President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday delivered a fiery State of the Nation Address, the second of his term, going off the cuff to go on profanity-laced tangents about his critics even as he took time to make a push for his legislative agenda.
Duterte opened his speech with a joke about his days as a representative attending the SONA, talking about how he used to hang out with fellow solons Pantaleon Alvarez, now the House Speaker, and Antonio Floirendo Jr.
“But I was always absent, together with the Speaker and Tonyboy Floirendo, who’s still absent until today,” he joked.
That set the tone for the rest of his speech, in which he bounced between the prepared text and his ad-libbed comments.
Front and center of his speech was the war on drugs that has been at the centerpiece of his administration over the past year.
“The fight against illegal drugs will continue, because that is the root of so much evil and so much suffering that weakens the social fabric and deters foreign investment from coming in,” he said.
“Despite local and international pressure, the fight will not stop,” he added.
Duterte called out groups that have criticized the rising death toll in his drug war, telling them to educate people about illegal drugs, instead of condemning authorities and blaming them for every killing.
Later in his speech, he hit out at groups who he said ignored heinous crimes such as rape, saying these groups “then you trivialize it with human rights and due process.”
He also took issue with rights groups highlighting the plight of Sen. Leila De Lima, who is detained over drug charges.
“Can she be a moral person?” he said.
Duterte had previously accused De Lima, his staunchest critic, of having been involved in the illegal drug trade during her tenure as Justice Secretary.
But critics of his drug war were not the only targets of Duterte’s ire during the two-hour speech.
While talking about the need for “just peace” in Mindanao, Duterte went on a tangient about his deteriorating relationship with the communist groups. Last week, Duterte called off backchannel talks between the government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.
He hit out at the recent spate of attacks of the New People’s Army against government troops, including the Presidential Security Group.
“Convoy ko, in-ambush ninyo,” he said.
“Hindi nila alam, ginsibat na ako,” he quipped, to laughter from his audience.
Duterte added that Communist Party of the Philippines founding chairman Jose Maria Sison is sick with colon cancer.
“Ikaw Sison, ‘tang… mag-uminom ka ng Tang orange. Matanda ka na,” he said.
He also called out the urban poor group Kadamay for occupying housing units intended for soldiers.
“Sumobra itong Left,” Duterte said, before calling on protesters gathered outside the Batasan Complex to just go home.
“Wala kayong makuha diyan sa komunista,” he added.
Duterte also spent a significant chunk of his speech hitting out at mining groups in the country.
While pushing for the passage of a National Land Use Act, Duterte threatened mining interests: “Either spend to restore the virginity of their source, or I will tax you to death.”
“I am holding all mining companies and its officials responsible for the full and quick cleanup, restoration, rehabilitation, all areas damaged by mining activities and the extension of necessary effects to the communities that have suffered,” he added.
Duterte said he wanted mineral resources to be processed into finished products in the Philippines, instead of exporting them and the Philippines importing finished goods.
“At this point in my administration, it’s possible that we shall put to a stop to the extraction and exportation of our mineral resources for process abroad and importing them back to the Philippines,” Duterte said.
Duterte also spoke about the Philippines’ relationship with the United States, at on point mimicking former US President Barack Obama and current US President Donald Trump to highlight the difference of his relationship between the leaders.
“It takes an American to say that I’m a son of a bitch? And it takes an American to say that I’m a hero in this country?” he added.
Duterte made his comments in the presence of United States Ambassador Sung Kim, who was in attendance along with the diplomatic corps.
At another point, Duterte brought up the issue of three church bells from Balangiga, Eastern Samar which were seized as spoils of war from the Philippines more than a century ago.
“Give us back those Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isauli naman ninyo. Masakit ‘yun sa amin.”
Two of the three Bells of Balangiga are displayed at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming as part of a memorial to 46 U.S. troops killed by Filipino insurgents in 1901. A third bell is with a U.S. Army regiment in South Korea.
Death penalty, other legislation
Duterte also made a strong push for his legislative priorities, including the reinstatement of the death penalty.
“Capital punishment is not just about deterrence, but also about retribution,” he said.
Duterte noted that the original revised penal code was given to the Philippines by the Spaniards.
“And the thrust of that revised penal code… is in the essence of retribution,” he added.
He also made a pitch for his tax reform proposal, which he said will be the driver of his administration’s ambitious infrastructure program. He lauded the House of Representatives for passing the first package while asking the Senate to do the same.“The fate of the tax reform is now in the hands of the Senate. Ano bang gusto niyong gawin doon, lumuhod sa inyo?” Duterte said.
“I call on the Senate to support the tax reform in full and to pass it with haste,” he added.
He also called on Congress to draft a law creating a new agency for disaster response, highlighting the threat of climate change and earthquakes and calling it a “matter of urgent concern.”
Duterte spoke about “right-sizing” government, asking Congress to pass measures to help the government trim the fat. He said he wants to rationalize salaries and allowances in government-owned and -controlled corporations, doing away with large bonuses.
Duterte also hit out at the Senate for supposedly not passing measures that would fund fixes to the traffic problem in EDSA. He then touted the help of the Chinese government, which he said will be funding two bridges that will cross the Pasig River.
He also said he would increase the assistance fund for Overseas Filipino Workers to P1 billion.
Off the cuff remarks
In his off the cuff remarks, Duterte turned back to topics he usually brings up during his speeches and news conferences.
He defended his declaration of martial law in Mindanao, saying it was the best way to end the siege of the pro-ISIS Maute Group in Marawi City.
He revealed that he had directed the government to accept a P25 billion settlement with cigarette manufacturer Mighty Corporation, which is facing multiple tax raps. He said the money will be used to rebuild Marawi City.
Duterte also brought up government corruption and inefficiency, talking at length about the case of a Cabinet member he fired over an allegedly anomalous transaction. He sacked Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno last April.
He said he wants director-level officials of the government to eat lunches inside their office, so they could go right back to serving the public afterwards. He once again urged the public to report erring officials to his 8888 hotline, saying he cannot stop corruption if citizens do not cooperate.
At one point, he spoke directly to Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, bringing up again his problems with temporary restraining orders that courts issue. He expressed frustration about the TRO on contraceptives, saying it hampered the government’s efforts to make family planning tools accessible.
“I am not for abortion, I am not for birth control, but certainly I am for giving freedom to Filipinos to decide the size ng pamilya nila…how many children will they be able to support and send to school,” he said.
He segued into his dislike for the policy of having lowest bidders win in government projects, and talked about a recent visit to the AFP Medical Center, where he noted how the hospital lacked medical equipment. He expressed frustration over the slow procurement of necessary equipment at the facility.
He told DOH Secretary Paulyn Ubial, “Change the procedure because I will change you.”
Interestingly, Duterte did not devote much time to the issue of the maritime dispute with China, only saying it needs to be tackled sooner or later.