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Looking back: Duterte’s Sona promises (Part 2)

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte delivers his 5th State of the Nation Address at the House of Representatives Complex in Quezon City on July 27, 2020. (PRESIDENTIAL FILE PHOTO)

(Second of a series)

MANILA, Philippines — Vowing to fight terrorism in his first State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Rodrigo Duterte drew suspicion about his motives when he signed the controversial Anti-Terorrism Act last year.

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For early in his term, he wooed the support of leftist groups and even initiated a unilateral ceasefire. But as their relations eventually soured, his administration has since engaged in “red-tagging’’ activists and human rights advocates.

And as he also promised to prioritize education and poverty alleviation, observers predict that Malacañang will use the COVID-19 pandemic to explain many of his shortcomings in his final year in office.

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With the President set to deliver his sixth and final Sona on July 26, the Inquirer is revisiting the promises he made and the targets he set in the first five.

More from his first Sona, July 25, 2016:

• Amend laws on terrorism, terrorist financing, and cybercrime

Despite multisectoral opposition, President Duterte signed the controversial anti-terrorism bill into law in July 2020. Lawyers’ groups, human rights advocates, and several lawmakers warned that the measure could be used as a state weapon to suppress legitimate criticism.

Republic Act No. 11479, or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, seeks to strengthen the Human Security Act of 2007 and criminalizes incitement to terrorism “by means of speeches, proclamations, writings, emblems, banners or other representations.” It also allows the detention of suspects for up to 24 days without formal charges and empowers an antiterrorism council to designate persons or groups as suspected terrorists who could be subjected to surveillance or arrest.

The law is currently being questioned in 37 petitions filed in the Supreme Court, making it the most contested piece of legislation since the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012. The petitioners argue that the measure has led to a crackdown on activists and unionists, leaving a chilling effect on anyone who wishes to express grievances against the government.

• Address concerns of the Bangsamoro, work for peace and pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law

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This pledge was repeated in the 2017 and 2018 Sona.

On July 26, 2018, three days after delivering his Sona that year, President Duterte signed Republic Act No. 11054 or the Bangsamoro Organic Law. This was two years after he called on Congress to pass legislation creating a new autonomous Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

The law gives flesh to the government’s peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that was signed in 2014 during the Aquino administration. It was ratified in a plebiscite in January 2019. The President later appointed officials who would compose the Bangsamoro Transition Authority (BTA) that would oversee a three-year transition period, from 2019 to 2022, for the new autonomous region.

While the BTA had taken significant steps while functioning as an interim government, it said the transition period was not enough to meet its targets and had asked Congress to extend it for another three years.

• Initiate a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels, resume peace talks, end decades of mistrust

In 2016, President Duterte resumed negotiations with the communist rebels, ordered ceasefires, and released key political prisoners so they could participate in the peace talks in Norway. But the talks fell apart following clashes between state forces and the New People’s Army (NPA).

Angered by the killing of soldiers, the President formally terminated the talks in a proclamation signed in November 2017.

Last year, he threatened to declare martial law if the communist rebels would continue with their attacks. He also ordered the military and the police to “kill them all.”

The newly created Anti-Terrorism Council also designated the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing NPA as terrorist groups.

In February 2021, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III, who used to chair the government panel in talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), said back-channel efforts were going on for the revival of the talks.

In June, however, when interviewed by Pastor Apollo Quiboloy, Duterte ruled out peace talks with the communist rebels, citing the land mine explosion in Masbate province two days before that killed a university athlete and his cousin.

• Increase spending on basic education, expand alternative learning system (ALS) programs

In the P4.5-trillion national budget for 2021, the education sector received P751.7 billion, or about 17 percent of the budget, to fund basic, tertiary and technical, and vocational education. Of the amount, the Department of Education (DepEd) was allocated P557.25 billion. This is higher than the P436 billion allotted in 2016 and P543 billion in 2017.

Last year, however, as the government scrambled for funds for emergency assistance and medical response amid the coronavirus pandemic, DepEd’s budget was reduced by P21.9 billion to P499.5 billion, while the budget of the Commission on Higher Education was slashed by P13.9 billion to P32.9 billion. The cuts made it more difficult for DepEd to fully support its basic education and continuity plan that was adopted as it stopped in-person classes and shifted to distance learning.

Under the Duterte administration, the number of out-of-school youth and adults who enrolled in DepEd’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) increased by 57 percent, the agency said in January 2020. According to Education Secretary Leonor Briones, an average of 130,000 learners complete either elementary or secondary education each year through the ALS.

In January 2021, Mr. Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11510 or the Alternative Learning System Act institutionalizing ALS and creating teaching positions as well as allocating corresponding salary grades to help strengthen the ALS Teachers Program.

• Fully implement the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law

In January 2017, Mr. Duterte signed an executive order intensifying access to modern family planning methods, despite the Supreme Court having issued a temporary restraining order on some provisions of the law.

In March 2019, he approved the full implementation of the National Program on Family Planning, which aims to make modern contraceptives available to at least 11.3 million women.

(To be continued)

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TAGS: Duterte's SONA promises, Rodrigo Duterte, Sona special report
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