PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte vowed to pursue peace and continue to fight drugs and crime in his second State of the Nation Address on Monday, as he urged foreign investors to put up factories and warned mining companies not to harm the environment.
“So much time has lapsed, so many lives have been lost and so much destruction has been wrought but peace eludes us still. Sometimes I am almost tempted to conclude that peace might not be able to come during our lifetime. But believe me, it will not be for want of trying. And I will persist in our goal of attaining peace [up]to the last day of this administration and maybe even beyond although in a different capacity,” Duterte, the former city mayor swept to power in a landslide election victory in 2016, told a joint session of Congress in a nearly two-hour speech.
“I have learned that the economy surges only when there is peace and order prevailing in places where investors can pour their capital and expertise. I have learned from experience in Davao City that investor confidence is bolstered and fortified only if mechanisms for protection of local and foreign investments are in place,” he said.
To achieve economic development, the President said it was important to convert the country’s rich natural resources or raw materials into finished products for the international and local markets.
“That way, it is not only the few who are the rich, but the poor who are many will benefit…Therefore, I call on industries, investors, commercial barons to put up factories and manufacturing establishments right here in the Philippines to process raw materials into finished products,” he said.
Miners told: Refrain from unbridled destruction
Duterte however said extreme care must be emphasized in the extraction and utilization of natural resources, particularly mineral resources.
“The protection of the environment must be made a priority ahead of mining and all other activities that adversely affect one way or the other, this policy is non-negotiable,” he said.
Former Environment and Natural Resources secretary Regina Lopez had ordered the closure of 23 mining operations and suspended five others in February this year. She also cancelled the mineral production sharing agreements of 75 other mining companies whose operations were in watershed areas.
Lopez’s nomination however, was rejected by the Commission on Appointments in May amid pressure from miners, and was replaced by retired general Roy Cimatu.
Duterte sternly warned all mining corporations and contractors to “refrain from the unbridled and irresponsible destruction of watersheds, forests and aquatic resources.”
“You have gained much from mining… I am holding all mining companies responsible for a full and quick cleanup, restoration, rehabilitation of areas damaged by mining,” he said.
Duterte also called on mining companies to declare their correct income and pay the right taxes.
Martial law ‘fastest way to quell rebellion’
Duterte also defended his imposition of martial rule in Mindanao and its subsequent extension until the end of the year following the May 23 terrorist attack in Marawi City, calling it the “fastest way to quell the rebellion.”
“At the same time, the government would be adequately equipped with the constitutional tool not only to prevent the escape of rebels who can easily mingle and pretend to be civilian evacuees only to re-group in another place to fight another day, but also to prevent them from spreading their gospel of hate and violence in the rest of Mindanao,” he added
Duterte lamented the entry of the extremist ideology of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Philippines.
“There is rebellion in Mindanao. The extremists have declared it their purpose to establish a caliphate within Philippine territory along the teachings and beliefs of [the]Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or otherwise known as ISIS,” he said.
“The battle of Marawi has dealt a terrible blow to our quest for peace especially now that an alien ideology and a radical shift in purpose have been injected into the local setting,” the President added.
The death toll in Marawi has risen to 571, as of July 20: 427 terrorists, 99 government troops, and 45 civilians.
Martial law in Mindanao, which lapsed on July 22 after reaching the maximum 60-day period under the Constitution, was extended by Congress until the end of December this year upon the President’s request.
Duterte said he did not declare martial law to extend his term in office. “I thought I would admire myself in this kind of job… Damn it, it’s a headache,” he said, to laughter from the audience.
Duterte pledged anew to push for the immediate passage of the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) granting Muslims in Mindanao wider autonomy.
“We’re pursuing inclusive peace,” Duterte said. “[The proposed BBL will be passed] to ensure a Bangsamoro government that truly reflects the aspirations of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
On July 17, Duterte received the revised BBL from the 21-member Bangsamoro Transition Committee. The final version of the BBL seeks to replace the earlier version stalled in the 16th Congress.
The draft law aims to establish a Bangsamoro entity to replace the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.
with MAYVELIN U. CARABALLO