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Duterte: ‘I will end my term fighting’

President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his State of the Nation Address at Congress on July 22, 2019.  (AFP)

MANILA, Philippines — Delivering his State of the Nation address on Monday, his fourth since taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte stood his ground on the controversial issues hounding his presidency — his brutal war on drugs that has drawn international condemnation because of the thousands of lives lost and his embrace of China in the country’s territorial dispute with the Asian giant in the South China Sea.

But the toughest stand he made in his speech that lasted more than an hour and half was pursuit of his seemingly singlehanded fight against official corruption, stressing he had the will and the courage to do it.

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“Few men imbued with the will and the courage to do what he believes is right and just and whatever be the opposition in terms of numbers and noise, make a majority. For it is not the eagle in the fight, but the fight in the eagle that matters,” the President said as he addressed the opening session of the 18th Congress.

“Believe me, I will end my term fighting,” he vowed.

On the road leading the House of Representatives in Quezon City, where the joint session was held, thousands of Mr. Duterte’s critics marched in the rain to blast his seemingly single-minded focus on drugs and corruption and defeatist stand on the South China Sea row.

Organizers claimed 40,000 people joined the protest, but the Quezon City police estimated the crowd at 5,500.

Thousands of policemen were deployed to the area to keep order. No untoward incidents were reported.

Mr. Duterte demanded more action against illegal drugs and corruption in the second half of his term.

‘Period of consequences’

At the same time, he vowed that the last three years of his presidency won’t see him sit back and fade away.

According to Mr. Duterte, the next few years will be the “period of consequences.”

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“The consequences of what we did and did not do but should have done during the first half of my term,” he added.

He made a specific call for death for drug peddlers and plunderers to deal with the problems wrought by illegal drugs and corruption.

He also spoke at length of his disdain for corruption in government and ranted against selfishness, characterizing it as the main driving force behind the problem.

“To borrow the language of F. Sionil Jose, who said, we have not risen above and beyond the parochial interests. Our warped loyalty to family, friends and tribal kin continue to exact a heavy toll on our programs designed to uplift the poor and reassure our investors, our foreign investors, and the business sector in this country,” he said.

‘Corruption is pervasive’

The recent allegations of massive fraud that hounded the Philippine Health Insurance Corp. showed that “corruption is pervasive,” he said.

He noted that huge amounts of medical funds were disbursed to pay padded claims and imaginary treatments of fictitious patients.

“I am grossly disappointed. The government is conned of millions of pesos, which could be used to treat illnesses and possibly save the lives of many,” he said.

Mr. Duterte also said he would remove Bureau of Customs employees who are under investigation for corruption.

If he cannot fire them, he would ask them to report to Congress, he said. Anything to take them out of the premises of the customs bureau, he added.

The President said he wanted to see results.

‘We talk too much’

“We, in [the] government, talk too much, act too little, and too slow,” he said.

He said he had aired the same complaint when he was mayor of Davao City, and little had changed since.

“We are long on rhetoric but short on accomplishments. It’s either you, Congress, or even the executive department and maybe me. So I am here to rectify my own error,” Mr. Duterte said.

“That is why, I implore those who occupy positions of power and authority, to let your deeds and accomplishments do the talking. Lead by example. Words ring hollow when not followed by positive and prioritized action,” he added.

The people must do their part by not tolerating corrupt officials as well, the President said. “Be assertive,” he stressed.

File complaints

They could make a scene or file a complaint using the government hotline if an official asked them for a bribe. He himself has not held back on hitting people, he said.

“And I have done that. I will be prank with you. I am the only President who up to now mauls people inside Malacañang,” he said.

Mr. Duterte also told five government agencies—the Land Transportation Office, Social Security System, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Land Registration Authority, and Pag-Ibig Fund—to improve their services.

They, along with local governments, must make things easier for the the public, he said.

His directive was simple: simplify their processes.

“I’ve been asking that from you since three years ago. If you’re unable to do that now, I will really kill you,” he said.

Things not done

Mr. Duterte said he assumed full responsibility for the things that were not done in his first three years.

“Though we cannot change the past, we will not squander the future,” he said.

He would push harder for programs he had started, but he would do this within the parameters of the law.

His goal is a comfortable life for all Filipinos and a Philippines better than the one he grew up in, he added.

“I will not merely coast along or while away my time during the remaining years of my administration. It ain’t my style. But I will not stop until I reach the finish line. Then and only then shall I call it a day,” he said.

Revenue raisers

Mr. Duterte did not skimp on praises in his speech.

He commended Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. chief Andrea Domingo for contributing P16 billion of the P61 billion collected from government-owned and -controlled corporations as of this month.

“Allow more gambling, Ma’am,” he added, drawing laughter from the crowd.

He also noted that the customs bureau was able to collect P585 billion despite being ridden with corruption. The figure would be higher if the agency were cleaner, he said.

Mr. Duterte likewise sang the praises of the team that headed the cleanup of Boracay Island, particularly Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Interior Secretary Eduardo Año, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, Public Works Secretary Mark Villar, and Technical Education and Skills Development Authority chief Guiling Mamondiong.

Education Secretary Leonor Briones also got a special mention for her “exceptional leadership,” with Mr. Duterte noting that there are 27 million students, from kindergarten to senior high school.

Urgent legislation

The President called on Congress to pass important legislation, including the second package of the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program, or the “Trabaho” bill, to spur job generation.

The bill would reduce the corporate income tax to 20 percent and make tax incentives timebound, targeted and performance-based.

Another bill that the President asked the lawmakers to immediately pass is a new version of the Salary Standardization Law that would raise the pay of government employees, including teachers and nurses.

The President stressed the inclusion of a raise for teachers in the proposal.

“It’s not that big, but it will tide you over during this hard time. A little bit bigger than before,” he said, addressing himself to public school teachers who have been demanding he keep his campaign promise to raise their pay.

Mr. Duterte also asked Congress to pass a law that would create a Department of Water Resources and a Water Regulatory Commission to deal with water problems, such as the shortage that his Metro Manila in recent weeks. —With reports from Nestor Corrales and Gabriel Pabico Lucy

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