Senators welcome Duterte’s third SONA

By Jose Cielito Reganit

July 24, 2018, 12:16 pm

MANILA – Several senators on Monday said the statements made by President Rodrigo R. Duterte during his third State of the Nation Address (SONA) were laudable.

Senator Joel Villanueva said he welcomed Duterte’s pronouncements on ending the practice of contractualization.

“But from what I am getting from him, we should not be extremists about it to the point na sisirain natin ang mga negosyo, o yung momentum ng ganda ng economy ay masira, ‘Yon yung sinasabi nya (to the point of disregarding businesses or the momentum of having a well-performing economy. That is what the president is saying), we have to be careful about it,” he said in an ambush interview.

Duterte renewed his call to Congress to pass legislation of ending contractualization “once and for all” after admitting his hands are tied on the issue of ending the practice in the country.

He said he signed on May 1 Executive Order 51, which sought to protect workers’ right to security of tenure, adding that the campaign against “endo” has resulted in the regularization of more than 300,000 workers.

“Read my lips. I understand that this does not satisfy all sectors. I share their sentiments. I truly do,” the President said in his speech.

“Much as I would like to do the impossible, that power is not vested upon me by the Constitution and neither will I make both ends meet if I violate the laws to achieve that purpose. Simply it is not part of my territory,” Duterte said as he called on Congress to pass the needed legislation.

Villanueva said it was a welcome development that the President called for ending the “evils of endo.”

“Yung EO niya, klarong senyales…wakasan natin ang mga injustices na tinatamasa ng ating mga kababayan na nasadlak sa ganitong scheme (The EO is clear... end the injustices of our fellowmen stuck in this kind of labor scheme),” Villanueva said.

The lawmaker also agreed with Duterte’s pronouncement not to stop the TRAIN (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion) law.

Villanueva said he also entertains the idea of liberalizing the importation of rice.

In a separate interview, Senator Cynthia Villar said she also welcomed rice tariffication as a long-term solution to lower the price of rice.

In his SONA, Duterte said that the country must switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system, where rice can be imported more freely.

“This will give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to PHP7 per kilo and lower inflation significantly. I ask Congress to prioritize this crucial reform, which I have certified as urgent today,” Duterte said.

Villar said that Congress would have to talk about it, saying that a 35 percent tariff, the maximum allowed by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is not enough to make Filipino farmers competitive to the farmers of Vietnam.

“So they promised me that I can put in the bill a PHP10-billion budget to make our rice farmers competitive, which we will use for mechanization, and which will be used to teach them how to make better seeds to increase their output per hectare,” Villar said.

“They said I can also put in the bill that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) will implement the national single window system that will computerize the BOC to eliminate smuggling as much as possible,” she added.

Villar likewise said that Congress is ready to heed Duterte’s call to approve the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund the soonest time possible.

“We will have the bicam on the coco levy fund next week. So I think wala kaming problema dyan (we don't have problems with that). We are going to pass the coco levy fund,” she said.

On the other hand, Senator Richard Gordon said he welcomes the President’s warnings on open-pit mining and rice hoarders, as well as his total support to the passage of a universal health law.

On the drug war, the veteran lawmaker said Duterte made a “fair comment.”

“It’s a classic mayor-policeman statement na 'yung trabaho ko para proteksiyunan ang mga tao, 'yung mga yan nananakit ng tao (my job is to protect the people, while they [drug dealers] are hurting them),” Gordon said in an interview.

“I kind of like the way he put it, wala naman syang sinabing papatayin pa niya, hindi na siya nagmura (he did not say that he would kill someone, he did not utter any expletives),” he added.

Gordon said he also liked the way Duterte raised the level of our claims in the West Philippine Sea.

In his SONA, Duterte said that “our improved relationship with China, however, does not mean that we will waver in our commitment to defend our interests in the West Philippine Sea".

The President said that opening the lines of communication and amicably managing differences have led to positive developments, among them the renewed access of Filipino fishermen in the disputed areas.

“Participation in the ASEAN-China dialogue has also resulted to the draft framework for the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea which intends to resolve disputes by peaceful means,” Duterte said.

However, Gordon said that the President should have added context to the statement by stating more clearly that the Philippines would not cede any of the country's territory and that he would boost spending on military modernization. (PNA)