Monday, July 27, 2020

SONA 2020



Senate President Vicente Sotto III and the honorable members of the Senate; House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano and the honorable members of the House of Representatives; Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo; former Presidents Joseph Ejercito Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta and the justices of the Supreme Court…and the esteemed members of the diplomatic corps; Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and the members of the Cabinet; mga mahal kong kababayan.

We live in a troubled time. Our dream of prosperity for our country was suddenly snuffed by a pandemic virulent virus. No nation was spared. Neither rich nor poor were exempt from the onslaught of this deadly disease.

But let us not despair. The vaccine is around the corner. Sooner and not later, the virus that gobbled up thousands of lives will itself be laid to rest.

In the meantime, let us express the nation’s gratitude to those who courageously and willingly put their lives on the line to serve the people and country. We share the griefs of their families and no amount of tears can compensate their great losses.

My countrymen, it is sad that while government focuses its attention and resources to battle the coronavirus, there are those who take advantage of a pre-occupied government.

One of them is Senator Frank Drilon. In an interview, he arrogantly mentioned among others that oligarchs need not be rich. Then he linked the anti-dynasty system with oligarchy and the topic was my daughter and son. This happened after the Committee on Franchise voted 70-11 to deny the grant of franchise to ABS-CBN. Obviously, he was defending the Lopezes that they are not oligarchs.

Great wealth enables economic elites and corporations to influence public policy to their advantage. Media is a powerful tool in the hands of oligarchs like the Lopezes who used their media outlets in their battles with political figures. I am a casualty of the Lopezes during the 2016 election.

The dealers and purveyors of illegal drugs, hiding in the shadow of COVID-19, have stepped up their activities. The amount of shabu valued at millions of pesos seized during police operations speak volumes of the enormity and weight of the problem that we bear.

The corrupt, the grafters and the influence peddlers also take advantage of the fear and confusion that the coronavirus generates. The financial and material assistance of the government to the unemployed, the sick and the destitute running into billions of pesos, are not spared from corruption and ineptitude. Even the donations from well-meaning private persons are skimmed before reaching their intended beneficiaries. It is like snatching food from the mouths of babes.

The profiteers, over-pricers and corrupt felons must be laughing while they stash their dirty monies. But not for long. They cannot outrun the long arm of the law.

In this regard, the words of former President Ramon Magsaysay ring fresh and relevant today as on the day they were said decades ago. He said:

“We need men of integrity and faith like Rizal and del Pilar, men of action like Bonifacio, men of inflexible patriotism like Mabini. We need their zeal, their self-reliance, their capacity for work, their devotion to service, their ability to lose themselves in the common cause of building a nation.”

If we allow greed, self-interest and ambition to rule us, then as stated by one prominent physician, we will “be left with nothing better than the lesser evil instead of the greater good.”

In my inaugural address four years ago, I said that no leader can succeed at anything of national importance [or] significance unless he has the cooperation and support of the people he is tasked to lead and sworn to serve.

The efforts and resources which we poured out produced the momentum needed to bring our country closer to our goals. Suffice it to state, we made significant strides over time.

Over 4.3 million poor families benefitted from the Pantawid Pamilya; over 9.2 million beneficiaries received subsidies under the Unconditional Cash Transfer program; we also made available [free] tertiary education and universal health care. Public utility drivers were given assistance through the Pantawid Pasada Program. There are complaints that some drivers did not receive any assistance at all. I have directed the DSWD and DILG to look into this.

I welcome the passage of the law postponing the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections. The postponement saved much-needed government funds and ensured implementation of projects under the current barangay officials. In hindsight, it also saved us from holding the polls while we dealt and continue to deal with the pandemic.

The Malasakit Centers Act has proven to be of great help to our less fortunate citizens needing medical services through a one-stop platform in government hospitals. We commend the initiative and work of Senator Bong Go in this regard as well as other significant pieces of legislation. As of today, there are 75 Malasakit Centers serving Filipinos all over the country. These centers will be of great help in ensuring that our people remain healthy and resilient during these challenging times.

The Salary Standardization Law of 2019 increases the salary of civilian government workers. I hope that this law will inspire our government workers to perform better and encourage young, brilliant citizens to join public service.

I appreciate the law establishing the National Academy of Sports. We can now give our deserving student-athletes the training and support they need to excel in their chosen field of endeavors.

With the commitment of key members of Congress and the Executive Department, the PHISGOC, Philippine Sports Commission, and the Philippine Olympic Committee were bound together with one vision to host the 30th Southeast Asian Games. Our athletes prevailed. More than that, we fostered pride, patriotism, genuine sportsmanship, and camaraderie in our South East Asian brothers and sisters. Indeed, we won as one.

To our business community and the general public, we assure you that the landmark Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Government Service Delivery Act has been gaining momentum. We are closer to eliminating overregulation in government services.

Frontline processes, including consular services, processing of building and business permits, and services for overseas Filipinos and seafarers were streamlined. Passports and drivers’ license validity were lengthened to ease the burden of the public.

We received a BBB plus credit rating despite a sea of credit rating downgrades and negative outlook revisions worldwide. [applause] The Japan Credit Rating Agency upgraded us from BBB plus to A minus last month.

Meanwhile, Moody’s has affirmed and maintained the country’s ratings at B2 --- Baa2 rather. [Understand. Because of the light I have … My eyesight is not as good as new.] Our fiscal position is strong, our economic and fiscal management prudent and our banking system robust. We are in a better position to weather the crisis caused by the COVID-19 global pandemic.

We have accomplished significant infrastructure projects under the Build Build Build Program. I will not dwell lengthily on the nitty-gritty of our infrastructure accomplishments now lest I bore you. Instead we will release a comprehensive written report on our collective milestones and the details of accomplishments to remind us that perseverance, patience and determination will help us move forward even in the most difficult of times.

We issued last year Executive Order No. 100 establishing the Diversity and Inclusion Program as a national program of the Government. We want to end the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and other character traits.

My administration always believed that freedom from illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption and criminality, is itself a [human right].

Part of our efforts to uphold human rights is protection of the rights of children and the right against discrimination. Early last year, I signed Executive Order No. 92 creating the National Council Against Child Labor. Government efforts to protect the rights of children will be amplified to prevent, reduce and eliminate any form of child labor.

Our achievements along these lines have been extolled by an overwhelming number of our fellow member-States in the UN Human Rights Council, during its recently held 44th session last June.

Rest assured that we will not dodge our obligation to fight for human rights.

My countrymen, there are lessons to be learned from the coronavirus pandemic. It jolted us to realize that gains made after spending so much planning, effort, cost and time could diminish considerably and quickly for reasons beyond one’s anticipation; that it is much easier to destroy than to build; that in a crisis of national proportions that affects every aspect of human life, governments need to have the support and cooperation of the people if it is to succeed in battling the cause of that crisis, that there are people who ask for compassion but show none themselves; that life, after all, is fickle like the weather.

The gains we achieved in the first three and a half years were put to a test when the pandemic suddenly struck the global community. While I am aware that the road towards a comfortable life for all would be far easy if pandemic had not occurred and along the rest of the world we suffered.

The global scale and socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been unprecedented. Yet in the throes of this global health emergency, we have been able to withstand the headwinds generated by this coronavirus.

In this regard I would like to express my gratitude to all those who made possible the steady supply of food, water, and basic utilities [to] our households [applause] and the provision of basic social services and financial assistance to our people. Our profound gratitude goes to everyone who helped keep our country’s food supply chain running, the valiant soldiers, policemen and security guards who kept peace and order [applause] in our communities; the dedicated personnel who kept our essential establishments operational. You showed us kindness and selflessness. You gave us strength. You risked your own lives to serve the greater good in keeping with the Filipino spirit of Bayanihan. [applause]

I also thank the men and women of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases and the National Task Force against COVID-19 for all the countless hours it spent to keep the pandemic in check and for all the efforts it made to ensure the safety of our people. [applause]

Let me also recognize the efforts of the local government units that stepped up and initiated their own response measures to contain the effects of COVID-19 and its impact to their constituents. Have been --- impact to its constituents. [The shadow says it’s a period there.]

I know exactly the difficulties you are undergoing. I pray that the officials of each LGU in our country – from the barangay to the autonomous regions – would set aside partisan politics and selfish interests to do what is right and good for all. [applause]

I likewise issued Executive Order No. 104, which imposed ceilings on the retail prices of at least 133 drugs and medicines, and directed a continuous review of the retail prices of others. This proved to be providential now that we are facing a pandemic.

To everyone who helped us in this time of great need, maraming salamat po. [applause]

Let me say that the strength of a nation rests in the hands of the people acting as one with government, in the pursuit of common goals and objectives.

When the pandemic struck, I decided to prioritize life over other considerations. According to experts, the interventions that the government had put in place prevented as much as 1.3 to 3.5 million infections. To me, even if the numbers were much lower, it would still be and would have been worth the sacrifice[s] we made. “Buhay muna, bago ang lahat.” [applause]

We initially encountered difficulties ramping up our testing capacity. We now have 93 accredited testing laboratories nationwide and we are aiming to conduct 1.4 million tests by end of July and ensure a quick turnaround time of 48 to 72 hours.

Under the Social Amelioration Program, we allotted [PhP205 billion] for poor and low-income households who were affected during this pandemic, who thrive on a “no-work, no-pay” arrangement. Admittedly, our implementation of the Social Amelioration Program was not perfect. And some opportunists turned crisis into opportunity. We will catch up with you sooner than you think.

We came up with the COVID-19 Adjustment Measures Program. We extended financial assistance to over 650,000 affected individuals in the formal sector, 110,000 OFWs abroad, and almost 83,000 repatriated OFWs. We also provided temporary wage employment [opportunities] to displaced marginalized workers through the TUPAD Project. Our indigent senior citizens were also provided with a stipend for the [first] semester of the current year.

This health emergency stretched the government’s resources to its limits. In response, the Office of the President worked closely with Congress for the quick passage of the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act.

May I again reiterate my thanks to you, the men and women of Congress, for the effort you invested into passing that law. I hope that we can get some or the same treatment of clarity, purpose and the fastness [applause] to support the passage of the Bayanihan [to Recover as One Act], which will supplement funds for recovery and response against the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We must facilitate the country’s economic recovery. I call on Congress to fast-track the passage of proposed measures such as the Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises or CREATE Act. [applause] This immediately cuts the corporate income levy from the current 30 to 25 percent and give the government flexibility to grant a combination of fiscal and non-fiscal incentives, among others. The Financial Institutions Strategic Transfer or FIST Act will set up mechanisms allowing banks and other financial institutions to dispose of and transfer non-performing assets and loans to asset management companies similar to Special Purpose Vehicles.

Our economic managers have seen infrastructure investment as an effective tool to help spur high growth, attract investments, create jobs, and achieve financial inclusion for all Filipinos. The [DPWH] has resumed the construction of the North Luzon Expressway Harbor Link, the NLEX-SLEX Connector, the Cavite-Laguna Expressway, the Metro Manila Skyway Stage 3, the R-1 Bridge Project, the Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway Project, and the Subic Freeport Expressway Project, to name a few. To realize the maximum benefit from the country’s investments, the infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build Program, which are labor and capital intensive, are not mere springboards for the country’s swift recovery [post]-pandemic. They are economic benefits --- economic benefits to be distributed to all corners of the country and push sustainability in urban centers, particularly [Metro] Manila.

The TESDA launched an online mode of livelihood and skills training. There are 71 free online training to help upskill trainees for the right opportunities. [opportunities, I’m sorry]

I ask the TESDA to come up with special training programs to retool our OFWs so they can find employment opportunities here at home. I am also calling on the CHED for scholarship programs for the qualified dependents of our OFWs. I direct the Department of Agriculture and DTI to come up with agri-business and entrepreneurship projects to help displaced OFWs rebuild their livelihood. Further, I ask the LANDBANK and other government financial institutions to continue providing low-interest loans to our OFWs. Sa mga kababayan ko na naghihirap sa ibang bansa, nandito ang inyong gobyerno para matulungan kayo at inyong mga pamilya, lalo na sa panahong ito. [applause]

The government will intensify its efforts to help businesses, especially our micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs, by providing responsive government assistance and services, capitalization, and business operations support as we adapt to the next normal. [applause]

Nananawagan po ako sa ating mga lessors – nananawagan po ako sa ating mga lessors: malasakit at Bayanihan po sana ang pairalin natin ngayon. This is not the time to drive away lessees. During normal times they were the primary source of your income stream. Now, it’s time to be fair and compassionate. Come up with amenable arrangement with your tenants. Huwag po natin silang ipagtabuyan, tanggalan ng tubig, kuryente, at bubong. Commercial establishments are requested to give grace periods [or] allow deferment of payments, especially for MSMEs that were forced to close down during the quarantine period. Let us help them recover. [applause]

We pump-primed the recovery and rehabilitation of MSMEs. The DTI, through the Small Business Corporation, set up the PhP1-billion COVID-19 Assistance to Restart Enterprises or CARES Program to provide zero-interest loans for MSMEs affected by the pandemic. As of July 10, 2020, over 2,600 loan applications worth [PhP182.5 million] have been approved. We are optimistic that this initiative will help our MSMEs stabilize and recover from their losses.

I also enjoin the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and banks operating in the country to provide regulatory relief for our MSMEs and allow loan payment extensions, without incurring penalties and charges. [applause] We need your help to prevent the collapse of companies saddled with accumulated amortizations and payables caused by the closure of their businesses at the height of the strict quarantine periods.

As we embark on these efforts towards inclusive recovery, we should acknowledge that all forms of government support will go to naught if the new MSMEs do not thrive because of lack of consumer support. Ito ang panahon para suportahan natin ang ating mga kababayan [applause] na nagnenegosyo at gumagawa ng mga produktong sariling atin.

In the same manner, the tourism and recreation industries, which are among the hardest hit by the pandemic, count on our full support. While we slowly try to put the fun back in our local travels, the national government agencies and LGUs must harmonize their policies to boost tourism [while] ensuring everyone’s well-being. We enjoin our people to help boost the economy by traveling locally [applause] [local na lang] once the necessary systems are in place.

The DoST offers its Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program to enable businesses to access training that will help them transition to online and contactless operations.

Now more than ever, we need to protect our consumers. I direct the Department of Trade and Industry to ensure the empowerment of Filipinos on their consumer rights, and coordinate strategies between public and private organizations in building a fair, safe, resilient, and sustainable economy. [applause]

There are welcome developments for the e-Commerce industry. But major economic activities take place in a borderless environment with meager regulatory controls. They expose consumers to various risks related to security, data privacy, and misrepresentation.

We must patrol the country’s cyberspace and enforce online consumer and data protection and privacy laws. We must run after online scammers and those undermining the people’s trust in online transactions. We must continue to protect Filipinos in the new normal and remind the world that we are responsible stewards of data. I am committed to protect both the physical and digital lives of our law-abiding countrymen. [applause]

The national government shall lead the way in our transition to online systems. I reiterate my call for all government instrumentalities to implement systems that shall make physical queuing a thing of the past.

Panahon na para mawala [applause] na ang pila para mapagsilbihan ang gobyerno nang walang kahirapan para sa tao. The DILG, DBM, and the ARTA, along with all agencies and instrumentalities of government, are hereby directed to make [all] possible services available online. We need to adjust to and adopt a paper-less type business and work performance. We need e-governance [to provide] our people with the services they need [from] the comfort of their homes or workplaces. It will enable our bureaucracy to better transition into in the 'new normal' and cut or minimize red tape.

more to follow:

(Delivered at the Session Hall of the House of Representatives, Batasang Pambansa Complex, Quezon City | 27 July 2020)
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