By Argyll Cyrus Geducos and Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte directed every government agency under the Executive Department to strictly enforce the Ease of Doing Business Act which aims to simplify business-related government transactions.
“I hereby direct all local government units – makinig sana kayo (I hope you listen) – and government agencies to faithfully implement this law and simply simplify the process,” Duterte said in his third State of the Nation Address (SONA).
“Hinihingi ko ho ‘yan sa lahat nasa gobyerno (I’m asking that from everyone who is) under my control and supervision. Huwag ho kayong magkamali (Do not think of making a mistake),” he warned.
Duterte also called the attention of the agencies with the most number of red tape-related reports from the public to make your services truly customer-friendly.
“Our people deserve efficient, effective, and responsive government services. They deserve nothing less. Kayo lang ang ayaw eh (It’s just you who don’t want it),” he said.
Rice hoarders warned
Duterte also issued a stern warning to rice hoarders and cartels to “stop messing with the Filipino people” or else face the full force of the law for triggering artificial rice shortage.
He also vowed not to waver in his campaign to quell illegal drugs, corruption in government, and criminality.
The President also said around P149 billion would be released to help poor and vulnerable sectors to cope with soaring consumer prices but admitted no amount could help them if businesses abuse the situation to earn more profits.
“To help stabilize rice prices, we also need to address the issue of artificial rice shortage. I now ask all the rice hoarders, cartels, and their protectors – you know that I know who you are: Stop messing with the people,” Duterte said.
“Power sometimes is not a good thing. But I hope I will not have to use it against you. Consider yourselves warned; mend your ways now or the full force of the State shall be brought to bear upon you,” he added.
Duterte said he has directed authorities to unmask the perpetrators of the “economic sabotage” and bring them to justice.
From P149 billion this year, the President noted that the government would increase the subsidies to the poor and vulnerable sectors to P169 billion next year.
“But no amount of subsidy can help the poor if some businesses take advantage of the situation to make more money. I ask businesses to cooperate with us in charging a fair price,” he said.
On a long-term solution to lower rice prices, Duterte has certified as urgent the rice tariffication bill to ensure its swift passage in Congress.
Duterte said the country must switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system where rice can be imported more freely.
“This will give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to P7 per kilo, and lower inflation significantly. I ask Congress to prioritize this crucial reform, which I have certified as urgent today,” he said.
Key bills endorsed
President Duterte also endorsed the passage of a total ban on unlawful contractualization, Charter change for the shift to federalism, and other priority measures to Congress.
Other priority bills mentioned by the President are the second package of the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), national land use policy, creation of the Department of Disaster Management, coconut levy trust fund, and universal healthcare.
But senators are lukewarm to Duterte’s directive for Congress to pass the second package of TRAIN Law.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri said most senators are lukewarm to the idea and said he would push first for a review of the TRAIN 1 before Congress tackles TRAIN 2.
“We need to hear the side of the Department of Finance (DOF) on this proposal. But the Senate is going to study this very, very carefully,” Zubiri said.
“I maintain my view that we need to consider the suspension of the excise taxes on fuels – not the entire law – in order to protect Filipino consumers from spiraling prices of goods,” Sen. JV Ejercito said.
Duterte also underscored his solid commitment to directly and decisively address the country’s collective challenges.
“It has not wavered. In truth, it has even gotten stronger through adversity and the desire to give the people the most we can, within my term in this government,” he said.
Duterte was referring to his key promises during the 2016 presidential elections – ending the illegal drug trade, criminality, and corruption in government.
War on drugs
According to Duterte, the war on illegal drugs is far from over.
Noting the amount in pesos of the illegal drugs seized in legitimate operations, Duterte said that he can only “shudder” when he thinks of the harm that the substance could have done if they reached the streets throughout the country.
“This is why the illegal drugs war will not be sidelined. Instead, it will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began,” Duterte said.
“These drug dealers know fully well that their business is against the law. They know the consequences of their criminal acts, especially when caught in flagrante delicto and they violently resist arrest,” he added.
“They know that illegal drugs waste away lives, dysfunctionalize families, and ruin relationships. They know that once hooked, addicts will die slowly – slow deaths.
And yet, they persist in doing what they do, oblivious to the terrible harm that they cause to the people and communities,” he continued.
‘Human lives is my concern’
Duterte also took note of how human rights advocates criticize the government, particularly law enforcers, to no end when illegal drug operations turn nasty and bloody.
“I have yet to hear really howls of protest from the human rights advocates and church leaders against drug-lordism, drug dealing, and drug pushing as forceful and vociferous as the ones directed against the alleged errant [law] enforcers in the fight against this social scourge,” he said.
Duterte said that protests will not dissuade him from his goal of ending the illegal drug trade.
“If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of [your] demonstrations, your protests, which I find, by the way, misdirected, then you got it all wrong,” he said.
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives. The lives of our youth are being wasted and families are destroyed, and all because of the chemicals called shabu, cocaine, cannabis, and heroin,” he added.
To Duterte, human rights is giving Filipinos, especially those at the society’s fringes, a decent and dignified future through the social and physical infrastructures necessary to better their lives.
He vowed to protect the lives and freedoms, and the hard-earned property of every Filipino from criminals, terrorists, corrupt officials, and traffickers [of] contrabands.
“You worry about the present; I am concerned [about] both the present and the future,” Duterte said.
“I worry about the future because I know what crimes can do to the youth of this country. If not stopped, crimes can make human cesspools of succeeding generations. I will not allow it to happen. Not during my term,” he added.
Duterte also reiterated his resolve to stop corruption in government, comparing it to a leech that bleeds the government of funds which are supposed to be used for infrastructure and other social development projects.
He also said that corruption saps the morale of dedicated and honest government workers, and destroys those who succumb to its temptation.
“Eventually it is the innocent who will suffer and bear its horrible consequences. The love of money is corrosive. And sadly, the desire to make the easy kind by being imaginative and manipulative, corrupts absolutely,” Duterte said.
“One day, justice will catch up with those who steal government funds. And when that day comes, it will be the public who will have its retribution,” he added.
According to Duterte, he has fired even his closest allies due to corruption and will not hesitate to continue doing so. However, he pleaded those still in office to stop and save their friendship.
“I value friendship, make no mistake about it. But it has its limits,” he said.
“This is a lonely place I am hemmed in. Do not make it lonelier by forcing me to end our friendship because you gave me the reason to end it. It pains me to end – the loss of friendships,” he added.
President Duterte also announced that he was prepared to sign the proposed Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) in the next 48 hours.
Senate has already ratified the measure, but the House of Representatives failed to act on it due to a leadership impasse. The House, however, resumed session after the SONA, with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as new Speaker.
Duterte said he wants to review the measure creating the new Bangsamoro autonomous region before signing it into law.
“When the approved version is transmitted and received by my office… The law has been passed actually and I intend to… Give me 48 hours to sign it and ratify the law,” Duterte said in his SONA remarks.
“Babasahin ko pa bago ko pipirmahan. Baka may isiningit kayo diyan na hindi maganda para sa – para sa ibang tao,” he added.
The President also renewed his resolve to ensure the Bangsamoro bill would pass constitutional scrutiny. He noted that the Mindanao was at the crossroads of history – “one road leads to harmony and peace; the other, to war and human suffering.” (With a report from Hannah Torregoza)