Just over a year has passed since Rodrigo Duterte assumed office as the 16th President of the Philippines following a landslide victory in the 2016 Elections on a populist platform. It has also been roughly a year since he first faced the country on his inaugural State of the Nation Address, laying out his general policy towards taking on the pressing concerns and problems of the state and its people. His direction led to a vigorous anti-drug campaign that was lambasted by local and international critics, the pursuit of a new foreign policy turning away from the United States towards Russia and China, as well as overtures of peace towards the Communist insurgency. Last Monday President Duterte faced the country again for his second SONA, and the problems he brought up were much the same, with more besides.
As CNN Philippines tells it, President Duterte allotted a portion of his entire two-hour State of the Nation Address on July 24 to defending certain decisions and courses of actions he had undertaken both in the previous year 2016 and earlier in 2017. This includes the ongoing lethal drug war; Duterte had one boasted being able to cow the drug trade into submission six months after the start of his term through the liberal application of lethal force on those resisting arrest. He eventually admitted in his SONA that putting such a deadline on his campaign was too optimistic to be realistic, but that he will stay the course regarding the war on drugs.
Another policy that Duterte had to put his foot down on is the extension of martial law in Mindanao for the rest of the year, in the wake of the ISIS-backed Maute uprising in Marawi since May that has seen the Islamic city being bombed into a ghost town. He also felt the need to slam the concept of human rights whenever it was called upon by critics to moderate either the anti-drug campaign or the martial law and prevention of Marawi residents from returning to their homes at this time. In his opinion, “human rights” enabled crimes to be trivialized and are therefore unhelpful in upholding law.
His next major target during his speech was his steps towards taking down the Philippines’ major multi-million mining concerns down by a few pegs, with proposed heavy taxation on the companies for environmental damage wrought by their operations. Speaking of taxation, Duterte also set forth a number of reforms in that front, with bills set to both reduce the income tax and crank up taxation on new automobiles, vehicle fuel and beverages with sugar sweeteners. His idea is that the burden of heavy tax rates will be lessened on the poor and financially vulnerable.
Other issues brought up by the President on his SONA, which was under the general theme of “A Better Life for All”, were his decision to cut talks with the Communists after their continuing belligerent activities, preparations for a potential “Big One” earthquake in Metro Manila, pushing for the Reproductive Health Law, more OFW assistance, red tape reduction, and an exhortation against the US to return the rest of the church bells stolen by American forces during the Balangiga massacre of 1901.
Since his first SONA back in 2016, several of Duterte’s programs have been achieved which he then recalled during his Monday address. These include changing the national emergency hotline from 117 to 911, the national public smoking ban, the extensive installation of public-use Wi-Fi, and the launch of Muslim-catering broadcast television channel “Salaam TV” under the PTV government network umbrella.
Photo courtesy of ABSCBN News