Unfinished business

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

At 77 years old, ex-President Rodrigo Duterte is now enjoying newfound freedom from the rigors of his just ended six-years watch over the country. “Digong,” as he is fondly called in Davao City, flew back last Thursday night to live again at his family residence. That was a few hours after he formally turned over the reins of the government to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as his duly elected successor at Malacañang Palace.

Now enjoying the perks of being a “senior citizen,” he’s back living in full time basis at his beloved home city where he once served for almost two decades as mayor. He promised though to keep his doors open to any one who needs his succor and help in any way he can.

“Basta crucial to our bayan, I am willing to contribute. I will be there to add up to my whatever narrative of taking a side, espouse, or kung ano man ang dating,” Mr. Duterte assuaged the Filipino people.

Known for his nocturnal body clock, he started his official functions around noon of the day and kept long hours of work with his Cabinet and other government officials in meetings until the wee hours of the next day. It is not uncommon schedule though to many, if not all of our country’s previous Presidents we had had. Former president Joseph Estrada and the late president Benigno Simeon “PNoy” Aquino III also kept ungodly hours of work schedules.

“We get only an average of five hours sleep average because of the volume of paper work we need to do,” the former Davao City mayor pointed out.

If there is one thing that he looked forward to upon stepping down from office was to catch up on his sleep. “I can go home and I can rest now. I can now sleep for eight hours without worrying I have to stand up,” Mr. Duterte quipped.

One of his infamous photos was sleeping under the mosquito net which his administration’s arch critics and political enemies used as memes to criticize him for supposedly sleeping on the job most of the time. The same criticisms and accusations were hurled against Mr. Estrada as well as to PNoy who was even christened as “Noynoying” during his term.

But the work of the presidency is a 24/7 job, holidays included.

It is really unfortunate, however, these rabid Duterte-bashers did not seem to understand, or refused to appreciate. During one of the “meet the press” interactions with select opinion columnists that included The Star last March 16, 2018, Mr. Duterte described to us his first two years into office at Malacañang. He summed it up this way: “It’s a killing job. You have to make hard decisions and yet every one is not happy. But I think God has placed me here to do this job in this generation of our country faced with so many problems from insurgency, illegal drugs.”

By the time he bows out of public service, he estimated he would get around P4 to P5 million in retirement pay. He was worried then this might not be enough to pay for his medical expenses. He has a slipped disc history from a motorcycle accident more than ten years ago. He just had minor accident last year while cruising around Malacañang grounds on this two-wheeled vehicle. He also has existing Buerger’s disease, a constriction of the blood vessels caused by accumulation of nicotine after his years of cigarette smoking.

Despite these comorbidities, Mr. Duterte successfully kept self away from getting infected with the deadly COVID-19. He got twice jabbed with Sinopharm anti-COVID vaccine from China. He came out unscathed during the more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic here during his presidency.

On his last few hours in office, Mr. Duterte obviously still left quite a volume of unfinished work, mostly printed copies of several Congress-approved bills. For reasons only he knows, he passed them on to the new Chief Executive.

So on his second night at Malacañang, President Marcos vetoed the enrolled bill that would have granted tax breaks, among other incentives to the proposed Bulacan Airport City Special Economic Zone and Freeport. He issued his veto message in three-paged letters promptly transmitted on the same night to the respective leaderships of the Senate and the House of Representatives of the just concluded 18th Congress.

Upon the Department of Finance (DOF) recommendations, President Marcos concurred to veto House Bill (HB) 7575 that contained various tax-free perks and other incentives. The DOF argued against it, citing projected huge revenue losses that could otherwise fund government priority programs.

Affected by this veto is the P740-billion New Manila International Airport (NMIA) being put in the proposed Bulacan City Airport project, bankrolled by Ramon Ang, head of San Miguel Corp. (SMC). The food and beverage conglomerate giant invested into this project and other infrastructure development ventures such as the Skyway.

HB 7575, adopted in toto by the Senate, was among the latest batch of enrolled bills approved into law by the 18th Congress before they adjourned sine die last May 26. It was the day before the two chambers held final joint sessions and officially proclaimed both President Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte as winners of the May 9 elections.

It was last May 26 when the 21 senators voted “yes” to the third and final reading approval of HB 7575, with no one opposing or abstaining from the vote. The House of Representatives approved HB 7575 on Sept. 15 last year with 205 “yes” votes with 6 “no” votes and only one abstention. As I gathered, its printed copy was sent to the Palace only on June 29, or on the eve of turnover to the new dispensation.

This and other unacted enrolled bills have been passed on to President Marcos for his own review and consideration. As provided for under the country’s 1987 Constitution, Congress-approved bills must—within 30 days from receipt of the Palace—either be signed into law, vetoed, or these bills will be allowed to lapse into law without being signed by the President.

There are likely many more of these unfinished businesses from the 18th Congress that will be coming out in the days ahead.


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