The best way to handle a President like Rodrigo Roa Duterte is to focus more on what he does and not necessarily listen to everything he says.
In his last three years, he vowed to make “a comfortable life for all Filipinos”- not rich, stylish and extravagant – but comfortable. That means wrestling down the ratio of Filipinos living under the poverty line to its barest minimum.
Reading between his 4th SONA lines, one sees huge tendencies towards being populist which probably explains Duterte’s very high approval rating mid-term in his wake, better than many presidents ahead of him.
He tackled one of his pet peeves – corruption- as one of the reasons why the country is losing so many funds intended for socio-economic services.
This is the reason Duterte claimed that he had fired or caused the resignation of 100 top government officials since 2016, many of them his friends Duterte appointed.
Paraphrasing some of his populist goals and wishlist in the SONA:
* Imposing a new “death penalty” for both drug cases and those involving plunder ( involving more than P50-Million)
* Expanding the nationwide wide usage of the “8888 Complaint Hotline” to the Executive Secretary -whose issues the president promised to personally attend to.
* Dispelling talks Duterte “cleaned up” Boracay in order to free the other land to his friends and cronies, he declared the entire Boracay island a “Land Reform Area” and distributed the remaining land to Aetas and minorities.
* Confirmed that the new “free education” state policy has resulted in 27 million students enrolled now in state-owned schools nationwide.
* Continue the DTI support for small businesses which had resulted in P3-Billion financing to 86,000 small entrepreneurs in three years.
* Expansion of the “Malasakit Program” in state hospitals and the installation of health workers in every barangay.
* Institutionalization of the “Salary Standardization Law” that will effectively increase the salaries of the overworked, underpaid teachers and nurses.
* Urged fast-tracking the passage of the “National Land Use” Act into Law and, thus, hasten the entry of foreigners to invest and, thus, create many jobs for Filipinos.
* Instructed the DILG chief to suspend local officials who delay business approvals and the like and their failure to implement the “Ease fo Doing Business” Law.
* Sharpen the implementing rules and regulations on the use of funds meant to soften the blow on 10 million rice farmers dislocated by the passage of the Rice Tarrification Law that liberalizes rice importation.
* Asked Congress to pass a law that will govern the usage of the P100-B Coconut Levy Fund and set aside P 5-B of that in trust- the financial gains of which will be sustained to improve the coconut industry as a whole.
* Gave Land Bank of the Philippines till the end of July 2019 to come up with programs to help the rural farmers and fisherfolks, rather than do mostly commercial bank transactions which are not primordial in its charter.
* To respect their Security of Tenure (without affirmed criminal charges), the 120 Bureau of Customs officials and staff singled out for graft will retain their position in the plantilla but will be given jobs not related to their position in other agencies of government.
* Implement the spirit of the passed Bangsamoro Law to help break the poverty level in the most underdeveloped region in the nation, mostly made up of Muslims.
Of course, programs of the government, no matter how well-planned- cannot operate without the necessary funding. Thus, fiscal-wise, the Government will move for the increase in the excise “sin” taxes on both alcohol and cigarettes and rationalize through the “Trabaho” Bill the rate of corporate income tax to level up with our neighbors and the excessive incentives for investors in specialized zones.
Also, the laggards and graft-ridden government-owned and controlled corporations will continue to be in close radar watch which already positively resulted last in some P61-B contribution to the national coffers – instead of being a “financial” drag to the government in the previous years.
Duterte also created three new departments to address specific grievances of different people: the Departments of OFW Filipinos, Water Resources Management and Disaster Resiliency.
These agencies are meant to micro-manage the recent-volatile issues touching on (1) lack of available water in Metro Manila and neighboring provinces, (2) abuses against Filipino OFWs and (3) the back-breaking poverty engendered by punishing weather and climate change-borne disasters.
On the debilitating traffic in Manila that burdens all travelers and cost P3.5 Billion a day in losses, he gave the Metro Manila Authority to use its state powers to convert public lands now unlawfully used by private interests to be reverted back for good public usage.
The president smartly gave little coverage on two controversial issues hounding his administration: the West Philippine Sea imbroglio and the drug problem. He said with many claimants to the sea area- allowing fishing to all claimants is a “balancing act” similar to perhaps (implying) a joint oil and mineral exploration of resources with other claimants without necessarily surrendering our legal rights as a sovereign by virtue of an accepted international arbiter’s previous ruling.
On the other hand, he merely noted that the government had also lost 175 lives and had 2,000 law enforces wounded in the brutal anti-drug war which officially places the casualty level of drug offenders at over 5,500 dead.
Duterte seemed determined to finish his term in 2022 although he had expressed sometimes in his speech – his extreme exasperation with the situation every now and then – even as he repeated his offer to the “men in uniform” to quietly ask him to resign if he is no longer up to it rather than launch a bloody coup d’etat to take over power.
Half in jest, half in earnest, the president said that in the twilight of his years, if ever he is jailed for whatever cause, Duterte merely asked for a heater during winter and airconditioning for the summer months in his jail- and “unlimited conjugal visits” in his comical, inimitable “Digong Way”.
But to us, his moves related to addressing the more popular needs of the greater masses were more edifying than the rest- if only his words were truly carried out as instructed by his linemen.
Let us wait and see- three years down the road.
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