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.
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.