WITH President Rodrigo R. Duterte delivering his last SONA yesterday, heralding the opening of the third regular session of the 18th Congress, one can just count the working months before the campaign starts going to May 2022: five months in 2021 and two months in 2022, or a total of seven months with February to May 2022 as campaign and E-day. The seven months will mean passing the General Appropriations Act (GAA), the most important legislation for the remaining months, before everyone goes campaigning. Take note, all elected legislators will have filed their certificates of candidacy by October before Congress can actually debate on the GAA.
Often when we talk of the future, we look at three stages: where we came from, where we are and where we want to be. And this is exactly what the last SONA will define to get everyone to move and finish the remaining Duterte agenda. And as he promised, President Duterte said he will end his term fighting. At a historic high on approval and trust and remaining strong by the end, his emotional farewell for the nation should be received well because here was a man, not counted at all to be president who became one without the usual factors (money, network, survey gains). He was not competitive, not winnable but became one by the way he used bold language to hit the so-called sacred territories that made 16,601.997 voters, or 39.01 percent, support him in the past five years, increasing this base that made him buoyant in every dipstick.
The remaining seven months of governance will see more back-and-forth with Congress in getting important legislation out of the way, ensuring a strong policy environment for the 17th president come June 30, 2022. These bills are the retail trade, foreign investment, public service, internet transaction bill, the creation of the Department of OFW (remittances have been in the highs despite the pandemic), and Department of Resilience. And if we are going to be serious about taxing gaming, POGO and online sabong should be part of the remaining agenda to increase the coffers and ensure the viability of the next administration. On a personal note, I hope institutionalization of Build, Build, Build (BBB) can be made so there is stability in building our infrastructure, bringing the Philippines to a never before state of modernization in terms of connectivity in land, sea, air as well as in spectrum.
The threat to fight until the end highlights the chance of President Duterte to again use his presidential powers to get economic legislation out via executive orders if the 18th Congress fails to muster attendance and quorum and get policy debate on schedule for the crucial economic legislation. If we are to rebuild and rebound in 2022 and beyond, we need the policy environment to allow us the space, both for development and fiscal policies. Economic Cha-cha becomes a reality by February 2022 if the economic bills will not pass and that will need a plebiscite to secure.
Prior to the pandemic, we were hitting 4.5 percent growth and recovery target is said to be at 5.5 percent, scaling to 6 percent by 2023. Consequently, our choice for 2022 should have a fast-learning curve if not ready on Day 1 to govern. The first three years of the next administration will focus on the economy and the continuation of the BBB and as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has acknowledged, the three important drivers of a rebound are here: the vaccination program ensures community protection by end of the year in NCR +8. This will lead to a gradual opening of the economy. The stable and reliable supply of vaccines with the country offering a menu of vaccines to all is a welcome development; maintaining the infra programs allow labor to recover considering the multiplier effect of BBB; and the national ID system makes better social safety nets. The ADB characterizes President Duterte as a game changer and a reformist. Two words that redefine a strong ruler, said to be merely a populist by Western media and labeled by the local media as a human rights violator. The lens may vary and the captions may differ, but to Filipinos here is a father who dared where others did not and merely allowed the same approach to governance.
Here is a Mindanaoan who redefined what it means to be president and what it means to stand by the flag and fight for what is good for the nation. Not perfect, very divisive, uncouth and all but are we better off today than five years ago? Duterte is what political will can do to a nation. Filipinos feel his brand of service. The others use a different lens, one that is Western and heavily relies on individual rights and rejects the 16th as just a hillbilly. It would be good to monitor Citizen Rody out of office because by then the next president will have a huge shadow to to look at, knowing Rody started mad and ended mad with the promise we cannot go back to where we were before just like a carabao being pulled by its nose. He elevated the flag, made Filipinos proud of themselves and their country. As I have often said, being president is a lonely job but the mayor from Davao City dared to scale the heights to give Filipinos an equal chance of a lifetime.
As President Duterte made his last SONA to the nation, history was made, a chapter about to be closed. I am grateful for what he and his team have accomplished. What has not been touched for 30 years has been tried by a man from Mindanao where dreams are made and stories told far away from the center of National Capital Region and Luzon. Where equality and equity are never mentioned for Mindanao remained the backyard of impossibilities. Mindanao stands better today and so is the Bisayan nation. And we are made better Filipinos for the peripheries found voice and the center gave way for others.
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