On July 22, President Rodrigo Duterte delivered his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) to the Filipino people. In this address, the President presented his administration’s achievements in the first three years, and unveiled the administration’s plans and priority agenda, setting its direction in its three remaining years. This SONA is particularly important as it takes place in the beginning of a new Congress with a new set of legislators and a new set of legislative agenda.
As an organization that seeks to uplift the life of every Filipino through legislation, the Philippine Legislators’ Committee on Population and Development (PLCPD) believes that policymaking is still one of the most powerful and effective tools in ensuring that the rights and welfare of the people are respected, protected, and fulfilled – and the President has a vital role in influencing the policymaking process. His signified support on various issues is instrumental in their swift passage. At the same time, the President’s vocal support for any law is an indication of the executive’s commitment to its implementation. It is in this context that PLCPD lauds and supports some of the priority bills forwarded by President Duterte as highlighted in his recent SONA.
Legislative reforms such as the increase in the excise tax on tobacco products, which is seen as an effective measure in curbing the prevalence of tobacco use in the country, are very timely considering the huge burden that tobacco places on health and economy of the country. This tax reform is also an important in ensuring that the Universal Health Care Law will be adequately funded and that its reach will be as universal as it promises to be.
The National Land Use Bill, a proposal that has been languishing in Congress for two decades, was mentioned for the third time by President Duterte. This measure would ensure proper classification of the country’s land according to its use and in turn, would help in avoiding the adverse effects of disasters and conflicts arising from these resources. The President also mentioned the urgency of enacting the coconut levy trust fund, a law that would benefit coconut farmers.
On the other hand, also mentioned in the SONA were some alarming proposed measures, which, if enacted, would reverse the country’s efforts at protecting human rights and advancing human development. In the 17th Congress, human rights advocates in Congress and in civil society successfully blocked the passage of several retrogressive bills that blatantly disregard human rights and renege on the country’s commitment to various international treaties and conventions. These include the reinstatement of the capital punishment and the revival of mandatory Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).
However, these measures were again listed as part of this administration’s priority agenda for the next three years. PLCPD vehemently opposes the reimposition of the death penalty as this would only further oppress the already marginalized sectors of the society. PLCPD calls on the government to reform the country’s justice system, address the root causes of criminality, and adopt rehabilitative measures in countering crimes. Likewise, we appeal to the government to adopt a rights-based education; the revival of the mandatory ROTC, under the façade of instilling nationalism and inculcating discipline, will put the children in a vulnerable situation, exposing them to risks of abuse and corruption. We also call on legislators to retain the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) and strengthen the implementation of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act. Although lowering the MACR was not mentioned in the SONA, the allies of the President in both houses of Congress have included this in the priority bills of the 18th Congress.
PLCPD believes that not only the issues included in the SONA are worth highlighting but also those that were not mentioned as this would signify their value to the government. We are imploring the government to include in its priority agenda and to champion various human development issues such as children’s rights, gender equality, rural development, adequate housing, prevention of violence against women and girls, and health – particularly reproductive health.
PLCPD remains steadfast in its calls for the government to protect and uphold the human rights of every individual. We urge the 18th Congress and President Duterte to prioritize rights-based and people-centered legislation in the next three years. We also urge the duty bearers that in the crafting of laws, it is best to heed sound reasoning and scientific evidence instead of submitting to pressures coming from powerful groups whose interest are inherently in conflict with that of the people.
Finally, PLCPD enjoins everyone to remain vigilant of any advances being made by policymakers that would run counter to the principles of human rights and human development.