MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to be both on legacy and lecture mode as he delivers his fourth State of the Nation Address on Monday as he is seen to cite the gains of his administration while responding to critics of his controversial policies.
Duterte’s “legacy” SONA may highlight security and anti-poverty efforts as well as the government’s infrastructure program, an endeavor that aims to become a “gold standard” for future leaders, Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said.
“For the next three years, it’s all about Duterte legacy… Legacy is a very important word,” Andanar told radio station dzBB Sunday.
“(If the president leaves) hard legacy like subways, railway systems in Mindanao, bridges, highways…that will become the gold standard, that will become the barometer, the bar the next president will have to look at. They have to either match it or surpass it to improve the lives of every Filipino,” he added.
The administration is planning to spend P8 trillion for infrastructure until 2022 to improve the competitiveness of the Philippines, which has been a laggard in the region when it comes to public infrastructure. Officials have claimed that the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program would usher in a “golden age” of infrastructure.
Andanar said the fourth SONA, which may last for 45 minutes to an hour depending on the speed of the president’s delivery, would be one of his most important speeches as it would contain his plans for his last three years in office. Aside from infrastructure, the two other themes that may be highlighted in the address are poverty alleviation and peace and order policies.
“At the end of the day, what is important is that President Duterte sets the bar of public service and sets the bar of infrastructure building, policy-making and poverty alleviation,” Andanar said in a recent interview.
Duterte to ‘educate’ critics
While SONAs have always been about achievements, Monday’s address may also become a venue for Duterte to lash back at critics who question the legality of his decisions and policies, including his handling of the West Philippine (South China) Sea row.
Duterte has drawn flak for entering into a fishing agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping, a deal that granted the Chinese access to the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
He previously claimed the deal had made it possible for Filipino fishermen to enter the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a fishing ground off Zambales that is within Philippine EEZ but has been under China’s control since 2012.
“Maybe during the SONA, I will educate people that what I did, I said you can fish, was right. It can’t be unconstitutional,” Duterte told reporters last July 8.
“To my countrymen, I do not have any sin to the constitution, believe me,” he added.
Andanar said it is “highly possible” that Duterte would mention his stand on the West Philippine Sea.
“Whether he would lecture, meaning off the script, I do not know. That will be the prerogative of the president. That will depend on the mood of the president,” he said.
Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, an outspoken critic of Duterte’s policies on China, has asked the president not to mention the fishing deal in his SONA, saying it would make the agreement legally binding.
Andanar said law and order would also be mentioned in the fourth SONA but could not say whether the president would talk about the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking a comprehensive report on the Philippines’ war on illegal drugs.
“We do not accept that decision. We will not allow the investigators to come in. That’s the decision. Now perhaps, that decision has to be reviewed. (Whether) the president will mention it, we don’t know,” he added.
Duterte is also likely to enumerate his priority bills, which officials claimed have higher chances of being passed because the two legislative chambers are now dominated by his allies.
Andanar said among the measures that may be mentioned are the proposed National Land Use Act, which calls for sustainable use, management and development of lands. The president also mentioned the bill in his third SONA.
Only nine of the 17 bills certified as urgent by Duterte have become laws under the previous congress, data from the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office showed.
Priority bills that were bypassed by the previous congress include amendments to the Public Service Act, Foreign Investments Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act and the revival of the mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, the Budget Reform Act, the bill strengthening workers’ right to security of tenure, and the bill raising the excise tax on tobacco products.
Officials have also called for the passage of the 2020 budget, bills creating the disaster and overseas workers departments, the restoration of death penalty, and the federalism bill.
All systems go
Andanar said the administration is “100 percent ready” for the fourth SONA, which he said may not exceed an hour.
He said the SONA draft has been reduced from 28 pages to 19 pages as of Sunday.
“We are expecting it to be between 17 to 18 pages and to last for 45 minutes and one hour, depending on the speed of the president. Based on his practice, it can be finished in less than an hour,” the presidential communications chief said.
Andanar said the president, known for his lengthy and freewheeling speeches, has the prerogative to make ad libs.
The fourth SONA will be directed by film director Joyce Bernal. The Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra will perform folk songs and the presidential march, the first time a live symphony orchestra is tapped to participate in the annual address.
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