More than his achievements as leader of over 100 million Filipinos, President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday admitted that his administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic overshadows everything that he has worked hard for.
Duterte made the admission during his record-long final State of the Nation Address (SoNA) on Monday afternoon that took nearly three hours to finish at the Batasang Pambansa.
“Never did I imagine that my presidency would not only be judged by how I made good on my campaign promises, but how well I led our nation during the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said in his speech which lasted for two hours and 45 minutes.
The President lamented that the country’s economy was doing well until the coronavirus outbreak.
“Due to the brilliance of programs and excellent work of our economic managers and the extraordinary coordination between the executive and legislative branches of government, our economy investor confidence was poised to leapfrog from company into the accompany of the world’s fastest growing economies until Covid-19 pandemic stalled everything,” he said.
The Philippines, still grappling with the persisting threat of Covid-19 and the more contagious Delta variant, has so far confirmed 1.55 million cases of Covid-19. Over 27,200 Filipinos have so far died of the disease.
The unprecedented health crisis plunged the economy into a recession, left millions of Filipinos jobless, and crippled his flagship projects such as the ambitious “Build, Build, Build” program.
Fearing the possibility of another lockdown, Duterte said that the government would work to spur economic growth and enable jobless Filipinos to return to their jobs.
He also pledged that with more vaccines arriving, the government would immunize more people against the deadly coronavirus, noting that the state’s vaccination program is a crucial component of any country’s pandemic response.
Duterte urged the Congress to prioritize bills seeking the creation of Philippine Virology Science and Technology Institute and the Philippine Center for Disease Prevention and Control to prepare the country for future pandemics.
“Given proper support and equipment that they have to use, I am sure Filipinos can also process or make vaccines in the future,” he added.
Duterte likewise honored local medical frontliners and thanked countries and institutions which helped the government in its pandemic response.
“Be that as it may, allow me to extend the nation’s gratitude to all those who selflessly gave their all in the fight against Covid-19 — our health workers and frontliners who risk their own safety to keep our essential services and our food supply chain running,” he added, earning the applause of guests.
He also noted the role of local officials in controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Probe 9 generals
Typical of his weekly public address, Duterte went off script several times to express his gripe over the illegal drug trade, corruption, and insurgency — problems he had promised to eradicate within the first three to six months of his presidency.
Duterte ordered Sen. Ronald de la Rosa, his ally in the Senate and his former police chief, to probe — or shoot if necessary — nine police generals who were supposedly involved in the illegal drug trade.
“If you find them, destroy the apparatus. Destroy all from the manufacturer to the peddlers because we are fighting a drug war that was being participated in by nine generals of the PNP,” he said. “I did not know that I was fighting my own government customs and everyone else was facilitating the importation.”
Duterte also cited a police general who imported AK-47 guns in the country.
“I’d like to ask the Congress, especially Senator Bato, to kindly dig in because we have identified the person who imported the AK-47 into this country on the pretext of using it to provide security and all,” he said.
The President, whose brutal war against narcotics killed thousands of suspected drug suspects, also echoed his previous remarks that illegal drugs make families dysfunctional.
His pronouncements did not come out as a surprise since he has repeatedly focused on the drug trade in his many speeches as president.
The President summarized his administration’s accomplishments over the last five years, including his key legislations he had approved for social services such as the Free Tertiary Education Law, Universal Health Care Law and the Free WiFi Law.
The President delivered his last SoNA from 4 p.m. until 6:45 p.m. before some 400 select guests at the Batasang Pambansa, including House Deputy Speaker Paolo Duterte and his family, and the President’s common-law wife, Cielito “Honeylet” Avanceña.
Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, who was backed by various political groups as Duterte’s successor, monitored the President’s speech in Davao City.
Davao City Vice Mayor Sebastian “Baste” Duterte, who recently acquired Covid-19, was also at home during the President’s address.
Vice President and opposition’s de facto leader Leni Robredo attended the SoNA virtually.
The President’s address was broadcast live for millions of Filipinos who wanted to hear his plans in his last year in office, particularly his plans to boost the economy amid the pandemic.
Senators on Monday expressed divided opinions on the SoNA.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, in a statement, slammed the recent remarks of the President saying the lack of his clear directions in addressing the raging coronavirus pandemic is dragging the country back instead of pushing for its improvement.
She added that the “selective and inconsistent” implementation of laws and clear mention of China showed that the President is “unwilling and unable to lead the country” in its fight against poverty, pandemic and protection of national sovereignty.
“It is clear that we urgently need some willing and able government officials, members of the private sector and civil society leaders to step forward and work together in the next 10 months to prevent our country going into a downward spiral,” she added.
Her statement was echoed by Senator Grace Poe who said that the President should have presented his plans on addressing the Covid-19 pandemic and its lingering effects instead of focusing on his accomplishments under his term.
“What we need now is the assurance that there will be jobs in the near future and food on the table. Our people are tired and hungry. What I believe we needed to hear was the plan moving forward. What’s the plan to restore the dignity of our people and provide opportunities for their future?” Poe said in a message to reporters.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, aired similar sentiments to other senators saying the last five have been a waste because of the wrong priorities of the government.
“It is such a waste that after five years in his administration, the problem in illegal drugs in the country remains. Why did he even prioritize it when what the public wants to hear is his solutions to unemployment, hunger and poverty?” he said.
While he agrees that Senate President Vicente Sotto III will be a competent Vice President, Senator Panfilo Lacson said the banner programs of the government “fallen short” even to Duterte’s expectations.
Senator Sonny Angara, meanwhile, lauded the Chief Executive and described his remarks as “comprehensive.”
“PRRD’s speech is comprehensive that’s why he listed all reforms that were established under his term,” Angara said in a message to reporters.
with Sundy Locus