More Malasakit Centers, sin tax hike among fulfilled Sona goals | Inquirer News

More Malasakit Centers, sin tax hike among fulfilled Sona goals

(Last of a series)

MANILA, Philippines — The Inquirer concludes its assessment of some of the major promises made by President Rodrigo Duterte as conveyed through the annual State of the Nation Address (Sona).

His last two Sonas were inevitably shaped by two main factors, the first being much anticipated and the other totally unexpected: the midterm elections in 2019 and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year.


From his fourth Sona, delivered on July 22, 2019:

• Set up Malasakit Centers

In December 2019, President Duterte signed into law Republic Act No. 11463, which established so-called Malasakit Centers in all national government-run hospitals.


The centers have been associated with former presidential aide and now Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, who has been dubbed the “national photobomber” by sneering netizens for being always inexplicably included in the President’s or some Cabinet members’ photo ops.

The sites displayed Go’s photos as he campaigned to become senator in 2019. In late March, less than two months to go before the midterm polls, they were ordered removed by the Commission on Elections.

The centers are supposedly intended to streamline access and delivery of services to indigent patients, but critics say they merely duplicate the tasks of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) and the Department of Health. From only 55 in December 2019, there are now 129 Malasakit Centers, the latest opened on July 16 at Tondo Medical Center in Manila.

• Pass the Magna Carta for Barangays

Bills related to the Magna Carta for Barangays are stuck at the committee level in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. The draft measures push for better, commensurate pay for the barangay officials and employees, who have served as front-liners during the pandemic.

At present, barangay officials do not receive fixed salaries and are only entitled to honoraria and other allowances.

The bills are on the priority list of the House, where there are 31 pending measures. There are seven related bills filed in the Senate.


• Create a Department of Water Resources and Regulation

The President’s call in his Sona to create an agency that would regulate the water industry came after the water supply crisis that hit Metro Manila and nearby provinces in March 2019, when the La Mesa reservoir reached its lowest level in 12 years.

The creation of the Department of Water Resources and Regulation thus became a priority, but all the 33 related bills in the House remain at the committee on government reorganization. Three Senate versions are also stuck at the committee level.

• Impose more excise on cigarettes

Mr. Duterte called on Congress to further increase the tax on “sin” products to curb public consumption in view of their ill effects on health.

Three days after his 2019 Sona, the President signed Republic Act No. 11346 or the Tobacco Tax Law, which raised the excise on tobacco products to P45 per pack starting in January 2020. It will also raise the tax on cigarettes to P50 per pack in 2021, P55 per pack in January 2022, and P60 in January 2023. Starting 2024, the tax rate will be increased by 5 percent each year.

Because of the law, the government expects to generate P125.8 billion from cigarettes alone by 2024.

• Pass new version of Salary Standardization Law

In January last year, the Salary Standardization Law of 2019 was enacted. It gives government workers a pay increase ranging from 17.1 percent to 24.1 percent, to be given in four tranches until 2023.

But teachers’ groups were disappointed that it did not standardize teachers’ salaries with those of policemen, whose entry-level pay was doubled. The President earlier said the number of public school teachers, estimated at around 900,000 nationwide, did not make it easy to raise their salaries, unlike the case of uniformed personnel who number only about 300,000.

Meanwhile, a circular issued by the budget department in July last year was reversed by Malacañang last month after it effectively demoted senior nurses to one rank lower. The move drew praise from nurses, but a group under the Philippine General Hospital has sought the release of at least P43 million in salaries that they were supposed to get when the circular was implemented retroactively to January 2020.

From his fifth Sona, delivered on July 27, 2020:

• Pass Bayanihan 2 law, COVID-19 Adjustment Program

On Sept. 11, 2020, the Bayanihan to Recover As One Act (Bayanihan 2) was signed into law. It provides a P165-billion economic stimulus and recovery package aimed at cushioning the effects of the pandemic. The law’s first expiry date was on Dec. 20, 2020, but the President extended its funds’ availability to June 30, 2021.

However, out of the P205.1 billion Bayanihan 2 allotments, only P141.4 billion has been spent as of June 25, leaving a balance of P63.7 billion still undisbursed five days before the Bayanihan 2 law lapsed on July 1.

• Pass a unified retirement and pension law for the military and uniformed personnel

House Bill No. 9654, a substitute bill to proposed measures seeking to fix the pension system for military and other uniformed personnel, was filed at the House in June.

In the same month, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana assured retired men in uniform that their welfare was a priority in crafting changes in the military pension system. He cited a need to fix the system with the goal of making it more self-sustaining and less financially burdensome for the government. The current system subsidized by the government, he warned, would soon become “unsustainable” and “a huge burden to our taxpayers.”

• Pass a rental subsidy law

In his Sona during the first year of the pandemic, Mr. Duterte urged lessors to “be fair and compassionate through amenable arrangements with tenants.”

On March 25, the House approved on final reading HB 8736, which seeks to provide informal settlers access to the formal housing market and give temporary relocation to families displaced by disasters. Under the bill, eligible informal settlers in Metro Manila would receive a flat rental subsidy rate of P3,500.

Last month, the Senate committee on urban planning, housing and resettlement approved the proposed rental subsidy measures. A technical working group will be formed to consolidate the bills.

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Sources: Inquirer Archives,,,,

TAGS: Rodrigo Duterte

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