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In final SONA, Duterte says drugs, corruption still a problem


President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday admitted that illegal drugs and corruption are still present in the Philippines despite reforms being made by the government.

"While we were busy instituting reforms between ogres of illegal drugs and corruption laid low for a while only to resurface as still with us and make no mistake about it," Duterte said during his sixth and last State of the Nation Address.

"Corruption is but another term of stealing people's money dashing in its way in nation's goals and aspirations," Duterte added.

The war against illegal drugs was one of the campaign vows made by Duterte. He promised to eradicate illegal drugs within three to six months since he assumed the presidency in 2016.

Duterte said thousands of Filipinos have been arrested by the police due to drug trafficking.

"And that is why I go crazy looking at the situation. They are still around," he said.

Corruption

Duterte also brought up reforms made by his administration to combat corruption.

To further ensure accountability and transparency in the government, he said that records of the government's transactions of the government have been made available to the public, and that the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission was created to run after erring officials.

Over 200 government personnel have been dismissed, according to Duterte.

"You cannot stop corruption unless you overthrow government completely," he added.

Final SONA

Duterte delivered his sixth and final State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday with the country still battling the COVID-19 pandemic, now made worse by the more infectious Delta variant.

The House of Representatives only allowed around 300 individuals to physically attend inside the plenary, a crowd much lower compared to the usual 1,450 attendees. Those allowed were fully-vaccinated against COVID-19 have undergone RT-PCR and antigen testing.

Some legislators, government officials and other guests of Malacañang took part in the joint session virtually, including Vice President Leni Robredo.

Robredo's spokesperson Barry Gutierrez earlier said the Vice President received the invitation to attend the SONA via Zoom like last year but days later she was invited to be physically present at the House of Representatives.

However, Robredo could not physically attend the SONA as she has yet to receive her second dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Duterte looked for Robredo at the Batasang Pambansa as he was enumerating the government’s infrastructure projects in the provinces, particularly in Sorsogon, which is located in Robredo’s home region of Bicol.

“Sorsogon is a little politics but that’s the territory of our Vice President Leni Robredo. Are you here, Ma’am? Ah Zoom,” the President said.

State-run PTV’s broadcast then showed Robredo on the screen, waving her hand.

Opening salvo

Duterte's opening salvo centered on his administration's achievements such as the various legislative measured passed into law.  Among these were the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act, the Universal Health Care Law, and the Free Irrigation Act.

The Build, Build, Build infrastructure program was also launched where the government invested in infrastructure program in a bid to boost the economy.

So far, the President said that his five years in office had been “challenging and humbling.”

“I bore no illusions that steering the nation towards a comfortable life for every people will be easy. The past five years have truly been challenging and humbling,” Duterte said.

He maintained that his administration is still committed to giving a "comfortable life" for all Filipinos "anchored on a people-centered approach" to development and governance.

In the latter part of his speech, Duterte tagged the Malasakit Center Act as “poignant” act of Congress and the Executive Department.

Economic gains

Duterte thanked Congress and revenue generating agencies for record collections, with the implementation of tax reform measures under his administration.

“Thanks to Congress and revenue-generating agencies, our tax reform sustained our economic growth from the third quarter of 2016 to the fourth quarter of 2019, which made the Philippines one of the fastest growing economies in Asia until the pandemic surged,” he said.

Duterte in the same speech noted that prior to the pandemic, the Philippines recorded historic debt-to-GDP ratios, revenues, and credit ratings.

The Philippines reported a 14-year high debt-to-GDP ratio of 54.5% in 2020, above the 39.6% in 2019 and the highest since 2006.

In terms of credit ratings, the Philippines has sustained investment grade status, but Fitch Ratings downgraded its credit rating outlook on the Philippines to “negative” due to the increasing risks to the credit profile from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fight vs. pandemic

With the country still grappling with COVID-19, the president thanked health workers and other essential workers who stood at the frontlines as majority of the population remained locked down.

The President also thanked Filipinos who adhered to health protocols aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Duterte also expressed “profound” and “deep” gratitude to local executives, the private sector, and the Philippines’ international development partners for their COVID-19 response.

The President said that while health protocols have proven to be effective in slowing COVID-19 transmissions, "the best solution is still vaccination.”

“We cannot afford anymore lockdowns lest our economy bleeds to the point of irreversible damage,” he said.

Drug war

Since the controversial anti-narcotics campaign had started, latest government records showed that a total of 203,715 drug operations have been conducted.

In these operations, 6,147 drug suspects died while 293,841 others have been collared by authorities. Of the total number of arrests, 12,356 were high-value targets.

Duterte claimed that there are no drug laboratories in the country at present and that the supply of illegal drugs were imported to the country.

"We do not have laboratories now because nawala na sila [they're already gone]. Itong naiwan ngayon [The ones that are still left] are doing the importation..." he said.

"The citizens of another country cooked their shabu in their tugboat or something and they threw out the product in—contained in the plastic bags and with GPS attached to the contraband so that the importers here could find them easily. That is how we are fighting almost losing a battle against drugs," he added.

Duterte stressed that he does not want the Philippines to be in disarray because of illegal drugs and for families to be dysfunctional because of narcotics.

"If you want to destroy a family, look for a way of the member or a resident of that family home. Bigyan mo ng droga [Give them drugs]. ‘Pag nandiyan na ‘yung droga at [When the drugs are there and] they are hooked, and that is the end," he said.

This bloody campaign against illegal drugs has been questioned and criticized by local and international human rights groups as they link it to the supposed rising number of extrajudicial killings in the country.

Duterte's drug war, according to critics, has resulted in over 20,000 deaths, most of which were not thoroughly investigated.— BM/LDF, GMA News