From ‘three to six months’ to three years: Drugs, corruption still among Duterte’s woes

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 22) — Three years ago on the campaign trail, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte promised to end drugs and corruption in three to six months if he is elected president.

Fast forward three years to his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA), Duterte still talks about these woes — leaving him exasperated and even wishing, albeit in jest, for the Big One to come.

“The Philippines is so corrupt, it’s so lousy that if you kill all congressmen, the senators, the president, we’ll have a new day,” Duterte said Monday. “I pray if the earthquake comes, it comes now.”

While that was a clear joke, he was also clearly serious when he made his first pitch to Congress — the restoration of death penalty for drug-related offenses and plunderers.

The plenary hall erupted in applause at Duterte’s continued prodding for capital punishment for drug-related offenses, but went silent when he quickly added that he also wants plunder punished by death.

“I have identified the enemy who dumped us in the quagmire we are in. I have met the enemy face to face and sadly, the enemy is us,” Duterte said. “We are our own tormentors. We are our own demons. We are rapacious predators preying on the weak.”

Duterte went on to outline what he and his administration have done to curb corruption — revamping the leadership of the state health insurer after a massive insurance fraud was uncovered and sacking hundreds of his appointees.

He also renewed his vow to rid the Bureau of Customs of corruption, asking Congress to pass a law which would make it difficult for employees to cling to their posts despite having security of tenure.

But despite these efforts, Duterte admitted that the “illegal drug problem persists” and that “corruption continues and emasculates the currency we need to retain our moral recovery initiatives.”

He said corruption is found “everywhere” in government, which left him prodding yet again the military and the police to mount a coup d’état against him.

Gusto ko na rin mag-resign [I too want to resign.] I am not happy anymore. You want to take over via coup? Go ahead,” Duterte said.

The President also hit red tape in government offices, pointing to it as among the sources of corruption. He ordered local government officials to streamline their processes and ensure that permits are released in three days.

Duterte has long projected an image that he is tough on corruption, having vowed not to tolerate even a “whiff of corruption” in government.

However, the President has also been hit for “recycling,” and even promoting government officials he had already fired for involvement in alleged anomalies.

The lecture

Duterte made good on his promise that he would use his SONA to lecture the public on why it is legal for him to strike a deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in Recto Bank — which is in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone — in exchange for Filipino fishermen getting back access to Scarborough Shoal.

“When I said I allow, that was on the premise that I own the property pero hindi tayo [but we are not] in control of the property,” Duterte said.

The Philippines lost control of Scarborough Shoal following a standoff in 2012 with China, which ended when Manila’s ships withdrew in keeping its end of a Washington-brokered agreement to move away from the sea feature. Beijing, however, stayed and has been in control of the area since then.

‘Yan ang problema. Sila ‘yung [That’s the problem. They are] in possession and claiming all the resources there as an owner. We are claiming the same, but we are not in the position because of that fiasco,” Duterte said.

He said under that under the arbitral award, the Philippines can enter into fishing agreements under certain conditions.

He added that China is invoking traditional fishing rights over the waters, which he claimed is recognized by the arbitral tribunal created under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and backed by the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration.

China has been claiming virtually the entire South China Sea by invoking historical rights, but this was struck down by the arbitral ruling issued in 2016. The tribunal also said that China has violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights over waters within its 200-nautical mile EEZ.

“Traditional fishing applies only in the territorial sea and archipelagic waters. There is no traditional fishing in the EEZ,” Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said in a statement after Duterte’s SONA. “Traditional fishing is artisanal fishing using small, simple fishing boats … The Chinese steel-hulled trawlers cannot qualify for traditional fishing.”

Duterte reiterated that avoiding armed conflict over the waters and protecting the country’s maritime rights is “delicate balancing act.”

Nevertheless, he stressed that the West Philippine Sea belongs to the Philippines, but Manila's claim over the area would have to be “tempered with the times and the realities we face today.”

CNN Philippines tried asking Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua for comment, but he declined.

Betting on Bong Go

Aside from Duterte, his longtime aide-turned-senator, Christopher “Bong” Go, also turned out to be a star of the SONA.

Go was repeatedly mentioned during the President’s speech and was prominently shown all throughout the event.

The first bills that Go filed in the Senate were consecutively mentioned by Duterte during his speech as he enumerated the measures he would like Congress to pass.

Among these are additional benefits for solo parents, the establishment of barangay (village) and Malasakit Centers, the postponement of the May 2020 village and youth council polls, the Magna Carta for Barangays, the establishment of a new department for overseas Filipinos and a centralized agency overseeing water supply.

He also prodded Congress to pass a new salary standardization law which would give government employees, including teachers and nurses, a pay hike, and to create a new department on disaster resilience. Incidentally, these are also among the first 10 bills Go filed.

Totohanin mo lang Bong, mapahiya tayong lahat [Just make sure that these become true, or else we’ll embarrass ourselves,]” Duterte said.

Go has been described by some of his colleagues in the Senate as a link to Malacañang. Political science professor Jean Franco told CNN Philippines that the senator could be considered Duterte’s “mole” in the upper chamber.

Unfinished business

Duterte had to press Congress again for some of his administration’s measures which did not clear the legislative mill.

Among them is his administration’s second tax reform package which would lower corporate income tax but would cut corporate tax incentives.

Lawmakers were spooked to tackle the bill following the backlash on the first tax reform package which lowered personal income tax rates but hiked excise taxes on fuel products and other goods and services.

Duterte also called on Congress to pass the remaining packages of his tax reform program.

He also renewed his administration’s push for higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol.

The President also made a pitch for his administration’s economic bills, which are largely centered on reforms. These include changes to the property valuation system and the rationalization of capital income taxation.

Other bills he wants Congress to pass are the Government Rightsizing Bill, the National Academy of Sports for High School students, Bureau of Fire Protection modernization program, the National Land Use Act, the National Defense Act and the revival of mandatory Reserve Officers Training Corps program.