DESPITE having less than a year before the end of his term, President Duterte said he will still continue to push for key long-term economic and socioeconomic reforms, and used his sixth and last State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Monday to send Congress a bill of particulars on his priorities for legislation.
At a hybrid SONA albeit with a much bigger crowd at the Batasang Pambansa, Duterte asked Congress to pass the trio of amendatory legislation seen as liberalizing the economy and more capable of hurdling the challenges thrown by the Covid-19 pandemic: the Foreign Investment Act, the Public Service Act, and the Retail and Trade Liberation Act.
The three measures are expected to boost the country’s business competitiveness worldwide.
“Looking forward, this is my last State of the Nation Address but this is by no means my swan song. I will never cease to implore Congress to pass vital and critical legislation as well as to push the entire government to ensure nothing less the recovery and revitalization of our country,” Duterte said.
Economists interviewed by BusinessMirror, however, said the President missed out on crucial details of how he meant to help the economy recover.
Meanwhile, Duterte also called on lawmakers to legislate bills which will institutionalize the pension scheme for the new entrants of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Also part of his legislative agenda is the creation of a new department to handle the affairs of Filipinos living abroad, a bill which will modernize fire protection, e-government system to digitize government transactions, and the creation of the proposed Center of Disease Prevention Control and Virology Institute.
The new virology institute will provide the country with the capability sufficient and effective vaccines.
“Regardless of how hard it is, I think Filipinos should be given the proper support [when it comes to disease response],” Duterte said. ‘
Duterte did not mention the Security of Tenure bill, which labor groups are pushing for to regulate the practice of contractual employment.
He had vetoed an earlier measure meant to end the decades-long “end-of-contract” or “ENDO” bill, but legislators and workers were hoping a new one could be enacted before his term ends.
Congress resumed sessions on Monday after its long break prior to Duterte’s longest SONA, which lasted around three hours as Duterte cited the government achievements on infrastructure, the war against illegal drugs, corruption as well as the 53-year communist insurgency.
Independent foreign policy
On his administration’s foreign affairs, Duterte said the country will not act “in the shadows of great powers,” under its independent foreign policy.
He noted this includes defending the country’s interest in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) against China through the Arbitral Award.
The 2016 arbitral ruling in the Hague favored the country’s claims in the WPS and rejected China’s nine-dash line claims.
“The Arbitral Award is now part of international law and beyond compromise and beyond the reach of the passing governments to dilute, to diminish or abandon,” Duterte said.
“We will assert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people,” he added.
He also highlighted the government’s response against the Covid-19 pandemic, which started last year with the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
“Never did I imagine that my presidency will be judged how I made good in my campaign promises in fighting illegal drugs, criminality, corruption, but how will I led our nation during the global pandemic,” Duterte said.
The government was able to slow down the local spread of Covid-19 and minimize its fatalities by expanding the capacity of health care facilities, testing, contact tracing, and treatment capacity for those infected, according to Duterte.
And starting last March, through the government vaccination drive, he added.
Duterte, however, expressed concern over the growing cases of the Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2, which is more infectious and fatal than its usual variant.
He said while the government could no longer afford a full loc down, like last year, he said he is considering the option if the number of Delta variant in the county continue to rise.
As of Sunday, the Department of Health (DOH) registered 119 cases from the Delta variant nationwide.