MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday delivered his final State of the Nation Address, which he said was not his "swan song", as he promised Filipinos "nothing less than the full recovery" from the COVID-19 crisis.
The Philippines is battling one of Asia's worst coronavirus outbreaks, which local transmission of the highly infectious Delta COVID-19 variant is threatening to worsen.
"Today is my last State of the Nation Address, and this is by no means my swan song," Duterte said in the latter half of his longest SONA that ran for 2 hours and 46 minutes.
"I shall never cease to implore Congress to pass vital and critical legislation, as well as to push the entire government to ensure nothing less than the full recovery and the vitalization of our country," he said.
He called on lawmakers to "immediately pass the amendments of priority legislative measures such as the Foreign Investments Act, the Public Service Act, and the Retail and Trade Modernization Act."
WHAT DUTERTE SAID
At the start of his last SONA, Duterte thanked medical frontliners and members of the private sector who helped in the country's pandemic response.
He next urged Congress to approve a system for separation, retirement and pension of military and uniformed personnel. He added it was "high time" to pass a law providing free legal assistance to soldiers and policemen.
Tackling insurgency next, Duterte said some 17,000 rebels have surrendered under his government, as it invested in farm-to-market roads, school buildings, water and sanitation systems, and other projects.
He also issued his oft-repeated promise to "kill" drug peddlers, a remark that he said the International Criminal Court could "record". The court's prosecutor has recently sought authority to probe Duterte's anti-narcotics drive.
He next instructed a task force to finish the rehabilitation of Marawi City, heavily damaged by a 5-month siege in 2017.
Duterte then enumerated completed infrastructure and transport projects. "We have taken away the misery of public commuting," he claimed, despite traffic jams in the capital region.
The President cited achievements in tax reform, backlogs in driver's licenses, streamlining of government processes, and the firing of corruption-tainted personnel.
However, he said corruption is "endemic in government."
"You cannot stop corruption. Nobody can stop corruption unless you overturn the government completely," said Duterte.
"If I were the next president, if you think there's really a need for you to change everybody in the system, then you declare martial law and fire everybody and allow the new generation to come in to work for the government."
As for his foreign policy, Duterte said, "Gone are the days when the Philippines decides and acts in the shadows of great powers. We will assert what is rightfully ours and fight for what is rightfully due to the Filipino people."
The President has drawn flak for refusing to press Beijing to follow a ruling that junked its historical claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea, while he pursued investments and loans from China.
Duterte has also hurled insults at the United States, the Philippines' only defense ally. During his SONA, he rehashed the return of the Balangiga bells taken by American soldiers as war booty more than a hundred years ago.
JOKES, COVID-19 PANDEMIC
The President went off-script several times during his SONA to crack jokes, including telling lawmakers to applaud when he gave the cue, and blaming the teleprompter operator in jest when he stammered over a phrase.
"Those who want to go home, raise your right hands," he said at one point.
Around 2 hours into his speech, he said authorities improved the country's healthcare capacity as the country faced the COVID-19 pandemic. He also mentioned that government has inoculated about 17 million Filipinos against the novel coronavirus.
"I really do not know what to do. I have to listen to the task force [on COVID-19]," said Duterte.
"There's no way of telling when this virus would disappear from the face of the earth. We can only pray to God to look into our direction and decide on what will happen to this planet he created," he said.
He added that he recently created a task force for job recovery.
The President then urged Congress to pass the proposed "E-governance Act" to shift state services online, and approve a new department for migrant workers, the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, and the Virology and Vaccine Institute.
Duterte's last SONA did not mention his election promise to end labor contractualization and his possible vice presidential run.
"I have full confidence that the Filipino spirit will persevere and triumph together. And together, let us rise as a nation," the 76-year-old leader said to close his final SONA.