Duterte's Sona lists priority measures for 18th Congress

(Photo grabbed from PTV)

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, July 22, 2019, guaranteed that he would fulfill his long-time pledge to raise the salaries of 800,000 public school teachers in the country.

During his fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona), the President urged Congress to pass a "new version" of the Salary Standardization Law (SSL) to raise the teachers' monthly pay.

"I therefore believe that it is now time for Congress to approve a new version of the Salary Standardization Law. Ngayon na (Do it now). And to the teachers who work tirelessly to educate our young, kasali na ho dito ang hinihingi ninyo (your request for an increased salary is included here)," Duterte said.

Duterte gave the assurance amid a teachers group's appeal for him to "act on his promise" to increase the salaries of public school teachers nationwide.

Entry-level teachers currently enjoy a monthly salary of P20,754, following the implementation of the fourth and last tranche of wage hike for government workers this year as provided under the SSL IV.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones earlier noted that the government needs to shell out around P150 billion for the proposed P10,000 across-the-board salary increase for public school teachers.

On June 4, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo asked public school teachers to be patient, as he assured them that Duterte would keep his promise to raise their salaries.

Duterte also asked Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to illegal drugs.

Duterte said the government still has a long way to go in the fight against illegal drugs. He warned drug offenders that the government's fight against illegal drugs would continue to be harsh in his remaining three years in office.

Duterte made the request after recalling how tons of illegal drugs and graft money were found after the five-month battle in Marawi City.

"Drug money killed 175 and wounded 2,001 of my soldiers and policemen in that five-month battle. I am aware that we still have a long way to go in our fight against this social menace. That's the reason why I advocate the imposition of the death penalty for crimes related to illegal drugs," the President said.

At the same time, he also vowed to continue the fight against corruption. "The drugs will not be crushed, unless we continue to eliminate corruption that allows the social monster to survive. I respectfully Congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to drugs, as well as plunder," he said.

The restoration of the death penalty has always been one of the priorities of the Duterte administration.

The House passed its version of the death penalty bill, focusing only on drug-related offenses, in March 2017. The Senate, however, failed to pass a similar bill in the 17th Congress.

The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 2006, under the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Arroyo voted against its restoration in 2017 and was subsequently stripped of her position as Deputy Speaker.

Arroyo was among the 2,000 guests in the plenary hall of the House of Representatives who attended Duterte's Sona. Other former Presidents, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada Ejercito, are seated next to her.

Duterte's call for the restoration of the death penalty was made less than two weeks after the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted an Iceland-led resolution, which seeks thorough scrutiny of the Philippines' human rights situation following the surge in drug-related killings.

The resolution mandates UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to present a comprehensive report on Duterte's drug war by June 2020. Around 6,600 alleged drug offenders were killed in law enforcement operations from July 2016 to May 2019, according to the data released the Philippine National Police released in June.

The President insisted that he would ignore any foreign intrusion in his anti-narcotics campaign.

Earlier, Duterte also stressed that killings would go on, if it is the only way to put an end to the rampant sale of illegal drugs in the country.

Meanwhile, Duterte reiterated that his zero tolerance for corruption remains the key policy of his administration.

In his last three years in office, the President pledged to go after government workers who are involved in any unlawful activities. He made the commitment as he lamented that corruption "continues" and remains "pervasive."

"I have fired or caused the resignation of more than a hundred officials and appointees of government," Duterte said. "Without regard to relationship and friendship and alliance, there is no sacred cow as the same goes in my administration," he added.

He acknowledged the pervasive spread of corruption in government despite his crackdown against erring public officials and employees.

Just more than a week prior to his fourth Sona, Duterte placed 64 personnel of Bureau of Customs (BOC) under floating status because of their supposed link to corruption.

He also directed the filing of administrative charges against the allegedly corrupt BOC officials before the Office of the Ombudsman.

Frustrated by the unabated corruption in government, Duterte has sought to take drastic measures against public servants linked to irregularities.

He said there are still many corrupt officials who will face dismissal from service. "[I] fight corruption still until now. However much is to be done in ensuring our responsiveness to the people's needs, based on the complaints received by this contact center Bayan. That's in my office," Duterte said.

The President also urged Congress to pass a bill seeking the establishment of a department that would attend to the needs of overseas Filipinos workers (OFWs).

On July 12, the President said he wanted the creation of a Department of OFW by December 2019, as he lamented that labor problems continue to confront many Filipino migrant workers.

The President also sought the Congress's enactment of the proposed Magna Carta for Barangays, the Malasakit and Serbisyo Program, Fire Protection and Modernization Program, and the additional benefit for solo parents.

He also pushed for the senators and congressmen's approval of a measure establishing a Department of Resilience, which focuses on national hazard and climate change, and Department of Water Resources or Water Regulatory Commission to address water crisis in the country.

Duterte also sought the passage of a legislative bill that would create a national academy for sports for high school students.

He also wanted Congress to review and pass the government rightsizing bill to reconfigure the existing Metro Manila-centric bureacracy and streamline government systems "in order to deliver services without delay and even in a short timeline."

He also wanted the Senate and the House of Representatives to approve a measure that would suspend the conduct of synchronized village and youth elections in May 2020.

To recall, Duterte did not cast his vote last May 2018 for the twin elections, as he stressed that these were "purely political" in nature.

Last year's conduct of the village and youth elections were not postponed despite the chief executive's call because of the 17th Congress' failure to approve a measure suspending the political exercise.

He also wanted Congress to approve the proposed National Land Use Act, package two of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program or the "Trabaho Bill," and the "new version" of the Salary Standardization Law.

Duterte pledged to accelerate the implementation of the government's massive infrastructure program.

"To the Build, Build, Build program in emerging economic hubs outside Metro Manila, this will simply gain ground. Thanks to the effort of the economic team led by [Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III]," Duterte said. "[Those who are also] hard at work in the interconnection of our islands and cities by air, land, and sea [are] our Secretaries [Arthur] Tugade (Transportation) and [Mark] Villar (Public Works)," he added.

Duterte's ambitious "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure program targets to roll out a total of 75 flagship projects worth at least P2.18 trillion before his term ends in 2022.

The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) Board has so far approved 37 of 75 key infrastructure projects worth P1.564 trillion. Out of the 37 approved projects, around 14 are expected to be completed by 2022 while the remaining 23 will extend beyond 2022. Most of Duterte's infrastructure projects are funded by China and Japan. Duterte has vowed to maintain a corrupt-free and competitive business environment in the Philippines, as he encouraged other nations to invest in the country's infrastructure projects.

The President also expressed confidence that there is no corruption in the entry of the country's third telecommunications player Dito Telecommunity Corp., formerly known as Mindanao Islamic Telephone Company (Mislatel) consortium.

Duterte reiterated that the entry of the new telecommunications player will break the existing duopoly of PLDT/Smart and Globe Telecom.

"We also paved the way for the entry of third telecommunications provider. Do not worry about this. There is no corruption at all. I guarantee you," Duterte said. "I do not talk to them. I just say, do your work, and kung maaari (and if possible), according to what the specifications are required by this government," he added.

Dito, a consortium of Dennis Uy's Udenna Corporation and subsidiary Chelsea Logistics and Infrastructure Holdings Corporation with China Telecommunications Corp., secured the slot for the country's third telecommunications player after a bidding conducted by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) in November 2018.

The NTC issued a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity, or permit to operate, to the consortium on July 8.

The Department of Information and Communications Technology earlier said Dito may start accepting subscribers by the fourth quarter of 2019.

Dito has said in a statement that it intends to implement a pilot user program towards the end of 2019.

Dito spokesperson Adel Tamano said the telecommunications firm would begin its commercial operations in the second quarter of 2020.

Duterte expressed optimism that Dito would offer better and reliable telecommunications services to the Filipino people. "I challenge this new player to fulfill its commitment to provide fast and reliable telecommunications services to our people, especially in the underserved areas," the President said.

As for his non-confrontational policy on the long-standing disputes between the Philippines and China in the resource-rich South China Sea, the President said this would benefit the Filipinos.

Duterte reassured the nation that he would insist on the Philippines' ownership of the contested waters, but insisted that it is not time yet.

"About the West Philippine Sea, the avoidance of armed conflict and protection of or territorial waters and natural resources compel us to perform a delicate balancing act. A shooting war is grief and misery multiplier," he said. "War leads widows and orphans in its way. I am not ready or inclined to accept the occurrence of more destruction, more widows, and more orphans, should war even on a limited scale break out," he added.

Duterte stressed that for now, the best option is to resolve Manila's sea disputes with Beijing through diplomatic negotiations.

"We cannot, you know, have our own teeth," he said. "More and better resource can be reached in the privacy of a conference room than in a squabble in the public. That is why I will do in a peaceful way, mindful in the pact that it is an international pride and territorial integrity that are at stake," he added.

The President also once again slammed critics for threatening to impeach him for being noncommital about China's activities within the Philippine waters.

The opposition has claimed that Duterte's alleged tolerance of Beijing's aggression in the South China Sea could be considered a culpable violation of the 1987 Constitution or betrayal of public trust, two of the five grounds for an impeachment of an elected official. Manila and Beijing's resolve to keep the peace in the South China Sea was tested after a Chinese vessel on June 9 rammed, sank and abandoned a Filipino fishing boat at Recto (Reed) Bank, which is located within the Philippines' 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.

"There are those who say that we should stand up and stop those who fish in our economic zone. Of course, we will do in due time," the President said.

Duterte issued his latest pronouncement even after the June 22 to 26 poll by Social Weather Stations (SWS) revealed that 93 percent of Filipinos want Manila to regain control of the features in the South China Sea that are being currently occupied by Beijing.

The same SWS survey also found that 89 percent of Filipinos believe it was "not right" for Duterte to "leave China alone" with its continuing military build-up in the hotly-contested islands in the South China Sea.

Duterte has repeatedly refused to invoke the July 2016 landmark arbitral win against China's claim to South China Sea before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The President also sought to look for ways to spur the economic development of the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (Barmm).

Duterte made the statement as he renewed his vow to bring long-lasting peace and order in the Bangsamoro region.

"Developmental gains will not be felt by our people in the countryside if we cannot maintain law and order. Iyang peace and order, we need to enforce the law. After almost two decades of peace negotiations with the Bangsamoro Organic Law, [it] was finally passed and ratified," he said. "It is my hope that the Bangsamoro transition will fast track the establishment of regional government that will secure a comfortable life for Muslim brothers and sisters and all indigenous communities in the Bangsamoro region," he added.

The Barmm was established following the Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 plebiscites that ratified the historic Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL), which is anchored on the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro signed between the national government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in 2014.

The Barmm, created under the BOL in place of the now-defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, enjoys expanded land and water jurisdiction, greater fiscal autonomy and increased share in national government resources, among others.

The new Bangsamoro region is composed of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Marawi City, Lamitan City, Cotabato City and 63 villages in North Cotabato.

Other priority measures the President wishes the 18th Congress will pass: the proposed National Defense Act, retirement reforms and the mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program.

In Cebu City, around 1,000 members of various cause-oriented groups staged a march protest from Fuente Osmeña to Colon St., hours before Duterte delivered his fourth Sona.

Jaime Paglinawan, chairman of Bayan Central Visayas, said the activity highlighted the President's failed promises and the continuing attacks against the people.

“What we want is to defend our sovereignty, which, said to say, is being disregarded by President Duterte through his allegiance to China,” he said. “We would also like to demand from his his promise of putting an end to contractualization. At the same time, also to push for the endorsement of the P750 nationwide minimum wage,” he added.

Moreover, Paglinawan expressed the group's gratitude to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

“We are very thankful to the UNCHR, especially to Iceland, which was the one which really proposed the conduct of investigation on the killings in the Philippines, which went as high as 27,000 fatalities of either riding-in-tandem or vigilante-style killings,” he said.

Among the groups that participated in the nationwide protest were the Anak-Pawis Party-list, Bayan Muna Party-list, Alsa Kontraktwal, AMA Sugbo-KMU, Bayan Central Visayas, Gabriela, Kilusang Magbubukid sa Pilipinas, Piston-Cebu and Anakbayan.

Police Regional Office 7 Director Debold Sinas said they would exercise maximum tolerance as long as the protesters held their activities in freedom parks.

Because of Duterte's Sona, the entire Central Visayas was placed under red alert status from 8 a.m. Monday to 8 a.m. Tuesday, July 23.


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