2017 SONA: Fact check, context

Rappler Research Team
2017 SONA: Fact check, context
Rappler looks at President Duterte's orders, accomplishments, and attacks on critics during his second SONA

MANILA, Philippines – Prior to his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 24, Malacañang said President Rodrigo Duterte would tackle his administation’s key agenda on prosperity, law and order, and peace under the theme, “A comfortable life for all.” Duterte did talk about this – and more.


(HIGHLIGHTS: President Duterte’s 2017 State of the Nation Address)

The President started off his speech discussing his biggest campaign promise in 2016: wiping out drugs and criminality. He then talked about threats to peace, blasting the communist movement and warning against the ISIS threat in Mindanao.

Around 20 minutes into his SONA, as he began talking about the mining industry, Duterte went off-script with a long-winded tirade against critics.

His pet project – federalism – was compressed in one sentence with the issue of the West Philippine Sea.

Analysts later lamented what they said was lost opportunity at SONA, noting that the Chief Executive turned it instead into a “bully pulpit.”

Below are the President’s key statements and pronouncements on different topics during his second SONA. Rappler fact-checked and evaluated these for accuracy and context.

Orders/Requests | Accomplishments | Attacks on critics | Topics missed, barely there

Orders and requests

Duterte issued various orders and instructions to Cabinet officials and heads of government agencies. He also urged Congress to pass laws that would be essential to his administration. (READ: 6 priority bills of Duterte in SONA 2017)

On food production in Mindanao

I refer to climate change, which could bring drought and long dry spells affecting food production in Mindanao, given the fact that Mindanao is unusually warming. I ask all agencies involved in food production to look into this and act accordingly.

Provinces in Mindanao have consistently been the poorest in the Philippines due to several factors such as conflict. Yet, the island is rich with natural resources.

Mindanao is considered the country’s food basket, producing 40% of the Philippines’ needs and contributing at least 30% to the Philippines’ food trade. In fact, 1/3 of its land area is devoted to agriculture.

But its food-producing capabilities are at risk due to climate change. According to PAGASA’s Climate Monitoring and Prediction Section, Mindanao is the region in the Philippines most vulnerable to the impacts of El Niño because of its proximity to the equator. (READ: How vulnerable is Mindanao to El Niño)

On the National Land Use Act

I am appealing to all our legislators to immediately pass the National Land Use Act or NALUA to ensure the rational and sustainable use of our land and our physical resources, given the competing needs of food security, housing, businesses and environmental conservation.

On May 2, 2017, the House approved on third reading House Bill 5240, or “An Act Instituting a National Land Use and Management Policy, Providing the Implementing Mechanisms Therefore, and for Other Purposes.” It was transmitted a week later to the Senate, where it remains pending at the committee level.

On monitoring mining operations

To our employees and officials of the LGUs [local government units] tasked with monitoring these mining operations within their territorial jurisdictions, do your job without fear or favor.

While the President had tough words against irresponsible miners – warning them of steep taxes – analysts pointed out that Duterte did not back his environment secretary, the environment advocate Gina Lopez, when she was rejected by the Commission on Appointments.

On disaster response

I am directing the Cabinet Cluster on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management to immediately work hand in hand with the concerned LGUs, the private sector and the affected communities themselves, in undertaking disaster [resiliency] measures, antidotes.

I am calling [on] both houses of Congress to expeditiously craft a law establishing a new authority or department that is responsive to the prevailing 21st century conditions and empowered to best deliver [an] enhanced disaster resiliency and quick disaster response.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has been consistently working with national and local governments to mitigate the impact of disasters while training communities to be more resilient.

But under the 2017 national budget, the fund for disaster management dropped by P23 billion – from P38.9 billion in 2016 to P15.7 billion in 2017.

The People’s Survival Fund (PSF) is another source of money for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction programs. But until now, the bulk of the P1-billion allocation has yet to be given to implementing agencies.

On the death penalty

I therefore ask Congress to act on all pending legislations to reimpose the death penalty on heinous crimes — especially on the trafficking of illegal drugs.

One of Duterte’s priority measures, the bill to reinstate capital punishment was passed by the House of Representatives on third and final reading in March.

But Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon has said the bill is already “dead,” saying at least 13 senators are likely to oppose it. Senator Panfilo Lacson reiterated this after Duterte’s SONA.

On streamlining the government

Let us trim the excess fat and add more muscle through the expeditious passage of “The Act Rightsizing the National Government to Improve Public Service Delivery and for other Purposes.” I therefore urge Congress to pass this at the soonest.

House Bill 5707 was approved on second reading on May 30, 2017. Its counterpart at the Senate, Senate Bill 1395, is pending second reading.

The proposed measure seeks to implement a rightsizing program in the national government, and its optional adoption in the legislature, judiciary, constitutional commissions, Office of the Ombudsman, and LGUs.

On traffic congestion

Iyong EDSA na iyan, traffic obstructions and undisciplined drivers who stop in the middle of the road, and unsanctioned barriers in some areas.

I am directing the MMDA and the LGUs of Metro Manila, as well as the LGUs of Metro Cebu and all our regional centers to ensure the free flow of traffic, and immediately clear our roads and thoroughfares of all unnecessary obstruction, including vehicles parked on the streets/barriers.

MMDA data shows that the average travel time along EDSA in July 2016 was 1 hour, 26 minutes, and 22 seconds. The current average travel time for June 2017 is 1 hour, 8 minutes, and 47 seconds – a 17-minute difference.

Last April, the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) filed supplementary complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against two barangay chairmen who did not act on the agency’s reports and recommendations against parking violators.

On Mighty Corporation’s tax case

I have directed the DOF and the BIR to accept Mighty Corporation’s offer of P25 billion to settle its tax liabilities. After the settlement, Mighty will no longer engage in the tobacco business.

Days before Duterte’s SONA, the Department of Finance (DOF) received a P25 billion offer from Mighty Corporation to settle its tax cases. Included in the settlement was the halting of Mighty Corporation’s operations. The tobacco company is currently facing 3 tax cases before the Department of Justice, totalling P37.88 billion.

President Duterte earlier called out and ordered the arrest of the owners of the tobacco company for alleged “economic sabotage,” the use of fake cigarette tax stamps, and bribery.

Duterte added that the funds from the company’s offer will be used to rebuild Marawi and Ormoc. He added that criminal charges against the company can still be pursued.


The President also touted some of his accomplishments during his first year in office.

Benefits to injured soldiers, cops

They are the silent heroes who risk their lives everyday for our country’s security. In recognition of their valor, we have crafted a program to provide them with comprehensive social assistance, including financial, should they meet harm in the performance of their duty.

On March 31, the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) along with the Department of National Defense (DND), in cooperation with the Office of the President and supporting agencies, launched the Comprehensive Social Benefits Program for armed forces and police personnel killed or wounded in action. They can get up to P500,000 in financial assistance, along with other benefits from the government.

Duterte also said in his speech that he would “save” money for the military. “You know, this is my proposal. I may be totally wrong and I will accept it, but this is mine. From now on, I will save money for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. We have lost so much soldiers.”

While he did not elaborate, Section 5(5), Article XIV of the 1987 Constitution mandates that the biggest chunk of the national budget should go to education.

Foreign relations

We have cultivated warmer relations with China through bilateral dialogues and other mechanisms, leading to easing of tensions between the two countries and improved negotiating environment on the West Philippine Sea.

Duterte has pivoted from the Philippines’ longtime ally, the US, toward friendlier relations with China. Critics have slammed the President for not asserting the arbitral ruling on the disputed South China Sea that the Philippines won. Duterte has said that China warned of war if the Philippines forces the issue.

In October 2016, Duterte visited China, restoring bilateral relations between the two countries. He also came home with plenty of cooperation deals with the Chinese government, billions worth of business and financial deals, and worth of developmental assistance. But some of these were not binding. (READ: What Duterte accomplished in China)

Infrastructure projects

We will make the next few years the “Golden Age of Infrastructure” in the Philippines to enhance our mobility and connectivity, and thereby spur development growth equitable in the country. In other words, we are going to Build, Build and Build.

Duterte said in his speech that 15 new RORO vessels have been launched, as well as an ASEAN RO-RO shipping route connecting the ports of Davao and General Santos to Bitung in Indonesia.

He also mentioned China’s commitment to build two bridges to span the Pasig River. The Philippines and China signed the deal for a P3.6-billion grant in May 2017.

Tax reform

I commend the House of Representatives for heeding my urgent certification of the tax reform by passing the first of 5 packages of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program with an overwhelming 246 votes, representing almost 9 percent of the Filipino people.

On May 31, 2017, Congress approved on third reading House Bill 5636. This came two days after President Duterte declared tax reform proposals as urgent.

The bill is now in the Senate, where it is expected to face opposition. Duterte acknowledged this in his SONA when he said, “I call on the Senate so support my tax reform in full and to pass it [with] haste.”

The tax reform package is crucial in the administration’s infrastructure agenda, with 66% of Duterte’s “Build Build Build” program expected to come from revenues generated from the proposed tax reform.   

Salaam TV

The government-owned Salaam Digital TV, the first Muslim TV in the Philippines, is now already on test broadcasting.

This fulfills one of the promises in his first SONA last year. The Philippine News Agency (PNA) reported that test broadcasts were aired via digital transmission on ABS-CBN TV Plus devices. Salaam TV’s formal launch was scheduled on July 23, the eve of Duterte’s 2nd SONA, said the PNA.

Attacks on critics

In his second SONA, Duterte once again went on the offensive against entities he perceives to be critical of his administration.

Rappler and the media: Duterte made special mention of Rappler and broadcast giant ABS-CBN. He claimed that Rappler is “fully owned” by Americans, saying that this violates the Constitution. This is wrong. Rappler is 100% Filipino owned. (READ: Debunking lies about Rappler

Duterte also said the media was misreporting his statements. In the past, Duterte has also hit broadcast network ABS-CBN and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

United Nations: Duterte again hit experts from the UN for criticizing his drug war and urging officials to respect human rights. (READ: Duterte hits drug war critics: ‘Bakit kayo bilib diyan sa mga puti?’)

Senator Leila de Lima: While slamming international critics, Duterte mentioned Senator Leila de Lima, who is currently detained on allegations she helped facilitate the drug trade in the New Bilibid Prison back when she was justice secretary. Duterte raised questions on De Lima’s credibility, apparently referring to her affair with her driver: “You saw the videos. Is she a credible woman? Can she be a moral person?” 

Former US President Barack Obama: Duterte drew comparisons with his reception from the ex-US president and the current president, Donald Trump.

Duterte previously criticized Obama for exhorting him to conduct his crime war “the right way.” In contrast, Duterte said that Trump – in a phone call last April – praised him for his controversial drug war.

International Criminal Court: In an apparent reference to the impeachment complaint filed against him before the ICC – not the International Court of Justice as Duterte mentioned – the President said he will not be cowed. “I am willing to go to prison for the rest of my life. Ang importante sa akin ginagawa ko ‘yung gusto ko.” 

The Left and Joma Sison: In his first SONA, Duterte announced a unilateral ceasefire with the Left as a gesture of goodwill for peace talks. One year later, in his next SONA, Duterte said he would no longer pursue peace negotiations.

He also claimed communist leader Joma Sison was suffering from colon cancer, which Sison denied

Topics missed, barely there

Despite his address running 2 hours long, Duterte missed discussing important topics, some of which he advocated for in the past.

What got left out

For instance, while Duterte vowed no let-up in the “war on drugs,” there were no updates regarding the drug rehabilitation part. In his first SONA last year, Duterte said that a rehabilitation program for drug users is a priority.

The end of contractualization was also not in his address, despite clamoring for it himself as President. Labor unions were expecting Duterte to urge Congress to pass related House bills, and announce the release of an executive order banning all forms of contractualization. (READ: Duterte’s silence on workers’ issues in SONA 2017 disappointing – labor unions)

Duterte listed specific measures to boost the country’s agricultural productivity. But agriculture was not mentioned in his second SONA, although the agriculture secretary said it was mentioned when the President talked about the environment and climate change.

Duterte also missed listing the fruits of his foreign trips.

Analysts likewise said the President did not point out the accomplishments of some Cabinet offices, such as the social welfare and the trade department.

Finally, with just 3 months away from the October barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, Duterte didn’t push Congress for its urgent postponement. The President sought to defer it because “drug money” may supposedly influence the elections. (READ: Duterte wants to appoint barangay OICs if polls reset)

Barely there

Meanwhile, some issues were discussed only briefly. 

The territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea and the push for federalism were compressed in one sentence, with Duterte saying these matters would have to be tackled “sooner or later.”

Duterte also mentioned his plans to enhance education and training programs, as well as commit to the full implementation of the K-12 program. But he did not expound on these plans and instead tackled plans to improve health services. – with interns Gari Acolola, Hannah Mallorca, Kaela Malig, and Marian Plaza/Rappler.com 

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