SONA 2017 | Duterte talks climate change, global warming, environmental conservation

Originally published in Interaksyon

MANILA – Capping the first year of a remarkable presidency where his phenomenal ratings appeared undented by controversies over extrajudicial killings, Rodrigo Roa Duterte on Monday (July 24) addressed the joint session of Congress with a vow to continue the fight against illegal drugs, which he called “the root cause of so much evil and so much suffering” in the country.

Illegal drugs, the President stressed in his second State of the Nation Address (SONA), “weakens the social fabric” and hinders business.

The second SONA was earlier touted as revolving on the theme of “A comfortable life for all,” but Duterte also alluded to his campaign vow that “change is coming,” stressing that he had been certain early on that “genuine change is what this country truly needs.”

But it all begins, he asserted, with quashing the evil of illegal drugs, the one issue that has marked his presidency. “I believed then, as I still believe, that progress will sputter if illegal drugs” and those who thrive on the trade are allowed to roam the streets freely, “victimizing with impunity the innocent, the helpless.”

He cited his experience in Davao City, which became progressive only after he had decisively dealt with criminals and insurgents that had ruled the southern city in the seventies and eighties.

Duterte promised the fight against illegal drugs “will be unremitting as it will be unrelenting,” adding that the fight will continue “until those who deal in it understand that they have to cease.”

His ultimatum: “they have to stop, or the alternative is either jail or hell.”

He vowed to “make sure, very sure, that they will not have the luxury of enjoying the fruits of their greed or madness.” He said he will not lose the fight against illegal drugs, as to lose would spell “the destruction of the Filipino.”

He told critics of the fight against illegal drugs, including foreign governments and UN agencies concerned over the body count and collateral damage, that their “efforts are better spent” if they use the influence and moral ascendancy of their positions and organizations in educating people about the evils of illegal drugs, “instead of blaming the authorities for every killing that bloodies this country.”

Nonetheless, he stressed, “don’t get me wrong. I value human life, just as I value life,” but lamented
that “there is a jungle out there. There are beasts and vultures preying on the helpless, the innocent and unsuspecting.”

Support from Congress
It was his second time to deliver the SONA before a Congress where he enjoys a supermajority. That solid support was manifested last Saturday (July 22), when his request to extend martial law in Mindanao by 150 days – on account of continuing fighting with the Islamic State-inspired Maute Group in Marawi City and threats by extremists elsewhere – obtained a 261-18 vote from the two chambers in joint session.

For Monday’s second SONA in his administration, Duterte arrived a bit late at 3:50pm, having been expected to be at the Batasan premises by 3:30pm. After alighting from the presidential chopper, he proceeded to hold the traditional informal discussions for a few 15 minutes with leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
He stood up from his meeting with them at 4:11pm, and proceeded to the plenary hall of the Batasan.

The joint session was called to order at 4:20pm.

Past presidents, except for Duterte’s immediate predecessor Benigno Aquino III, attended the SONA, as part of tradition. In the audience were ex-President Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is now 2nd district representative of Pampanga.

Legislative priorities
As announced earlier by Palace officials, Duterte also submitted Monday to Congress his proposed P3.7-trillion national budget for 2018.

Earlier on Monday, the two leaders of Congress laid out their legislative priorities in the second regular session. Senate President Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III listed the tax reform package, universal health care, amendments to the anti-terrorism law, and federalism among the Senate’s priorities. He said over 1,200 bills are also in their pipeline.

Illegal drugs, criminality, insurgency
“I ask you to join me in this fight against illegal drugs and criminality,” he addressed the members of Congress. “look beyond your biases, your political agenda. The search for change is within us.”

He underscored his determination to fight the scourge of drugs and criminality: “We will not be cowed. We will not be overwhelmed. This is where our resilience perseverance and determination are tested. We can and will overcome, together, toward a common goal.”

The quest for peace drove the spirit of his speech: “It is not the peace of the dead but the peace of the living that we seek.”

He mentioned the “red insurgency”, “the Moslem issue for centuries”, where so much lives have been lost. “Peace eludes us,” he noted. “Sometimes I am tempted to think the peace will not come in our lifetime. But it will not be for lack of trying.”

“The battle of Marawi has dealt a terrible blow to our quest for peace. I declared martial law in Mindanao because I believed that was the fastest way to defeat the Maute rebellion at the least cost of lives, and to prevent them from spreading hate across the island.”

He declared his “unwavering support” to the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the police forces. “To those on the ground in the battlefields, I have your backs. I hold myself, me and me alone, responsible. The people of Marawi need help. If we cannot provide for the poor and the needy, we will not be able to keep from harm the rich. Our armed forces and the police are the silent heroes. Never fear. Do your duty. I stand behind you.”

Climate change, global warming, environmental conservation
“My fellow citizens, what i have said so far about Marawi are but part of what cuts across the entire country. I refer to climate change, the drought and dry spell in Mindanao. Our legislators, we have to pass the land use act.”

He pointedly referred to the exploitation of the land, the conversion of raw materials into finished products for commercial purpose. It will not be for the few who are rich but for the many of the poor.”

He asked industrialists “and barons to put up factories and generate jobs.” He called for a rethinking of the exploitation of the country’s mineral resources and raw materials “for processing abroad, and then importing the finished products and consumer goods.”

He called for a stop to the destruction and utilization of the natural resources, “that we do not recklessly and needlessly harm the environment. The protection of the environment must be made a priority. I sternly warn all mining operations and contractors to refrain from unbriddled and wanton destruction of resources. I am holding them responsible for restoration, rehabilitation of communities that suffered from the mining.”

But, he declared, “hindi ko kayo kalaban (you are not my enemy); you give the government PhP70 billion.” But, he lamented, “the rivers are sources of protein. Try to see how hard it is for the people to survive.”

He encouraged them to practice responsible resource extraction “tutal sobra sobra ang pera nyo (you have such monetary wealth anyway).”

“When nature fights back, it is with a vengeance. We still have to recover from the beating from the typhoons. The series of damaging quakes attest to this. It is no longer a question of if but when. Come to think of it, there is no perfect instrument to predict an earthquake. If the big one hits … I am calling on Congress to establish a department to deliver enhanced disaster resiliency and effective response in the Greater Manila Area, the seat of the country. I am directing the cabinet cluster on disaster and climate change to act fast.

Reacting to Duterte’s remarks on climate change, Renato Redentor Constantino, executive director of the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC), said:

“By recognizing the threat of climate change to food production in his latest State of the Nation Address, President Duterte is following through on his promise in his first SONA last year to prioritize climate action. It is consistent with his push to ratify the Paris Agreement.”

In doing so, ICSC said, “the president allies himself with the overwhelming majority of heads of state, despite efforts by Trump and his fossil fuel backers to stymie climate action.”

His designation of Senator Loren Legarda as the de facto head of the country’s climate agenda was deemed a wise move “that will generate solid policy momentum in the cabinet cluster on climate change.

“The Duterte cabinet must follow his lead and take advantage of their remaining five years in power as science presents an increasingly worsening state of the climate. Government must attack with impatience policies that prevent the country from surviving climate-induced disasters and thriving despite its monumental threats to our people. The fortunes of coal continue to plummet worldwide even as more countries pursue low-carbon transformation of their economies.”

“What is the state of the nation today we are in? We are in for trouble because we live in troubled and uncertain times. We hope and pray.”

Independent foreign policy
When he touched on the matter of driving an “independent” foreign policy within the purview of non-interference and mutual respect in the community of ASEAN independent nations, and cultivating warmer relations with China, President Duterte digressed into a recounting of the Balangiga massacre of 1901 at the hands of avenging American gunboats and infantry patrols.

Among the spoils of war in that incident was the carting away of the church bells of Balangiga.

“I say today: Give us back our Balangiga bells. They are ours. They belong to the Philippines. They are part of our national heritage. Isauli naman ninyo, masakit yan sa amin (Return them. It hurts),” he entreated.

Procurement blues
On the subject of government procurement, Duterte pointed out his sense that the concept of the lowest bidder is at the heart of corruption and poor governance, where it becomes possible for an under-qualified bidder to take part but inevitably upend the procurement process by spreading largess all around the bidding circle and the government getting a raw deal.

He also called out the judiciary on the perceived speed bumps posed by TROs – Temporary Restraining Orders issued in the face of development projects. He urged the Supreme Court to be more sensitive to national development goals.

He cited the case of subdermal family planning supplies worth PhP300 million that have been held in check by a TRO, but which will reach their useful shelf life within two months and, are, therefore all but practically useless. The government had gone ahead to acquire the supplies, not anticipating to be technically blindsided by the TRO that effectively impaired that component of the family planning program.

“TRO is the bane of our efficiency,” he declared. “Our laws should support, not impede, national development.”

He was surprised that crucial military hospital equipment and supplies that he had promised wounded soldiers one year ago, but have not been procured and installed. He challenged Health Secretary Paulyn Jean B. Rosell-Ubial: “The machine was ordered a year ago. Change the procedure because I will change you.”

In an indirect but veiled hint alluding to his state of health, he said, in passing: “It’s not for me to tell if I have the time to deliver one more SONA.”