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Cabinet men react to final SoNA



‘Less visions, more remembrances’ President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his final State of the Nation Address, as Senate President Tito Sotto and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco look on at the Batasang Pambansa on 26 July 2021. / PHOTOGRAPH BY Michael Varcas FOR THE DAILY TRIBUNE @tribunephl_ana

President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivered his longest State of the Nation Address (SoNA) on Monday — his fifth and last report to the people. Duterte — strong-willed for some but strongman for others — still has many things to accomplish and issues to resolve with just a year left under his helm.

Before his speech, some of Duterte’s cabinet members graced the Daily Tribune’s special SoNA coverage. Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Arthur P. Tugade, a known close ally of the president, stood firm that the president would exit the Malacañang Palace with head high.

Despite mounting criticisms, Tugade believed that the government would successfully deliver a “Golden Age of Infrastructure” for the Philippines by 2022.

“President Duterte resolved the overlapping problems in the transportation sector, including the NAIA, which was dubbed then as the worst airport in the world. In just a year, we transformed the airport into one of the most improved air hubs in the world,” Tugade said.

“Looking at the long- and medium-term projects of the administration, Duterte does not only want to resolve the perennial problem of traffic but also to make the lives of Filipino people more convenient and comfortable,” he added.


No more miserable commutes

During his speech, Duterte underscored that the Filipino people can now see the tangible results of the infrastructure and transportation developments in the country.

“MRT-3 no longer unloads passengers (because of technical problems)… the waiting time between trains have been significantly reduced… We have taken away the misery of public commuting,” Duterte said.

Duterte also pointed out that his government decongested the EDSA through the newly implemented EDSA Busway scheme, which reduced travel time from Monumento to Pasay to 45 minutes from nearly three hours.


Affordable energy for all

Meanwhile, Department of Energy (DoE) Secretary Alfonso G. Cusi told the Daily Tribune his agency worked tirelessly to find ways to make energy-efficient and accessible to all Filipinos to enrich the lives of the people.

“When we entered here in 2016, we strengthened our building capacity to ensure sufficient power supply that will meet the demand of both the consumers and the grid. We need to have a reliable and stable grid so we chose to ask help from the private sector,” Cusi said.

“We were also encouraging investment in the energy sectors by building additional plants and improving our transmission structures. So from 2016 until now, there were about 5,000 megawatts of power generated to boost our supply,” he added.

Despite various calamities, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the DoE managed to improve the electrification level.

Consistent with the 100 percent household electrification target by 2022, it increased the electrification level from 90.7 percent in 2016 to 94.5 percent in 2020, or 3.52 million additional households enjoying electricity service.

Cusi reiterated that to guarantee energy security, the DoE mobilized exploration activities in the West Philippine Sea since the supply at the Malampaya natural gas field has been deteriorating.


Tight watch vs Delta

While the government and even the world have yet to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the government is significantly progressing in terms of vaccine rollout.

“We have continuous vaccine rollout and it’s important to note that as of July 23, we have additional 30.9-million doses, 20.7-million of which were deployed to more than 4,000 vaccination sites,” Nograles said.

“We are also monitoring the Delta variant. The President called for a meeting last Saturday to talk to experts so that we can ramp up our response against this deadly disease,” he added.

Nograles also noted that the Department of Health is increasing its stockpile of medicines necessary to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The government has been doing everything to fight the Delta variant but its success is also in the hands of the Filipinos. According to the president, face shields greatly help combat the new variant,” Nograles said.


Supporting Creative Industries

Since the pandemic has affected the livelihood of Filipinos, including creative freelancers, Department of Trade and Industry chief Ramon Lopez said the government will support the sector.

Lopez said the creative industry generates high-value activities and employment drives innovation and contributes significantly to help cities and municipalities bounce back. In the last five years, the creative sector has contributed substantially to Philippine exports with an average growth of 7.1 percent.

The Congress is currently seeking support from the president to strengthen the creative sector.


Last regular session opens

Ahead of President Duterte’s sixth and final SoNA, the House of Representatives opened the third regular session of the 18th Congress on Monday morning, hours before the President arrived at the Batasang Pambansa before 4 p.m.

Deputy Speaker and 1PACMAN Rep. Michael Romero presided over the hybrid session at 10 a.m.

In his opening speech, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco highlighted that the House has fully supported the legislative agenda of the Duterte administration.

Velasco said Congress, as a “steady partner” of the administration, passed laws that promoted economic development, strengthened the administration of justice and the rule of law, enhanced the protection of labor and social welfare, improved the quality of and increased access to education and information, enhanced health and emergency response systems, and strengthened political and governmental institutions.

“We chose to keep the legislative mill running even during the height of the Covid-19 community lockdowns,” he said.

Among the much-needed pandemic emergency response measures that were approved include the timely passage of the 2021 General Appropriations Act, and the proposed Bayanihan to Arise as One Act or Bayanihan 3.

“We managed to pass the 2021 budget on time. We decisively passed laws that granted the president authority to combat the Covid-19 pandemic in the Philippines, including the Bayanihan 3 or the third economic stimulus measure to further boost our pandemic response and directly provide assistance to our kababayans,” he said.

The lower chamber, Velasco said, also passed Resolution of Both Houses 2, which seeks to empower the President and future Congresses with authority to relax economic restrictions in the Constitution to facilitate the entry of foreign players in the local scene, create new jobs, and boost sources of gross domestic product.