Philippine President’s 2nd State of the Nation Address
Special to OSM! www.justcliqit.com
By Diana G. Mendoza
MANILA – With students speaking out against his “misogynist and abusive” administration and teachers criticizing his “failed promises” days ahead of his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faced Filipinos on his second year with a speech defending his decision to declare war on drugs while about 8,000 protesters faced about 6,000 riot police amid dark skies and slight rain on Monday afternoon.
“I have resolved that no matter how long it takes, the fight against illegal drugs will continue because it is the root cause of suffering,” Duterte told an audience of senators, representatives, government officials, private sector representatives and the diplomatic corps at the Batasang Pambansa in Quezon City, the headquarters of the House of Representatives.
“The fight will be unrelenting despite international and local pressures, the fight will not stop,” he said. He warned drug criminals that “they have to stop because the alternative is either jail or hell.”He asked Filipinos to be with him in his continuous crusade. “I ask you to join me in this fight against illegal drugs and all forms of criminality.”
Duterte’s speech came two days after Congress voted to extend martial law in Mindanao, the country’s southern island, until the end of the 2017 to help combat terrorism after the ISIS-inspired Maute group seized Marawi City, a mainly Muslim city of 200,000 people on May 23. The rebel group, which started as an armed network of clans with familial ties to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, is reportedly being aided by some foreign militants from neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia.
I declared martial law because I believe that was the fastest way to quell rebellion at the least cost of lives and properties,” he said.
Despite widespread criticism from local and international individuals and groups of his brutal war on drugs and no-nonsense fight against criminality, Duterte made certain that his continued illegal drug war was foremost in his second SONA Monday afternoon. He remained undeterred by criticisms and vowed to be unrelenting in his administration’s fight against illegal drugs.
Duterte’s drug war has claimed lives of thousands of Filipinos. Activist groups put the number at more than 12,000 since Duterte assumed office a year ago. But he said he would not be swayed by local and international pressure. “I value human life the way I value mine,” he said.
The president also urged his critics to look beyond their “biases” and “political agenda” while they condemn the administration’s actions and policies. “Look beyond your biases, your prejudices, your ambitions, and political agenda,” he said.
His critics said Duterte failed to deliver the promises he made during the election campaign, especially the problematic implementation of the K to 12 program that caused unemployment to teachers due to retrenchment and ending contractualization, which he denounced during his campaign.
They noted that if there is a promise that he took seriously, it is his war against drugs, which has indiscriminately trampled on human rights and eliminated drug criminals, mostly poor, by extrajudicial killings.” The war on drugs has also been used by indiscriminately by government forces to “neutralize state criminals, activists, and political opposition.”
Duterte’s speech lasted one hour and 30 minutes and was interrupted by applause many times, even when he was cursing in English and Filipino, and at some point in his native language. He even whispered twice on the microphone “not to tell the visitors” or members of the diplomatic community about what he uttered.
Turning his attention to mining, he warned mining companies and contractors of being taxed steeply if they do not spend money on rehabilitation of areas that host their operations. “I warn you to refrain from the unbridled and irresponsible destruction of our watersheds, forests, and aquatic resources,” he said. “Mayaman na kayo (You have enriched yourselves). You have gained much from mining, we only get about P70 billion a year, but you have considerably neglected your responsibility to protect and preserve, and even the tax is about 5%,” he said.
He appealed to people in the mining sector to declare their correct income and pay their correct taxes. He also directed employees, officials, and local government units in charge of monitoring mining operations to “do your job without fear or favor.”
Duterte also held all mining companies and mining officials responsible for the “full and quick clean-up, restoration, and rehabilitation” of areas damaged by mining activities and wanted them to extend all necessary support to communities who have suffered from mining operations.
“I mean it. Do not try to test my resolve. Absolutely I have nothing to lose except my life,” he added.
Duterte also reiterated his decision to “stop talking” with communist rebels under the National Democratic Front and criticized its consultants for were merely using the peace talks with the government to travel around Europe as if they were tourists.
He attacked Jose Maria Sison, his former teacher who founded the Communist Party of the Philippines as being sick and dying of colon cancer. Sison, who has been on political asylum in The Netherlands since 1992, has denied Duterte’s claims.
Duterte has stated days before his address that he will no longer pursue peace talks with the Left, following clashes of its armed group the New People’s Army with government troops, including members of his Presidential Security Group. This was a stark contrast to his first address upon assuming office in which he declared a unilateral ceasefire as a gesture of goodwill for the talks.
After his speech, Duterte, often called by his nickname “Digong” when he was mayor of Davao City in Mindanao for 23 years, talked to protesters outside Congress while they were chanting “Peace talks ituloy (continue).” There were also at least 3,000 pro-Duterte supporters in the area.
Church leaders, progressive lawmakers, civil society groups and youth leaders also staged a day-long “Counter SONA” to protest what they said was Duterte’s “truth-challenged” SONA, his bloody war on drugs, the extension of martial law in Mindanao and what they called the President’s “rising authoritarianism.”
On both street activities and social media, young Filipinos used continued with their “hashtag protests” such as #Millennials against Dictators, ” #YouthResist and human #hashtag protest” to “connect the millennials’ online anger to offline protests against the culture of killing and resentment for democracy under the Duterte government.”
(Featured photo of ABS-CBN is Pres. Duterte during his 2nd SONA at the Batasang Pambansa on July 24, 2017)
About the writer: Diana G. Mendoza is a freelance journalist based in Manila.