Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has delivered his annual State of The Nation (SONA) address before a joint session of the Philippine Congress. His speech touched on all of the major areas his administration seeks to address and continue to address throughout the remainder of his six year term.
Duterte began his speech with a sobering reminder that “the war against illegal drugs is far from over”. He further stated that the war against illegal drugs must be “as relentless and as chilling as on the day it begun”.
Turning to critics hiding behind the rhetoric of ‘human rights’, Duterte made it clear that his war on drugs is designed to insure the genuine human rights of innocent, normal, law abiding Filipinos whose lives have been ruined by the scourge of narcotics. Duterte then delivered what is certain to be remembered as the most poignant line of his speech in saying,
“If you think I can be dissuaded from my drug war…by protests which I believe are misdirected, then you’ve got it all wrong. Your concern is human rights – mine is human lives”.
The Philippine President stated that “corruption is like a leach that bleeds the government…it saps the morale of dedicated government workers”. He further described bureaucratic greed by saying that the “love of money is corrosive” and that furthermore, “stolen wealth does not make the thief respectable”.
Duterte has emphasised his bureaucratic reforms stating that all officials who do not work to implement measures designed to cut red tape will face the appropriate consequences. He urged government workers to “Make your services customer friendly, our people deserve efficient, effective government services”.
Duterte further warned against those who think that personal loyalty can help them to purchase a proverbial get out of jail free card. He stated that corruption will not be tolerated even among those friendly and loyal to the President. Duterte stated,
“I value friendship. But make no mistake, it has its limits. It pains me to end friendships that is why I appeal to you to help my cause so that our friendship will endure”.
Mindanao and BBL
Duterte affirmed that his administration will never let “our Muslim brothers and sisters” down, stating that it is of the utmost importance for the Congress the Bangsamoro Organic Law (formerly the Bangsamoro Basic Law–BBL) so that he can sign and implement the law, ideally within 24 hours. This law will grant local autonomy to the Moro (Philippine Muslim) communities who live in large areas in Mindanao.
Duterte further stated that he does not seek war but only peace among all factions in Mindanao. He thanked the military and security services for their heroism in liberating the formerly Daesh (ISIS) besieged city of Marawi in Mindanao and stated he welcomes the rehabilitation of former terrorists who have turned their back on extremist groups and seek to work for a better life for all Moros as well as their Christian neighbours in the format of the Bangsamoro Organic Law.
In speaking further about his home island of Mindanao, Duterte hinted at further fiscal reforms on a model working towards a federalised republic. He stated that for too long, the wealth generated by the hands of Mindanao’s people has been upwardly transferred to Imperial Manila, thus representing a grave injustice against some of the poorest parts of The Philippines.
In a stern rebuke to his Liberal Sinophobic critics, Duterte stated,
“We shall continue to reach out to all nations irrespective of their political proclivities…so long as they wish us well”.
Duterte stated that his record of working more closely with fellow ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) members has helped to bring The Philippines closer to its Malaysian and Indonesian partners who now jointly patrol maritime borders which has resulted in a decease in piracy and the trafficking of contraband.
Duterte pointed to The Philippines hosting the 50th Anniversary of ASEAN and the 31st full ASEAN summit as moments of pride for the nation.
Turning specificially to China, Duterte stated, “Our re-energised relations with China have led to cooperation in fighting crime, including in narcotics”. Duterte further stated that unlike under previous administrations the governments in both nations now work together to stop the proliferation and trafficking of drugs by organised criminals of both Philippine and Chinese origin.
Duterte emphasised a position not of favouring one superpower partner over another but instead spoke from a position of win-win geopolitical neutrality. He further admonished critics in opposition parties in saying,
“Improved relations with China do not mean we will waiver in asserting relations in the West Philippine Sea. Detractors have faulted the president for being too soft on the issue despite Beijing’s continuing militarization of the disputed waters”.
Pointing to the win-win results of Sino-Philippine cooperation in the South China Sea, Duterte stated that because of a dialogue process that he has championed, Filipino fishermen now have full access to disputed waters and that only through continuing an ASEAN-China dialogue format is progress possible.
Here, Duterte rejected hostility as a means of solving a dispute while others have dangerous called for confrontation with China – a country that under Duterte’s administration is a partner that looks forward to dialogue based problem solving with Manila.
Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs)
Where previous leaders tended to ignore the contributions of OFWs as well as their concerns, Duterte has consistently sought to reach out to OFWs. Whenever Duterte travels to a nation with a large population of OFWs, he always makes it a priority to meet with them.
The Philippine President said that OFWs represent the “innate resilience of the nation”. He further condemned the abuse of OFWs by foreign employers in a reference to this year’s dispute with the Kuwaiti regime over the mistreatment of Filipinos in the Arab state.
Duterte stated that companies wantonly abusing the natural environment will be held to account. Stating that
“My duty is to uphold the greatest good for the greatest number”.
Duterte then turned to the issue of Boracay island – a tourist resort closed by his administration due to gross environmental abuses by black market businesses and oligarchs who had allowed a place of natural beauty to deteriorate at a worrying level. Duterte said that all previous administrations and even his at first, were non-responsive to the issues facing Boracay.
He then said “We will help restore environment and bring back jobs….Local governments must enact laws without being forced by central government”.
Duterte also committed to opening a governmental department for disaster relief while continuing to work towards ensuring sustainable development “starting now”.
Rodrigo Duterte pledged a “fairer tax system for all”. While stating that his TRAIN reforms are an important first step, that the next proposed tax reforms must be passed as soon as possible to ensure that wealthy oligarchs pay the taxation that they had previous evaded, while micro, small and medium sized businesses can receive tax relief. Duterte renewed pledges to lower corporate income tax for small businesses. In doing so Duterte said that such businesses “will have more money to invest and create more jobs”. He further reminded the country that “More than 99% of our businesses are small or medium and they employ 65% of our workers”.
Duterte said that the country needs sustainable economic growth that “does not leave any Filipino behind”. While his government plans to increase subsidies to the poor he warned that “no amount of subsidy can help if businesses take advantage of their situation. I ask businesses to cooperate with us in charging a fair price”. In so far as this is the case, he warned against rice cartels fleecing the poor. In a direct statement to the rice industry he said “Consider yourselves warned for this economic sabotage”.
Duterte pressed for the urgent passage of the Universal Healthcare Bill drafted by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, while pledging further investment in order to streamline quality healthcare throughout all parts of the country.
In another memorable line, Duterte stated,
“Strong political determination, not political ambition is the guiding light”.
He reaffirmed that he will not serve one day longer than his current term and that current proposals for constitutional reform will not change this. Duterte stated that he plans to deliver on federal constitutional reforms and thanked the Consultative Committee for their proposals. However, he did not go into the details of rival proposals. However, as former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who is currently a member of Duterte’s PDP-Laban party was appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives just prior to the SONA, it remains possible that a federal-parliamentary system might reach Duterte’s desk as Arroyo has been a long time chamption of a unicameral parliamentary system.
Duterte ended by quoting famed former American President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln said,
“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best i know how – the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what’s said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference”.
This was a fitting conclusion for a President whose main task is to serve the nation rather than bow before devious agendas.