MANILA, Philippines — The opposition’s criticisms against President Duterte’s final State of the Nation Address (SONA) are expected, Malacañang said yesterday as it defended his decision to focus on the administration’s controversial war on drugs.
Critics have claimed that Duterte’s SONA lacked substance, saying the President devoted too much time on the drug war even if people wanted to hear his plans to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some sectors have also dismissed Duterte’s nearly three-hour speech as a joke, while others said the President sounded too defensive about the crackdown on drugs.
“We do not expect the opposition to praise the SONA. The SONA is not new. No one from the opposition has praised the SONA. Of course, they won’t do anything but criticize what the President said because they are from the opposition. We expected that,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said at a press briefing.
Roque said some of the government’s programs have been discussed in pre-SONA briefings.
He said among the topics tackled during the briefings were economic measures and efforts to fast-track the vaccination program.
Roque also parried criticism that Duterte devoted too much time talking about the drug problem.
“There’s nothing wrong with what the President discussed because that’s his promise to the people. He has to report about his promises,” the Palace spokesman said.
Roque also shrugged off the tirades of the National Union of Students Philippines against the implementation of the distance learning program, saying education could not be disrupted because of the pandemic.
“Blended learning is not perfect but we need to find a way to continue the education of our youth. During a pandemic, stopping classes completely is not acceptable to the President. That’s why we adopted blended learning, a combination of computer-aided learning and modules,” he added.
Lawmakers laud Duterte
Meanwhile, House leaders commended yesterday the Duterte administration’s achievements in the past five years as it committed to support his legislative agenda for the final year of his term.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco and fellow House leaders hailed the President’s campaign against crime and corruption as well as the fight against COVID-19 as his legacies.
Velasco believes that Duterte was successful in “enforcing laws and ensuring peace and order in the country” and also in “showing that there’s no room for corruption in government.”
He lauded Duterte for his sound leadership amid the global health crisis.
Velasco said the success of the administration is evident in the high public trust ratings that Duterte continues to enjoy even up to the last year of his term, with his latest Pulse Asia approval rating at 91 percent.
“Only President Duterte, among his predecessors, has kept his approval ratings above 75 percent for most of his term, according to Pulse Asia,” Velasco pointed out.
He also cited the strong partnership between the President and Congress, which led to the passage of vital legislative measures.
Majority Leader Martin Romualdez echoed the Speaker’s opinion about the legacy of the Duterte administration.
Romualdez said the nearly three hours of the President’s final State of the Nation Address were not enough to enumerate all the accomplishments of the administration that helped “improve the living condition of our people.”
“What stands out is the undeniable fact that President Duterte accomplished what were deemed as impossible missions in the past – free college education, health care coverage for all Filipinos, free irrigation, an autonomous government for the Bangsamoro, lower crime rate in the country. Before he was elected President in 2016, all these were just dreams that seem elusive and unattainable in our generation,” Romualdez said.
Deputy Speakers Rufus Rodriguez and Loren Legarda also commended the administration for its accomplishments.
Rodriguez gave the Duterte administration a grade of 80 percent, citing its success in the fight against drugs, crimes and insurgency.
“On the scale of 1 to 10, I give the President a grade of 8,” Rodriguez told reporters.
Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian commended the Duterte administration’s economic recovery programs to revive the economy and generate jobs for the people amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pangasinan mayors said the President’s SONA underscored the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Negros Occidental Gov. Eugenio Jose Lacson rated the performance of Duterte 8, from a scale of 1 to 10.
Bacolod City Mayor Evelio Leonardia, who chairs the League of Cities of the Philippines, gave President Duterte high marks for his achievements such as the Universal Health Care Law, free college education as well as his campaign against drugs, crimes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his last SONA on Monday, President Duterte said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) under Secretary Mark Villar was able to accomplish infrastructure projects amounting to P2.5 trillion as compared to P820.4 billion from 2011 to 2015, an increase of 209 percent or P1.7 trillion worth of projects.
With the increase in infrastructure investment, the DPWH managed to generate as many as 6.6 million jobs nationwide from 2016 to 2020. An estimated 1.6 million jobs are seen to be generated this year.
From July 2016 to May this year, the DPWH delivered the construction, maintenance, improvement and widening of a total of 29,264 kilometers of roads nationwide. The DPWH also built and rehabilitated 5,950 bridges. – Edu Punay, Cecille Suerte Felipe, Jose Rodel Clapano, Gilbert Bayoran, Eva Visperas