President Duterte’s second State of the Nation Address (SONA) last Monday conjured a list to-dos for the coming year of his term. It was, well, a little uninteresting during the part when he stuck to the prepared script, reading from the teleprompter.
Even his stated resolve to continue the fight for change and against illegal drugs drew no fire from his audience. I had enjoyed the first SONA better, not just because it was a first-time spectacle that marked the start of the Duterte government, but because he seemed more real.
But the President being true to himself, things started to perk up when he dropped the hard copy and started to explain in his own words what the policy direction of his government would be in the next years to come.
This was about the time when the topic of mining was brought up. When he talked about heaping taxes on mining firms that would abuse the environment and curtail the rights of the people to a livelihood by destroying rivers and the land, the show started to get interesting.
We know how the President has this deep personal conviction about mining companies being an abuse to the land. It’s an ideological thing, which unfortunately is not supported by the laws of the land. And therein lies the conflict for this immensely popular leader of 100 million Filipinos.
As what eventually unfolded, having a passionate anti-mining environment secretary was not the solution. The President, from his SONA declaration, has decided to take things in his own hands. Should the mining industry be afraid?
We all know how President Duterte operates. When he sets his mind on something, he will bring this to fruition against many an odd that would make other leaders take a step back.
It helps that he has an Upper and Lower House (and a Speaker that also “hates mining”) that he can command. And when the President says he will “raise the taxes to death,” mining companies that spoil the environment should start thinking seriously about their future tenure in this country.
Convert raw materials into finished products
The President asked Congress to immediately pass the National Land Use Act (NALUA) to ensure the rational and sustainable use of land and physical resources, which in his mind would set the basis for a new mining ideology.
He declared that mining the rich resources of the country should not benefit alone the mining companies and the countries where the minerals are processed. Rather, the country should look at converting the raw materials mined into finished products.
The President’s call for investors to put up factories that would convert the ores into metals and for the metals to be transformed into consumer products signals a policy direction where the manufacturing sector would be bolstered.
Very clearly, Duterte has stated that, if possible during his stint as president, the extraction and exportation of the country’s mineral resources to foreign nations for processing abroad and importing back to the Philippines in the form of consumer goods would be stopped.
Interestingly, the President also underscored the instances when the Judiciary issued temporary restraining orders that undermined the delivery of goods and services to the Filipino people.
This was tackled in the course of government projects that underwent and observed the required bidding requirements, but would be delayed because of TROs issued that would put on hold any activity for years.
This was also the case for the Reproductive Health Law where the Supreme Court issued a two-year TRO on contraceptive implants as well as a TRO on imported medicines that are due to expire in bodegas because its acquisition had been questioned.
Other major issues
The two-hour speech also tackled other pressing issues that should see Congress discussing them in the coming sessions. Among these are the issues concerning the West Philippine Sea and federalism. The President also reiterated his support for capital punishment or the death penalty.
He also called for Senate to pass the administration's proposed first batch of tax reforms, known as the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN), to tackle problems created by the previous tax system. This includes reducing personal income taxes, simplifying estate and donor’s taxes, expanding the Value Added Tax, and increasing oil and automobile excise taxes.
The President also announced the improvement of sea connectivity with the launch of 15 brand new roll on, roll off vessels to traverse major routes in the country. He also mentioned the opening of the ASEAN RoRo shipping route to connect the ports of Davao and General Santos to Indonesia.
In response to the traffic problem in urban areas, the President instructed the Metro Manila Development Authority and local government units in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu to ensure the free flow of traffic, and clear the roads of unnecessary obstructions, such as parked vehicles on streets.
For the people
Known for his compassion towards the common people, Duterte’s SONA touched on the plight of overseas Filipino workers, for the K to 12 education program, the establishment of a citizen’s hotline, and a no-balance billing policy for hospitalized indigents.
Duterte assured Filipinos equitable access to quality and affordable health services, and that “no other fees shall be charged or be paid for by the indigent patients above and beyond the packaged rates during their confinement period.”
All in all, it showed – especially during the latter part of the SONA – the characteristics that gave him as a Philippine president the highest trust rating ever yet.