Pursues peace with Reds, Muslims
PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte on Monday unveiled a package of programs providing welfare and relief to the poor and the working class, as he pledged to achieve peace with communists and Muslim rebels within his term in office.
Duterte ordered the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DWSD) to give rice subsidies monthly to the poorest families, fulfilling a campaign pledge to expand the government’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
In his first State of the Nation Address (SONA), Duterte vowed to strengthen the government’s social protection programs “to reduce the vulnerabilities of our people, increase their resiliency and empower individuals, families and communities.”
“To strengthen the delivery of social services, the government will intensify its protection program so it can use resources and expertise to make a dent in the country’s poverty levels,” the President said a day after The Manila Times highlighted the twin problems of poverty and unemployment as pressing issues ahead of the SONA.
“The beneficiaries of 4Ps shall be made to become independent and self-reliant after their graduation from the program. As it is we aim to present the other forms of assistance so that they can stand on their own feet. But now I have decided to direct the DSWD to provide the rice subsidies to the poorest of the families, so at least they can eat, every month,” he added.
The 4Ps involves monthly cash grants to poor families for health, nutrition and the education of children, begun under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who is now a representative of Pampanga.
For the employed, Duterte called on lawmakers to cut personal income taxes, along with corporate taxes.
He called for universal health insurance through the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., as well as improvements in the professional competence and operational capabilities of all government hospitals.
Duterte also said he will implement the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act to allow parents to plan and space births, and the Magna Carta of Women to protect women against abuse.
Addressing Filipinos’ daily transport and traffic woes, Duterte sought emergency powers and vowed to implement rail projects north and south of Manila and in Cebu and Davao cities, the Mindanao Railway Project, as well as inter-island shipping links.
He said the Transportation department will increase the number of trains on the Metro Rail Transit to 20 from 16 and increase train speeds to 60 kilometers per hour (kph) from 40 kph.
Operating hours at the Light Rail Transit will be extended by an hour at night to 10:30 p.m. from 9:30 p.m.
Transport terminals will be taken out of major roads to ease traffic and the Pasig River Ferry will be offered as an alternative mode of transport in Metro Manila.
“My God, it will be done, immediately!” he said.
Duterte wants a new runway at the Manila airport, or if not feasible, the transfer of airport operations to the Clark Airbase in Pampanga as long as there will be a fast train to and from Manila.
General aviation will also be moved out of Manila and transferred to Sangley Point in Cavite, he said, pointing out that it was only benefiting the rich who use private jets.
Ceasefire with Reds
Saying that attaining peace before his term ends is his cherished goal, Duterte declared a unilateral ceasefire with the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), its armed wing the New People’s Army (NPA), and the National Democratic Front (NDF), its political arm.
“To immediately stop violence on the ground, restore peace in the communities and provide an enabling environment conducive to the resumption of the peace talks, I am now announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP/NPA/NDF effective immediately,” he said.
The President said he expected the NDF and its forces to “respond accordingly.”
“To the CPP/NPA/NDF, let’s end these decades of ambuscades … we are getting nowhere and it’s getting bloodier by the day,” he said.
He made the announcement ahead of his administration’s first formal talks with communist rebels on August 20.
The communist rebellion has killed about 30,000 people since the 1960s.
The NPA is believed to have fewer than 4,000 gunmen today, down from a peak of 26,000 in the 1980s, according to the military.
But it retains support among the deeply poor in rural areas, and its troops regularly kill security forces while extorting money from local businesses.
Dutere’s predecessor, Benigno S. Aquino 3rd, revived negotiations soon after taking office in 2010 but shelved them in 2013, accusing the rebels of being insincere about finding a political settlement.
The talks collapsed after his government rejected the rebels’ demand to release scores of their jailed comrades, whom they described as “political prisoners.”
Duterte, who took office on June 30 and counts exiled communist rebel leader Jose Maria Sison as a friend, had previously offered to release some political prisoners.
BBL ahead of federalism
Duterte called on Congress to pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) that implements a 2014 peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), but without the unconstitutional provisions.
The BBL, which will provide greater autonomy to Muslims in Mindanao, can go ahead of the plan to shift to a federal form of government, he said.
The President said he found it sad and ironic “that while we extol the bravery and heroism of our soldiers — you rebels do the same for your fighters — what I see are the widows and orphans and I feel their pain and grief.”
“No amount of cash assistance or the number of medals can compensate for the loss of a human life,” the President said.
“Sorrow cuts across every stratum of society. It cuts deeply and the pain lasts forever. That is why, I reach out to you, to all of you today. To our Muslim brothers, let us end the centuries of mistrust and warfare,” he added.
Duterte reiterated his commitment to federalism, even vowing to step down from office early, as soon as it is implemented.