fighting.)

Hontiveros, during a forum held a week ahead of Duterte’s SONA, said the President’s orders to reinstate a cop whom the Senate said orchestrated the murder of an alleged drug personality inside jail, was clear proof that state-sanctioned killings existed.

Duterte’s year-long drug war continues to be popular despite condemnation from international groups, foreign governments, and locals alike.

“By declaring that the so-called war on drugs will not stop, President Duterte has just declared that the war on the people will continue and intensify, instead of addressing the root causes of poverty, crisis, and the so-called destruction of the youth,” said Elago.

Thousands of drug suspects who allegedly “fought back” have been killed in police operations since the war on drugs began on July 1, 2016. Thousands more have also died at the hands of alleged vigilante groups.

Drug suspects in the tens of thousands have also been arrested by police nationwide. More than a million alleged drug personalities, meanwhile, have “surrendered” through a door-to-door police community operation called “Oplan Tokhang.”

Police have been accused of resorting to extralegal means in the name of the drug war. While the police have denied these allegations, Duterte himself is not shy in his rhetoric against alleged drug personalities.

It’s a war that’s also been characterized as anti-poor since most of the dead and arrested come from poor communities. The police have yet to net a drug lord in one year of operations. –

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