The State of the Nation Address or SONA is one of the most awaited annual events of the nation. The SONA coincides with the formal opening of Congress. It is also the time when a sitting president apprises the nation of the real situation, his past accomplishments, and the challenges that lie ahead. The SONA will give the President’s constituencies the opportunity to gauge whether or not the administration has fulfilled its promises.
It is safe to assume that in this year’s SONA, the President will mention, and lay down his plans not only on domestic issues but also on how to deal with pressing external challenges. No matter how he dodges issues affecting our relations with China and its acts of aggression to encroach on our sovereign rights, US and lately Iceland and the United Nations Human Rights Council voting to launch an investigation into thousands of killings in the Philippines’ brutal war on drugs, these issues loom large in the consciousness of the nation which Duterte cannot simply shrug off or sweep under the rug. For the sake of the nation, it behooves the President to come up with a rational, well-laid response to these pressing issues instead of merely resorting to inanities and hallow threats.
Balance sheet of Duterte’s 3 years
For all Duterte’s perceived moral flaws, his administration has achieved some successes that many Filipino appreciate. In my view, Duterte has done well with the Bangsamoro and with the economy although I have caveats on the latter.
In the last two weeks, President Duterte made several excellent judicial appointments for the Court of Appeals, Court of Tax Appeals, and the Regional Trial Court. I know very well two of the new CA Justices – Justice Angeline Quimpo-Sale was my classmate in the University of the Philippines College of Law and my town mate from Cagayan de Oro, and Justice Alfredo Ampuan who was my student twice in the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila Graduate School of Law. Newly appointed Court of Tax Appeals Justice Rhona Modesto San Pedro is a contemporary from UP Law.
In addition, a few weeks ago, an excellent lawyer that worked with me in the Ateneo School of Government – Arnold Martinez – was appointed Regional Trial Court Judge of Laguna. I praise President Duterte unreservedly for these great appointments. These 4 are brilliant, honest, and principled lawyers. The judicial system and country will be better as a result of their appointment.
On the negative side of the ledger, this administration has done very badly in defending our national territory from China’s aggression, in its human rights record, and in upholding democracy.
The best of Duterte
At the start of his administration in 2016, Duterte made it clear to see the passage of the Bangsamoro law. Last year, he again reiterated his promise to give the Muslims in Mindanao the basic legal tools to chart their own destiny within the constitutional framework of our country. True to his word, Congress passed the measure and Duterte signed the Bangsamoro Organic Law (Republic Act No. 11054), also known as Bangsamoro Basic Law on July 26, 2018. After decades of armed conflict, the guns and cannons are now silent. With their own government, the Bangsamoro people is now beginning to enjoy the right to self-determination, which is basically their collective right to achieve their own political, cultural, and economic privilege.
It’s not over yet, with the failure of the national government to rehabilitate Marawi a big red flag, but things are looking good for the Bangsamoro. Most of all, it is the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that should be congratulated for its leadership in getting this to happen. Their Chief Minister Murad Ibrahim and the ministers in his cabinet have not disappointed and have shown steadfast leadership, energy, competence, and vision. The national government should be congratulated for cooperating to get us to this point. Presidents Fidel Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Noynoy Aquino, and now Duterte thankfully have been consistent in this regard. Only President Joseph Estrada wrongly followed the path of war.
Under the Duterte administration, Congress passed the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law or Republic Act No. 10963 which took effect on January 1, 2018. TRAIN relatively decreases the tax on personal income, estate, and donation. However, it also increases the tax on certain passive incomes, documents (documentary stamp tax) as well as excise tax on petroleum products, minerals, automobiles, and cigarettes.
Despite its benefits to the revenue generation efforts of the government, the TRAIN law has affected many poor sectors who have been impacted negatively by its inflationary effects. I do give the government credit for successfully lowering the inflation rate, with the help of course of the lowering of global prices on petroleum (which was also a significant contributor to the earlier increase in the inflation rate).
Infrastructure development is an essential component of economic progress. The Duterte has recognized this early on when he launched his administration’s Build, Build, Build Program. The country cannot attract foreign investments if the roads and streets are dilapidated and when people cannot properly do business because of traffic. The Japan International Cooperation Agency found that traffic congestion in Manila, caused mainly by poor infrastructure, led to losses of about P2.4 billion in 2012, and could triple by 2030. The Build Build Build Program accelerates infrastructure spending and develops industries that will yield robust growth, create jobs, and improve the lives of Filipinos. Public spending on infrastructure projects is targeted at P8 to 9 trillion from 2017 to 2022.
My caveat about the Duterte infrastructure program is in its environmental impacts. As I have written before, projects like the Kaliwa River Dam and the Chico River irrigation project will result in massive displacement of people and destruction of nature.
The government must also ensure that it does not bind the nation to onerous foreign loan agreements that make repayment unduly burdensome for the economy. Critics say that many of these loans, particularly with China, are shrouded in mystery or are onerous and one-sided. These include the loans that will finance the Kaliwa and Chico projects.
The environmental record of the Duterte administration has been mixed. Secretary Roy Cimatu is a visionary, decisive, and competent leader. I generally support what the Department of Environment and Natural Resources is doing in Boracay and Manila Bay. However, once again it has failed us in its decision to approve a coal power plant in Palawan and in recommending the renewal of the Financial Technical and Assistance Agreement of OceanaGold in Nueva Vizcaya in the face of opposition by all levels of local government and the affected indigenous peoples and local communities.
The worst of Duterte
Much has been said about the controversial war on drugs, the centerpiece campaign of the Duterte administration. Needless to say, eradication of drugs is of utmost importance. And for this, the President must be commended. We are all too familiar with the deleterious effects of illegal drugs to the victims and to their families. Yet, the prosecution of this “war” is causing havoc on human rights. The human rights record is in such a dismal state because of this war on drugs such that international bodies like the Amnesty International, the European Union, and lately the UNHRC have come to condemn it. As a member of the civilized community of nations, we are duty bound to respect civil liberties, protect human rights and obey international law. The government cannot allow itself to become a rogue regime that defies world opinion and routinely violate international law and norms with impunity.
Duterte’s record on responding to China’s aggression is not good. Here is a “friend,” according to the Duterte administration, who is forcibly taking our territories that under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and The Hague Arbitral Award belong to us.
The Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll indicate that an overwhelming number of Filipinos, 93%, want the Philippine government to assert its territorial rights over the West Philippine Sea. The government exists not only to uplift the quality of life but also to protect the territorial integrity of the country. In asserting our sovereignty and sovereign rights, war is not the only option on the table. There is a wide array of peaceful and diplomatic means to forcefully say to China what is ours is ours! Pandering to the desires of the aggressor is to lose by default these claimed territories that can seriously compromise the independence and food security of the present and future generations of Filipinos.
And then, finally, there is the record of President Duterte in suppressing dissent and not tolerating criticism. The continuing detention of Senator Leila de Lima, the unrelenting weaponizing of law against Rappler, and just this week the sedition charges filed against Vice President Leni Robredo, some bishops, and other opposition figures are examples of this lack of respect for democratic principles that has characterize this government. What is worrisome is that there are signs that this dictatorial approach to governance will be institutionalized and made permanent through charter change. – Rappler.com
Tony La Viña teaches law and is former dean of the Ateneo School of Government.
For highlights of President Duterte’s 4th SONA, check out our live blog.
For related stories, visit Rappler’s 2019 State of the Nation Address page.
Rappler takes a deeper look at the first half of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency – it’s highs and lows, its achievements and shortcomings:
Duterte Year 3: The Halfway Mark