PRESIDENT Duterte’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) was popularly awaited, all right, and many hoped that the President would be physically well enough to go to the Batasang Pambansa building and deliver his yearly speech. Which he did yesterday afternoon, and promptly at that.
Ordinary Filipinos, however, would find the SONA just an enumeration of the ordinary topics and insights the President had been discussing with his Cabinet and his Inter-Agency Task Force during their pre-dawn meetings.
The people had expected the Chief Executive to talk at length about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and how the nation has been faring in stemming the tide of infections. What we got was just a presidential affirmation of the slogan, “Buhay Muna Bago Ang Lahat” (Human life before all else). Duterte acknowledged the devastation to the population and economy of the pandemic, and only informed the people what they already know — 932 accredited testing laboratories nationwide, a target of 1.4 million COVID-19 tests by the end of July (that’s four days to go) and the achievement of 48 to 72 hours turnaround time for the infection.
The meaty portion of Duterte’s SONA was when he attacked the telecom duopoly for their lousy service and love for profits, without the corresponding infusion of the necessary capital increments for better service. Duterte warned the telcos that they should improve their performance until December, 2020 because “I would like to call Jesus in Bethlehem and the line should be clear.” To drive home his point, Duterte even dropped the hint of “expropriation” as an intimidating message to the telecom industry if they fail to shape up.
The Chief Executive is particular with improving the internet connectivity and other technological tools for the Filipinos because he would like the government to become paperless and adoptive to e-governance. He wanted the people to receive public service in the comfort of their homes, and that the “pila system” (queues) will become a thing of the past.
Death penalty by lethal injection made a comeback when Duterte mentioned it as one of his priority legislation. This is still part and parcel of his much-touted War Against Drugs, and the President shifted to speaking extemporaneously when he expounded on the harsh reality that drugs bring to any Filipino family.
The SONA has something good and something bad for the business community, considering the dressing down given to the telcos, and the support for businesses such as fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, ramping up of “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure projects, asset management schemes similar to special purpose vehicles, tax incentives and other proposals from the administration’s economic managers.
What is clear as day is that President Duterte has resolved to continue serving the people up to the end of his term, and he will do it his own way. The leftist opposition, the communist rebels, the jihadist terrorists and others may continue to oppose him, but he remains as fit as the day he assumed office four years ago.