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Curse-free state of the nation address garners mixed reviews for Duterte

MANILA (Agencies): As he delivered his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on July 23, at the start of his third year in office, the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, Rappler reported that thousands of demonstrators from all sectors of society braved the threat of rain to protest among many things, the threat of constitutional change; labour issues;corruption in government; and the tragic, so-called war against drugs which has victimised the poor. 
The Inquirer reported that Duterte delivered a 48-minute expletive-free speech and stayed mostly on-script. 
He addressed the war on drugs, threatening that it would be “relentless” and “as chilling as the day it began,” and slammed human rights groups for criticising the anti-drug campaign saying, “Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives,” UCAN reported.
“The lives of our youth are being wasted and families destroyed, and all because of chemicals called shabu, cocaine, cannabis, and heroin,” he said.
Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan, whose diocese in the northern part of the capital has seen the most killings, called Duterte’s statement “illogical,” UCAN reported. 
“Such a statement implies that the victims of drug-related killings are not human,” said the bishop in a Facebook post hours after the SONA.
“Is not the right to life the most basic human right?” he asked.
Bishop David, vice president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said, “With all due respect, the Church can never agree with such a statement,” adding that for the Church, drug dependents “are sick people” who need rehabilitation.
The bishop said the government should instead focus its anti-narcotics war against big-time drug dealers.
“How come the supply of illegal drugs remains steady in spite of all the killings?” he asked.
Since 30 June 2016, when Duterte assumed office, up to June 30 this year, the Philippine National Police claim that more than 4,500 people were killed in legitimate anti-drug operations.
However, human rights groups say thousands more have been killed by still unidentified assailants throughout the country.
Saying he has had to fire friends due to corruption, Duterte also tackled the matter, calling on all agencies to cut red tape and simplify processes. He also thanked Congress for passing the Ease of Doing Business Act, according to a point-by-point summary on Rappler.
On Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, he promised an increase in budget, and that he would sign Bangsamoro Organic Law within “48 hours” of Malacañang receiving the ratified version from Congress (see page 6). 
He also acknowledged the soldiers and police who died fighting in Marawi City and said the government would welcome with open arms terrorists who surrender to the authorities.
Duterte vowed to pursue an “independent foreign policy.” However while he mentioned ties with Southeast Asian countries, he mostly spoke of the benefits of “re-energised” ties with China and commitment to “defend our interests in the West Philippine Sea.” 
He also condemned deaths and abuses suffered by Filipino migrant workers at the hands of foreign employers and said their rights to be his administration’s “foremost foreign policy concern.”
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, who heads the Episcopal Commission on Migrants and Itinerant People, said, “It is commendable that he promised to fight and work against abusive employers.” 
He said he is “thankful to the president for mentioning our beloved (migrant workers) as he appreciates their sacrifices and services for their loved ones.”
Elsewhere in his SONA, Duterte addressed casual labour contracting, calling on Congress to pass a law prohibiting all forms of contractualisation. He also called for the passage of a bill creating a Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund, one of his campaign promises, and reiterated his promise of reliable, affordable and secure telecommunications services.
He also urged legislators to pass a law that will create a national land use policy and a disaster management department, Rappler reported.
Duterte also insisted that the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law must not be repealed despite criticism it has contributed to inflation and also called on Congress to pass the universal health care bill.
He also thanked the Consultative Committee for their draft federal constitution insisting that Filipinos will support the shift to a federal system of government despite a June survey by Pulse Asia finding that 62 per cent of Filipinos are not in favour of a change to a federal system of government, with only 20 per cent agreeing that the constitution should be revised.
UCAN reported that Duterte also warned mining firms to be responsible and stop destroying watersheds, forests and bodies of water, adding that natural resources must benefit all Filipinos.
Bishop Gerardo Alminaza of San Carlos, said he assumes the president has “all the good intentions to serve the best interests of our country,” but that “it’s obvious after two years (that) there are unfulfilled promises.”
He said that while the Catholic Church is one with Duterte in his goals “to alleviate poverty, stop corruption, solve drug problem ... we can’t agree with his approach.”
Bishop Alminaza said the “total disregard of human rights and human dignity, disrespect of women and other people’s beliefs and religious convictions” are not acceptable.
Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, said Duterte’s war against drugs “is a classic example of how the end cannot justify any means.”
The Inquirer reported one senator, Win Gatchalian, as calling Duterte’s speech “(his) most balanced State of the Nation Address so far” and that he had “outlined a clear platform of governance for the coming year.” 
However, another senator, Antonio Trillianes, said in a text message that, “It was a defeatist SONA speech for a presidency that is under siege on different fronts. It was an admission of non-achievement by his administration.” 

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