President Duterte delivers his fifth State of the Nation Address in front of a limited number of lawmakers, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano, on July 27, 2020 at the House of Representatives in Quezon City. Handout, Office of the Senate President
MANILA--President Rodrigo Duterte addressed Filipinos on Monday seeking to rally a nation battered by a raging pandemic but laid down no detailed roadmap for the country’s post-COVID-19 future, critics and analysts said.
Duterte spent key parts of his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) attacking Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, apparently taking offense at the opposition senator’s challenge for the president to go after political dynasties if he really intended to “dismantle” oligarchs.
The president zeroed in on such oligarchs, claiming early in his televised speech that he was a “casualty,” in particular, of the Lopezes, owners of the media and entertainment network which his administration shut down as he had promised.
But no specific recovery plan was mentioned against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected 82,040 Filipinos as of Monday, save for an appeal for Congress to pass a second stimulus package, which he didn’t certify as urgent before the congressional break in June.
The Bayanihan to Recover as One bill will provide government aid worth P140 billion, which is much lower than the P1.3-trillion earmarked in the Accelerated Recovery and Investments Stimulus for the Economy of the Philippines (ARISE) measure passed by the House of Representatives.
Duterte also sought the passage of the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises (CREATE) bill, which would reduce corporate income tax rate from 30 to 25 percent.
“We are being tested as a people and as a nation,” he said in his speech.
“Worse times loom ahead but I hope that this spirit of solidarity and unity will serve as a drumbeat to which we shall march in unison in our quest for the light at the end of the tunnel.”
But the SONA, which lasted for an hour and 41 minutes, was “deficient” on the government’s strategy in Duterte’s final 2 years in office, said political science professor Ronald Holmes, who heads private pollster Pulse Asia Inc.
“The focus is quite scattered,” Holmes told ABS-CBN News, citing how the president jumped from his personal issues against the Lopezes, to illegal drugs, and the pandemic.
Director General Ramon Cualoping of the Philippine Information Agency said the president was “not really into details” and often left his Cabinet secretaries and spokesman to elaborate.
“Not specific? It’s true. Not specific maybe to what the critics would like the president to say,” Cualoping told ANC.
On Facebook, sociologist Walden Bello described Duterte’s penultimate SONA as “uninspiring,” saying it “did not offer people any guide to deal with COVID-19 or grapple with its dire economic consequences.”
"Tired, unimaginative, and probably feeling overwhelmed," he said of Duterte.
Prolonged lockdowns pushed the country into recession, with a record-high 7.3 million jobless Filipinos in April.
Toward the end of his speech, Duterte called on Filipinos to “share our blessings with those who have little and those who have none.”
Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the P140-billion allocation in Duterte’s preferred economic stimulus package was “minuscule” and “cannot properly respond to health and economic emergencies.”
The government can fund a much bigger relief measure, the opposition congressman said in a statement, citing domestic borrowings and assistance from foreign lending institutions.
Duterte made no mention of amending the constitution despite a strong push from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and an affiliate group advocating "constitutional reform."
"That was the consensus within the Cabinet," said Cualoping. "He would rather, at this point, focus on what we have in our existing systems."
Duterte's supporters have settled with "surgical amendments," including relaxing protectionist provisions in the constitution, instead of a shift to federalism, which would require an overhaul of the 1987 charter.
"It's not being abandoned," Cualoping said. "There is still a federalism campaign that falls under the DILG. But the focus now is to improve on our existing systems because that's the most immediate need."