Seven takeaways from Duterte’s Second SONA

President Rodrigo Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address was a lot to take in, to say the least. His SONA, running two hours long, jumped the gun on a broad range of local and national issues, from the drug war, to Marawi, to mining industry regulation, to China, to contraceptives, to human rights. He scarcely touched base on educational reforms and the Free Tuition Bill. The dude bashed Rappler and ABS-CBN for being American puppets. The SONA barely made mention of Russia, but made references to the September 2013 Zamboanga siege. Still with us? Lost? Have no fear. As always, we’ve got highlights to get you started.

1. The Drug War

Pres. Duterte reiterated his commitment to the fight against illegal drugs, in the face of international and local pressures. Notable in this SONA was his acknowledgement of and remarks addressed to critics of his drug war, arguing that their “efforts would be better spent” educating the public about the harms of illegal drugs, as opposed to condemning authorities for drug killings.

He also used the topic of the Drug War to address criticisms lobbied against his administration by the United Nations, claiming that “human rights” trivialized locals brutalized by drug addicts.

2. Human Rights and the Death Penalty

In addition to comments mentioned above, he used his SONA to further verbalize his misgivings with  “western expert[s],” citing American ambivalence towards his drug policies as proof of their lack of credibility on the subject. Misgivings on the subject were also directed towards notable political opponent Leila de Lima, of whom he raised character concerns.

More controversial however were the President’s remarks on the Death Penalty and our Revised Penal Code, both of which he called “retributive” by design.

3. Marawi, Terrorism, National Defense

Many references were made throughout the speech to what Pres. Duterte coined “the Muslim issue,” which he mentioned has been around for centuries. His speech referred to a rebellion in Mindanao, and discussed the perils of the Battle for Marawi, and Islamic State presence in the country extensively.

The center of his discussions on Mindanao however revolved around his decision to declare Martial Law in the whole of Mindanao, chief of which being to quell insurgencies in the area “at the least cost of lives and properties.” He furthermore went on to use the topic of Mindanao and Marawi to reiterate his support for the Armed Forces, and the Philippine National Police. He went on to promise the development of social assistance programs for them, and to bolster the credibility of national defense systems thus, albeit with a lack of concrete policy details.

4. Environmental Protection

He used the Marawi crisis furthermore to serve as a springboard for discussions on climate change and the National Land Use Act. Brief remarks were made discussing Mindanao’s susceptibility to climate change, and its importance to national food production, before shifting towards the need for more stringent mining regulations. Duterte highlighted such policies as non-negotiable, warning that corporations that irresponsibly extract mineral resources will be heavily taxed, if not forced to repay environmental damages altogether.

Mining regulations aside, his SONA also put heavy emphasis on our country’s susceptibility to typhoons and earthquakes. He implored the Senate and House of Representatives to pass a bill pushing for the establishment of a new government department to handle modern disaster relief and resiliency operations.

5. Peace Talks and Foreign Relations

Pres. Duterte also reiterated his support for the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, and for indigenous peoples’ rights, and voiced his solidarity with those struggling in other tragedy-stricken areas in Mindanao, such as Cotabato, Davao, and Zamboanga. Less savoury however was his rhetoric for leftists and leftist groups such as the National Democratic Front (NDF), with whom he threatened to cease peace talks with. “Kayong mga left, I will not talk to you. Why should I?”

The SONA went on to champion the pursuit of good relations with all foreign countries that wouldn’t interfere with their administration’s drug war policies. Notable highlights here include the mentioning of improved Chinese relations, and criticism of American war atrocities, such as the Balangiga massacre.

6. Health

Towards the end of the speech, Pres. Duterte made a plea to the Supreme Court to lift the temporary restraining order on government-purchased contraceptive implants, raising concerns about their expiry dates. He then emphasised that the temporary restraining order was one of the last remaining barriers towards full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law, which if implemented, would grant women access to contraceptives and family planning resources.

He also vowed to streamline equipment procurement policies for Armed Forces hospitals, and continue extending no balance billing policies for Filipinos covered by PhilHealth insurance policies.

7. Infrastructure and Economy

Pres. Duterte vowed to fund roughly eight to nine billion pesos worth of public works projects over the course of his administration, vowing to make good on his #BuildBuildBuild infrastructure development program. He then went on to mention a few projects already in the pipeline for construction, such as port modernization efforts in Iloilo and Zamboanga, and additional roads and bridges for Metro Manila and other urban areas. He then proceeded to promise increased digital connectivity for all public places, mentioning that over 400 public locations nationwide have been equipped with free Wifi.

He then stressed however that tax reform was necessary in order to fund most of his proposed infrastructure projects, and appealed thus to the Senate to pass the reform package in full. Tax and infrastructure spending plans aside however, Duterte made scant mention of economic policies, only vaguely referring to proposed restrictions on local raw material exports.


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