Header by Sam Bumanlag
Photos from philstar.com
Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fourth SONA, marking the halfway point to his term. Buoyed by his campaign promise to run the country in the same way he did for his city, the president spent the first three years of his term ruling like a Real Man — crushing enemies through state force and going hard on his critics, with enough spare time to play the role of ladies’ man.
And it seems that the country does love this kind of fanfare, with the president still enjoying an 81% approval rating and 72% trust rating as of January this year. Likewise, admin bets swept the last midterm elections, leaving no room for opposition candidates to block the president’s agenda for the next three years. According to the SONA, he will not show any sign of relenting on his pet issues: the war on drugs, the death penalty, peace and order, and corruption within the government.
So where do we young people place in the grand scheme of things? A few months ago, we asked you to list the issues that mattered to you. You responded, dear reader, with everything from “What happens to the drug war now?” to “Will they finally pass the SOGIE and Divorce bills?” Back in May, we compiled a couple of explainers on each of these issues.
[READ: A guide to the key national issues that the youth care about]
Now that it’s been almost one month since the SONA, how can we expect the president’s words to translate into changes in young people’s lives? If you weren’t able to watch the whole 93-minute SONA and were wondering what bits and pieces did tackle your top concerns, we’re giving you a quick rundown of what the president had to say (or did not say) about the issues you care about.
The Drug War
The first issue President Duterte tackles in his SONA is none other than the drug war. He opens the issue by admitting that the illegal drug problem persists, three years after his bold promise of ending drugs within three to six months after taking office.
Interestingly enough, he discusses the drug problem using the story of the 2017 Marawi siege, claiming that during the time it took for terrorists to enter the country carrying sophisticated weaponry, they were also able to smuggle in tons of shabu. This allows him to connect the drug problem to patriotism; that by being unable to solve the problem, more men in service of the country end up losing their lives. “Drug money killed 175 and wounded [2,101] of my soldiers and policemen in that five-month battle,” he says.
Of course, if you aren’t a law enforcer or an upstanding citizen, this government believes you deserve to be eliminated (“The criminals…they are not humanity” and “I don’t believe in human rights,” anyone?). As of July 2019, the PNP claims that more than 5,500 drug offenders have been killed and that 1,283,409 pushers and users have surrendered thanks to “Oplan Tokhang.” Other human rights watch groups have pegged the death toll to as high as 30,000.
But the president isn’t done with the bloody campaign. He blames the persistence of drugs on corruption. So while he does cite the creation of Barangay Anti-Drug Abuse Councils and citizens surrendering “bricks of cocaine found floating in the sea” — a niche solution — the president says this isn’t enough and thus masterfully segues into one of his strongest SONA demands — return the death penalty now.
The Death Penalty
If you came to watch the SONA looking for the president’s priority bills this coming year, then the death penalty would have to be top of that list.
Coming from his piece on the failure of the drug war, the president makes his case for the reimposition of death penalty, stating that the only way left to deter drug traffickers is by threatening them with the injection — or the firing squad, if you want to go by Senator Manny Pacquiao’s way.
The president is also proposing to give the same punishment to plunderers. This isn’t the first time he’s threatened physical violence towards wayward government employees. The rest of the speech is peppered with exhortations for citizens to slap and beat up employees who extort money, saying that people can even cite his name when doing so. “Sampalin mo ‘yang p***** i** na ‘yan,” he says. “Kasi aabot rin sa akin ‘yan.” The House applauds.
Wielding his “defender of the weak” card, President Duterte wants to show how serious he is with his goal of cleaning up the government by, well, literally cleaning people up.
Critics say that statistics show death penalty around the globe has had little effect on deterring crime, and that reforming the justice system would have a better shot. It doesn’t help them then that former PNP Chief Bato Dela Rosa is now a senator. Dela Rosa won on a senatorial bid as means to push for the death penalty, and has sworn to be the president’s trusted man in the Senate. With the president’s men taking majority of the seats in both the Senate and House, this is one bill that has a strong likelihood of getting passed.
Last week, the Senate entered another heated debate over the president’s orders. Several senators have filed their own versions of death penalty’s reimposition, with senators like Pacquiao, Lacson, Dela Rosa, and Go backing it; while Drilon has vowed to fight tooth and nail to prevent it.
The TRAIN Law
Given the circus that happened around TRAIN last year (to the point where senatorial bets used their opponents’ affiliation to TRAIN as mudslinging ammo), a lot of politicians are wary to be within a mile of it.
But the president plans to now move away from personal taxation and into corporate taxation. He wants to continue pursuing the rest of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program, of which TRAIN was the first package. In his SONA, President Duterte encouraged Congress to push Package 2. That’s Tax Reform for Attracting Better and High Quality Opportunities — or TRABAHO — for you.
Under the TRABAHO Bill, the government plans to lower corporate income tax from 30% to 20% by 2029, and give more incentives to investors. According to the Department of Finance, the Philippines has the highest CIT rate in Southeast Asia, meaning that some 90,000 small and medium enterprises (SME) and 10,000 micro enterprises have to pay the regular 30% tax — the same as those of bigger businesses.
So how does this affect young people? If you’re a young person running an SME, like say, a startup, that means that the TRABAHO bill will help you pay less corporate income tax. So yay for more savings, right?
Not so fast. The government is also hoping TRABAHO brings in more competition, more foreign investors, and thus more funding for Build, Build, Build. But DOF says the current Congress versions are watered down and instead going to result in losses in tax revenues. I think we’ll all need our friends in the financial sector to further explain this one for us.
Land rights, farmer’s rights, and agrarian reform
With regards to farmers’ rights, the SONA has three things to say: we will implement the Rice Tariffication Law, establish a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund, and push Landbank to return to their agricultural roots.
In the agri segment of his SONA, President Duterte went to prove that he was still the people’s man through and through. He vowed to provide modern farm equipment, seeds, and credit to farmers. He then went off-script to talk about the coco levy fund for several minutes, talking about everything from the difficulty of tracing real owners of the land, to how he hasn’t received the money, to advice for farmers on how and where to invest, and to how it would be better to avoid “sprinkling” the money. Once you tear through the jumble of things said, you realize the president’s suggestion is for farmers to surrender the P5 billion into a government trust fund, instead of claiming it and risking it being stolen by those releasing the money. “Look, it is really hard to look for an honest man. I must admit it. Baka ako hindi ko rin kaya,” President Duterte says.
He then berates Landbank on national broadcast, saying that they have forgotten their agricultural mission to fund agri enterprises in order to become a commercial bank. The president gave them until July to create a new game plan to serve farmers better, or else he’ll have Congress abolish them. In response, Landbank immediately presented the Landbank Action Plan at a Cabinet meeting last Aug. 5, presenting that they’ve given loans worth P177.32 billion for agriculture and fisheries, and plan to continue scaling this up.
Earlier this year, President Duterte also put to task the Department of Agrarian Reform to speed up the distribution of government lands to AR beneficiaries, saying that he intends to spend the last three years of his term turning over especially those unused lands. He mentions Boracay and how he gave the islands back piece by piece to the Atis.
Lowering the age of criminal liability
The president did not touch on lowering the age of criminal liability in his SONA.
In January, the House passed the bill lowering the age to 12 from the original 15, which critics have called a “giant leap backward.” The House justifies itself by saying that they’ve revised the term “criminal” responsibility to “social” responsibility, and did not pursue lowering it further to nine years old. Their argument resembles that of the president — that by exerting force and instilling fear, children will be dissuaded from participating in crime. UNICEF and several human rights groups have denounced this argument, saying that juveniles have to be provided better social support instead of being sent to jail for retribution.
The counterpart bill has been refiled in the Senate for the 18th Congress, and is currently pending at the committee.
Martial law in Mindanao
The SONA did not specifically mention if the admin has any plans regarding martial law in Mindanao. According to the last extension, ML is set to end this December 2019. After several extensions, one can’t help but wonder whether this year will be when they finally lift ML, or whether another extension request is peeking around the Christmas corner. Even the original rationale — to quell terrorist groups — has been questioned. Why the entirety of Mindanao? Why not focus on just the conflict areas?
So in order to justify his request for a third extension, the president cited bombings that happened in different provinces in Mindanao in 2018, to which 235 Congressmen agreed. However, other critics have cited that the need for a third extension does show the failure of the military in maintaining order. After all, three failed attempts at something usually prompts a revisit of methods – so why should this be any different?
In his SONA, the President instead mentions his desire for the Bangsamoro Transition to fast-track the creation of a regional government in order to promote peace and progress in the islands.
What this tells us is that the president does have a penchant for the military. We have military men handling environment and social welfare. We see state power being used to quell dissent. We see Mindanao being put under the watchful eyes of Martial Law. So because the president thinks that the fastest way to getting things done is to eliminate opposing factors, who better to assist him than men sworn to a life of loyalty and obedience? Earlier this month, the Davao City council passed a resolution asking the president to lift martial law in their city. It is now pending review in Malacañang.
The president did not touch on divorce in his SONA.
However, there is a current move in the Senate by Senators Pia Cayetano and Risa Hontiveros to revive and push for this bill’s passage. This week, a roundtable discussion was held with several women and civil sector representatives to discuss #DivorceLawNOW. The bill proposes to include violence as a valid enough reason for separation (annulment doesn’t count this unless it’s a repeated beating), and outlines the process of determining child custody in the event of separation.
The senators are facing opposition in Senator Tito Sotto, who has proposed an update to annulment laws instead, and in Senator Joel Villanueva. “Divorce? Over my dead body,” Villanueva strongly says.
The bill is currently pending in the committee.
The president did not touch on the Anti-Discrimination or SOGIE Bill in his SONA.
This comes as no surprise. After all, in relation to gender discussions, the president has been known to shrug off complaints about his jokes about women and the LGBTQ+. During the speech itself, the president made several sexist remarks about finding lots of potential girlfriends in Manila, washing his girlfriend, and eyeing white girls at the beach.
Today, the ADB/SOGIE Bill is starting from scratch yet again after 19 years of languishing in Congress. It has been refiled in the 18th Congress after not being given due attention after the May elections. Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of the bill, is also facing staunch opposition from fellow Senators Tito Sotto, Joel Villanueva, and Manny Pacquiao — all conservative Christians.
The bill aims to protect all Filipinos from discrimination by ethnicity, class, religion, etc. Likewise, it aims to remove school uniform restrictions and establish unisex restrooms — some provisions which don’t sit well with its devoutly religious critics.