By Gerry Salapuddin
The State of the Nation Address or SONA of any President is always of great interest to us for various reasons. The SONA of the President contains the major accomplishments of the administration and on the other hand, it also spells out the future plans and legislative agenda of the President to Congress. On the same occasion, the President endorses to Congress his Proposed Budgetary Expenditures for the following year.
And since the SONA of the President last Monday, July 26th, was his last report to the nation, as he is on his last ten months in office, the more it arouses great interest to the nation.
In the national level, the President’s score card is judged by his accomplishments on his three priorities, namely: drugs, crime and corruption. On his anti-drug or ‘War On Drugs’ (WOD) Campaign, the President was humble enough to accept his failure during his last SONA to fully eradicate the drug menace in the country. However, it cannot be denied that his WOD campaign had tremendously reduced the proliferation of drugs and the arrest of big time drug lords or dismissal from service of police officers and the elimination or prosecution of local executives involved in the illegal business of drugs.
With all fairness to President Duterte, he dares to plunge into his WOD, where all his predecessors failed to act decisively against the drugs problem in the country, he alone take the big challenge. He may have not completely eradicated the decades old drug problem, but at least he tried his best. The drug problem will become a carry over challenge to the next administration.
On his crime busting job, the positive effect of his campaign is best felt by the feeling of safer to go around in Manila because the criminal syndicates had temporarily taken a leave of absence from their usual nefarious activities. It may have not been completely eradicated but it had been tremendously neutralized.
On his anti-corruption campaign, he tried his best to trim down the requirements of doing business and minimized the red tape in government. But since corrupt practices of some people in government is prevalent and is an ‘invisible’ practice, unless caught red handed, the “termites” in the bureaucracy and in the three branches of government, i.e. legislative, executive and judiciary, are difficult to eradicate. It probably can only be reduced, but never completely eradicated.
I can recall, in the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or USSR, when Mikhail Gorbachev became the President, he launched a two pronged programs of “Glasnost,” which means “openness and/or transparency” and “Perestroika,” which refers to “restructuring” of the huge and secretive Russian socialist economic and political systems. Among the focus of President Gorbachev was a campaign against corruption in all levels of government.
One time, he exasperately revealed to his trusted Chief Executive Assistant his frustration in ridding government bureaucracy of corruption. His Assistant courteously replied: “Sir, if we decisively implement your anti-corruption campaign without fear or favor, I am afraid, only the two of us will be left in government.” With what he heard from his Assistant, President Gorbachev was speechless. Since the dawn of humanity and civilization, corruption has been taught to men by Iblis or Satan, as an act of rebellion against Allah, which like rust, corrodes the moral integrity of man.
THE PRESIDENT’S “BUILD, BUILD, BUILD PROGRAM
Of all the Philippine Presidents, only President Ferdinand E. Marcos was able to build many important and significant infrastructure projects, which were never equalled by all his successors, despite his Annual Budgetary Expenditures was just over a billion pesos compared to the present trillion peso National Budget.
On the part of President Digong, despite only in power for 6 years and for a term due to constitutional limitation, through his “BUILD, BUILD, BUILD PROGRAM, the Duterte Administration has built more infrastructure projects than all his predecessors. His administration builds more roads throughout the country, repaired and expanded more airports and seaports, currently building the modern subway train system between Quezon City and Manila, successfully eased the nagging traffic in EDSA and many more infra projects.
Noticeably, according to many Mindanaons, all the mega infrastructures are in Metro Manila and the nearby provinces in Luzon and some few in Visayas. So far, there are no significant mega projects in Mindanao, except for road repair and widening. Even the much touted Mindanao Railway System, until now has not taken off at all! As the first President of the Republic from Mindanao, his constituents were expecting highly from his administration.
Maybe, the economic planners from Metro Manila want Mindanao to just continuously be their agricultural supplier and economic provider of raw materials? With only ten months in office and soon getting into the election period, many infra projects funded from the 2022 National Budget cannot anymore be implemented until after the election period is over and under the next President.
THE BTA EXTENSION AND MARAWI REHABILITATION
In the Bangsamoro Region, two most important issues were expected to be given a last ditch push by the President. They are the proposed deferment of the election of the BTA Members and extension of the transition period of the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) until 2025.
Unfortunately, the President is taking a ‘neutral’ position on the matter and leaving it up to Congress to pass it or not. So far, in the Senate, the three bills filed were already harmonized and consolidated into one version by the Senate Committee on Local Government chaired by Sen. Francis Tolentino. He already reported it to the floor and was the subject of deliberation in the plenary.
But in the House of Representatives, the five bills filed were referred to three different Committees. Two of the bills are reportedly against the deferment of the BTA election. So far, the 5 bills had not yet been harmonized and consolidated into one bill. We anticipate that it is one of the priorities of the House to act on as soon as possible because the schedule for Filing of Candidacy for the synchronized 2022 elections are on October 1-6, 2021.
The quickest way to pass the extention of the transition period of the BTA is if the House of Representatives agree to just adopt the Senate version. If that happens, there’ll even be no need for a Bicameral Conference Committee to harmonize their contradicting versions.
The other pressing concern is the approval of sufficient budget for the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi City. In the past, during the height of the MNLF struggle, Jolo, Sulu and all its villages in the countryside, in all villages of Basilan and other parts of Mindanao where there were confrontations between the AFP and BMA of the MNLF, all houses and buildings were destroyed and burnt and razed to the ground by the AFP troops. Unfortunately, even after the Final Peace Agreement (FPA) was signed between the Philippine Government and the MNLF, under the auspices of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation or OIC, no rehabilitation fund was appropriated and neither was there any assistance from government to families and businesses affected.
On their own, the affected population of Basilan and Sulu, patiently and independently rebuilt their houses and towns without government support and assistance. Thank Allah, our people manage to rise better and stronger on their own, against all odds. Despite our unfortunate experience, we sympathize with the Marawians and appeal to the government, both national and regional governments, to fast tract the complete reconstruction of Marawi so the numerous IDPs who are still living abnormal lives in evacuation centers can transfer to their new homes and live normal lives again.
Finally, the big question in everybody’s mind is – who’ll be the next President and Vice President in 2022?