A COMFORTABLE LIFE FOR ALL FILIPINOS
From the signing of anti-poverty laws to chastising water concessionaires, President Rodrigo Duterte marked the year fulfilling his campaign promise to bring a “comfortable life” to all Filipinos with only over two years left until he steps down in 2022.
The Duterte administration’s efforts to significantly cut down poverty rates are moving full steam with the signing of laws such as the Magna Carta of the Poor.
Before the law was signed, data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) showed that some 5.9 million Filipinos were pulled out of poverty in 2018, as poverty incidence fell to 16.6 percent from 23.3 percent in 2015.
At this rate of development, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia said it is “possible for poverty incidence to further drop to “10 to 12 percent” by 2022, which is slightly lower compared to the current administration’s target to bring it down by 14 percent by the end of Duterte’s term.
“With the continued adoption of the DutertEnomics and socio-economic reforms, the poverty rate will be continuously reduced,” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Martin Andanar said in a statement.
The Magna Carta of the Poor (Republic Act No. 11291), signed on April 12 mandates the State “to adopt an area-based, sectoral and focused intervention to poverty alleviation where every poor Filipino must be empowered to meet the minimum basic need through the partnership of the Government and the basic sectors”.
Duterte also signed on April 17 an act institutionalizing the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) (R.A. No. 11310), the national poverty reduction strategy and human capital investment program that provides conditional cash transfer to poor households for a maximum period of seven years to improve the health, nutrition and education aspects of their lives.
Accessible social services
To ensure that every Filipino, especially, the poor have equal access to quality healthcare, Duterte signed the Universal Healthcare Act of 2019 (R.A. 11223) which automatically enrolls all Filipinos under the government’s health insurance program.
Under the law, coverage will be expanded to include free consultation fees, laboratory tests, and other diagnostic services.
Duterte also signed into law a bill (R.A. 11210) that extends the maternity leave of female workers in the country from 60 to 105 days with full pay.
All working mothers in the government and private sector are guaranteed with 105 days of paid maternity leave credits, with 7 days transferable to fathers while an additional 15 days of paid leave will be granted to single mothers, according to the law.
Complementing these measures is the Malasakit Center Law (R.A. 11463), which expands the accessibility to the government’s medical and financial healthcare services’ through the Malasakit Centers, that will be built in all public hospitals in the country.
To cut bureaucratic red tape in government, Duterte also ordered state offices to finish all transactions in just hours.
For the farmers
To open up the country’s rice market, Duterte signed the Rice Tariffication Law (R.A. 11203) on February to switch the current quota system in importing rice into a tariff system, where rice can be imported more freely.
On November, Duterte ordered the National Food Authority (NFA) to increase the country’s emergency buffer stock from 15 days to 30 days by buying more palay (unhusked rice) from farmers and help them cope up with higher price of palay.
The country’s rice industry is expected to thrive with the implementation of the programs under the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF), a component under the Rice Tariffication Law aimed at making Filipino farmers more efficient and productive so they can compete with their counterparts in Southeast Asia.
Under the Duterte administration, some 120,889 hectares of land have been distributed while farmers with machinery, seeds and farm animals to maximize the use of agrarian lands.
Duterte also issued Executive Order No. 75 mandating all government agencies to identify government-owned lands suitable for agriculture for distribution.
Refusing to beg Congress for emergency powers, Duterte said he would rather allow EDSA to rot if some lawmakers insinuated that he would use it for corruption.
In June, Duterte promised to cut travel time from Makati and Edsa to five minutes by yearend but was unable to do so.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, said failure to fulfill Duterte’s promise does not mean it was not attainable under the current administration.
The Department of Transportation (DOTr) and other concerned state agencies have been ordered to introduce innovations to ease traffic congestion in the country’s metropolis.
Among others, the Duterte government’s ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program is seen as a solution to address traffic congestion in Metro Manila.
Around PHP9 trillion has been earmarked for the implementation of around 100 big-ticket infrastructure projects and over 10,000 small infrastructure projects under the “Build, Build, Build” program.
Invoking the arbitral ruling
After temporarily shelving the arbitral ruling in 2016 to give way to friendlier relations between the Philippines and China, Duterte finally invoked the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling won by the Philippines against China during his visit to Beijing on Aug. 29.
Despite having raised the arbitral ruling while discussing concerns on the West Philippine Sea, Chinese President Xi Jinping reaffirmed China’s position that it is not recognizing the ruling.
Duterte maintained his position to push for its claims in the disputed waters, but maintained that the issue should not be the sum total of the relationships between the two countries.
Aside from the arbitral ruling, Duterte also brought up the 60-40 sharing arrangement on the proposed joint exploration for oil and gas in the West Philippine Sea.
The June 9 Recto Bank (Reed Bank) maritime incident where a Chinese vessel allegedly rammed and abandoned a Philippine fishing boat at sea was also discussed in the meeting between the two leaders.
Panelo has insisted that holding bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China is currently the “most effective” way to resolve the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.
Alleged “onerous” provisions found in water concession agreements entered into by government with Maynilad and Manila Water angered Duterte, who refused to allow the government to pay the two water firms for damages.
Duterte began questioning the alleged onerous provisions after the Singapore-based Permanent Court of Arbitration issued separate decisions, compelling the Philippine government in 2017 to pay PHP3.4 billion to Maynilad and in November 2019 to compensate PHP7.39 billion to Manila Water for the losses the two firms allegedly suffered due to non-implementation of increases in water rates.
Saying the water deals “mirror” the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Law or Republic Act 3019, Duterte threatened to sue them for economic sabotage.
Duterte asked the Department of Justice and Office of the Solicitor General to craft new water concession agreements that are “favorable to the State and the Filipino people” and also floated the idea of ordering the military to take over the operations of the two water concessionaires.
The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) had revoked the approved 15-year extension of concession agreements with Manila Water and Maynilad that are supposed to expire in 2037 which means the two firms only have until 2022 to operate since the 2009 resolution extending the 25-year concession deals signed in 1997 is considered ineffective.
The President will make a major announcement in relation to the alleged onerous contracts on Jan. 6, 2020, according to Malacañang.
Peace talks situation
Duterte permanently terminated the government’s peace talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) on March 18 saying the communist guerillas could talk peace with his successor instead.
The CPP-New People’s Army (NPA) has been tagged as a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the Philippines.
Duterte later created a new panel, to include representatives from different sectoral groups, local government units, and the military, to supervise localized peace engagements.
The Retooled Community Support Program is continuously being implemented in areas with vulnerable populations to ensure the improved delivery of basic services.
However, Duterte on Dec. 5 bared that he has directed former government chief negotiator and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello to talk peace with CPP founder Jose “Maria” Sison hopeful to re-open negotiations with CPP’s political wing, the National Democratic Front (NDF).
Bello said that peace talks could resume by the second or third week of January 2020, but the government and the communist rebels have yet to agree on the negotiation’s venue.
No 4th Martial law
Despite possible attacks by communist guerillas in the future, Duterte, on Dec. 10, backed security officials’ recommendation not to extend the martial law, following the weakening of the terrorist and extremist rebellion.
Even without martial law in place, Duterte was optimistic that the state forces can maintain peace and order in Southern Philippines.
To recall, Duterte placed the whole of Mindanao under military rule on May 23, 2017 after the Islamic State-inspired Maute group laid siege in Marawi City in Lanao de Sur province.
Congress extended the initial 60-day martial rule three times upon the President’s recommendation to help state forces quell the insurgency in Mindanao.
Security officials, however, are counting on proposed amendments to the Human Security Act of 2007 to give them more teeth to fight terrorism.
Among the proposed amendments to this law include increasing the number of days a suspected terrorist can be detained from the current three days and to allow regional trial courts to issue authorizations and to wiretap suspects from 30 days to 60 days or longer (PNA)