2019 an 'exciting year' for Filipinos, says Malacañang
MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Malacañang believes 2019 will be an “exciting year” for the country as it harped on its achievements in the past 12 months.
In the government’s year-ender report released on Monday, December 31, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the Duterte administration will enter the new year “with enthusiasm and vigor in serving the people.”
“2019 will certainly be an exciting year, with the following milestones which started this year beginning to bear fruit,” said Panelo in the introduction of the administration's accomplishment report.
He cited the expected rollout of the National Identification System in 2019, the upcoming plebiscite for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, the Philippines hosting the 2019 Asian Games, and the confirmation of the third telecommunications player in the country, Mislatel.
“The outpouring support from the Filipinos will continue to inspire this administration to work harder for the benefit of the greater populace. Together, we shall move forward for a better and more prosperous Philippines,” said Panelo.
He also counted as among the administration achievements this year the return of the Balangiga bells, an agreement with Kuwait to protect Filipino workers, the rehabilitation of Boracay, and laws on free irrigation, free tuition, national mental health policy, national feeding program, and the Ease of Doing Business Act.
Panelo noted that the Philippines ranked as one of the most gender equal nations in Asia based on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, and the reporters Without Borders’ report showing Philippines is out of the top 5 most dangerous countries for journalists.
The Duterte administration released its accomplishment report on the last day of a year marked by high prices and controversial statements and claims made by the President, especially against the Catholic Church. (READ: How high inflation exposed cracks in governance)
In the last week of the year, he mocked the Holy Trinity doctrine, called Jesus Christ “unimpressive” for choosing to be nailed on the cross, and once again attacked the Catholic Church.
While the Philippines is out of the top 5 countries deemed most dangerous for journalists, it slipped 6 spots in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index because of the President continued attacks against media. (READ: Tax case vs Rappler 'desperate attempt to silence critical voice' – HRW)
Though the Philippines ranks high in terms of gender equality in Asia, the President has made statements seen as anti-women and misogynist, particularly his remarks on rape, as well as his recent "confession" that he molested their family's maid when he was a teenager – all made in speeches in official functions.
Opposition: Same challenges, problems
The opposition believes the same problems will hound Filipinos as Duterte enters his third year in office.
Detained Senator Leila de Lima, a staunch Duterte critic, pointed out that 2018 was marred by Filipinos dying due to “violence and harassment” by the government, high taxes, and the rising prices of goods.
“Although we may be leaving 2018 behind, the sad truth is, we will still be facing the same challenges this coming year. And if we do not find the courage, will, and strength to change this course, we will suffer more and be afflicted with a worsening crisis of conscience and morality,” said De Lima.
The opposition senator then urged Filipinos, especially the youth, to lead the country towards “tangible” changes in 2019.
“[I call on them] to put an end to violence and impunity through our unified call for justice, and our common commitment to protect human rights and value human lives. To stop the blatant lies that poison and corrupt the moral fiber of our people by speaking truth to power. To fight tyranny by upholding the rule of law and standing up for our democratic principles,” said De Lima.
The senator also cited the crucial role of the 2019 midterm elections on bringing change to the country.
“Let us scrutinize leaders on how they fulfill their duties, how they influence our youth, and choose those who deserve our trust,” said De Lima.
In addition to the concerns raised by De Lima, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Representative Antonio Tinio said in a statement Duterte "went further down the path of tyranny and repression in 2018."
Said Tinio, "He chose war over peace talks with the revolutionary movement, intensifying military operations in the countryside, especially against Lumad communities in Mindanao. He obtained yet another extension of martial law in Mindanao and ordered the deployment of more troops in parts of the Visayas and Luzon. His war on drugs continued to take the lives of thousands of Filipinos, even as the drug syndicates continued to import large quantities of shabu into the country. Impunity for extrajudicial killings persisted, with victims including journalists, lawyers, health workers, priests, and politicians."
Tinio added the impunity extended to the president's political allies, noting Senator Bong Revilla's acquittal for plunder, as well as Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroryo's acquittal for electoral sabotage. "Meanwhile, infighting within Duterte's ruling coalition has given a glimpse into the regime's corruption, with factions fighting over control of public funds and government contracts."
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin meanwhile said 2018 "saw an unraveling of the Duterte administration."
"Political alliances shifted more to the right with the Marcos-Arroyo forces gaining more power and the military’s dominance in government policy directions on security and governance."
Duterte's economic policies, meanwhile, were "taken over by oligarchs and emerging crony Dennis Uy" as a result of opportunities brought about by massive government infrastructure spending and China’s loaning program and equity tie-ups by Chinese state-owned telecommunications, energy, and infrastructure companies with Duterte-favored companies.
A statement from Representative Gary Alejano touched on those points and added thoughts on the handling of Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea and China's presence in the country, as well as on the state of Duterte's health.
Alejano pointed out China's harassment of Filipino fishermen and soldiers, saying, "the Duterte administration has been hesitant to file diplomatic protests, and worse, have been downplaying the situation." Rather than assert claims and control in the West Philippine Sea, the Duterte administration "has only put our side to further disadvantage, including the signing of memorandum of understanding for a joint exploration."
He also noted that while "most projects funded by Chinese loans have not yet rolled out, it is not Filipino workers that were hired but Chinese workers instead."
"This is the effect of the pro-China policy of the administration which has also allowed airing of Chinese programs in government-owned TV network and entry of Chinese company as third telecom. The Duterte administration is ushering in a creeping Chinese neo-colonialism," Alejano said.
He also pointed out the lack of specifics regarding President Duterte's health. "Instead of releasing a clear medical bulletin, Malacanang has shied away from this," Alejano pointed out. "The President’s health is a matter of national concern. His proper, or improper, discharge of his duties because of his health will definitely affect the whole country."
Alejano concluded, "The Duterte administration has been caught up in misplaced priorities instead of hearing out the sentiments of the people and helping address their day-to-day problems. The Filipino people were betrayed by unfulfilled promises of a better life, assertion of our territorial integrity, and a corruption-free and responsive government." – Rappler.com