A CLEAN government that will issue passports good for 10 years, provide universal health care, and connect citizens through fast and free wireless Internet service in public plazas was among the promises President Rodrigo Duterte made yesterday afternoon.
His first State of the Nation Address (SONA) also included mentions of the fight against illegal drugs, a plan to lower income tax rates, and a promise to make passports and drivers’ licenses valid for much longer.
“We will not stop until the last drug lords have surrendered or are put behind bars or below ground,” said Duterte. He won with more than 16 million votes in the May 9 election by campaigning on a tough anti-crime platform and social media-savvy messaging.
President Duterte’s first SONA lasted around 92 minutes, much longer than the 38 minutes projected by his presidential communications secretary. But it also included some off-the-cuff remarks. At some points, he skipped reading passages that he said were too long.
His promises included: a sustained fight against human trafficking and illegal recruitment; a streamlined processing of government permits and licenses, which would take no more than three days; a department that will make it easier for overseas Filipino workers to get their required papers; and mass transit systems in Cebu and Davao, among other areas.
President Duterte also declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist guerrillas effectively immediately and asked the rebels to do the same to end decades of violence and foster the resumption of peace talks.
Addressing the New People’s Army (NPA) guerrillas, Duterte said: “Let us end these decades of ambuscades and skirmishes. We are going nowhere and it is getting bloodier by the day.”
“Let me make this appeal to you,” he said. “If we cannot as yet love one another, then in God’s name, let us not hate each other too much.”
The military welcomed Duterte’s announcement, but said it “will remain alert, vigilant and ready to defend itself and pursue attackers if confronted by armed elements” of the NPA.
Communism ceased to be illegal in the administration of President Fidel Ramos, whose term was from 1992 to 1998.
But the decades-long communist insurgency, one of Asia’s longest, has left about 150,000 combatants and civilians dead since it broke out in the late 1960s. It also has stalled economic development, especially in the countryside, where the Maoist insurgents have had an active presence.
Duterte, 71, who describes himself as a socialist, has given concessions to the rebels and designated left-wing activists to at least two Cabinet posts.
The rapport he had built with the political left was evident outside the House of Representatives complex, where Duterte delivered his nationally televised speech. Instead of the violent confrontations between riot police and left-wing protesters that have taken place in the past, activists were allowed to camp outside the congressional complex and police were seen greeting and giving them juice drinks.
As to the government’s fight against illegal drugs, Duterte asked the police and local government units (LGUs) down to the barangays to double their efforts—“or triple them if need be”—in order to help stop this menace.
He ordered the Department of Interior and Local Government to strictly monitor how LGUs perform their supervisory functions over the police.
“There will be no let-up in this campaign...We will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher has surrendered or been put behind bars or below the ground if they so wish,” he said.
“In this quest, I will put at stake my honor, my life and the presidency itself,” the former prosecutor and Davao City mayor added.
He asked Congress to lower personal and corporate income taxes; provide protection for whistleblowers; amend the Philippine Passport Law that was passed 20 years ago, to make passports valid for at least 10 years; and to support him as he attempts to provide “immediate” solutions to traffic.
If Congress has apprehensions about giving him emergency powers due to the risk of corruption, he said it wouldn’t happen in his administration.
“I assure you this will be a clean government,” he said.
He added he will establish an 8888 hotline that is dedicated to receive complaints of the public about corruption.
Duterte also announced he intends to provide free WiFi access at no cost in selected public spaces, including parks, plazas, public libraries, schools, government hospitals, train stations, airports and seaports.
As for the reduction of red tape, he said the processing time should be reduced to the minimum—at most, three days—like what is being done in Davao City.
“That will bind the Office of the President down to the last barangay,” he said. He added he doesn’t want the public to have to make follow-ups, and recalled being pained by the sight of permit applicants sleeping or getting exposed to the heat or rain on the pavements outside government offices.
Despite all the problems the country is facing, President Duterte said the Filipino people should power through.
“We are imbued with resiliency that has been tested and proven. We have a bond to act together. We have to help each other for then and only then can we truly prevail. And the Filipino, disciplined, informed, involved, shall rise from the sorrow and pain,” he said. (With AP)