Duterte's first state of nation speech to focus on issues like crime, graft

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte speaking to supporters at a gathering in San Juan city, east of Manila, Philippines on July 4.
Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte speaking to supporters at a gathering in San Juan city, east of Manila, Philippines on July 4.PHOTO: EPA

MANILA (BLOOMBERG) - When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte faces lawmakers in his first state of the nation speech later on Monday (July 25), it will be a no-frills affair.

The firebrand former city chief, famed for his public tirades against criminals, has told legislators and their guests to come in simple native or business dress. Gone will be the ball gowns and glitz of previous years, where the red carpet leading to the hall was a paparazzi frenzy and the speech followed by a fancy dinner. This year there will be a buffet featuring simple, traditional Filipino dishes.

Mr Durterte, who won office in a landslide, will be focused on explaining why he needs congressional support for his six-year agenda that includes fighting crime and graft and a shift to a federal government system. His populist style was reflected in a July 15 memo banning the use of honorifics like "honorable," or "your excellency," for himself and his cabinet.

"We will downplay the event and it will not be a fashion show," incoming Finance Department spokesman Paola Alvarez said last week. "We want to centre on the president's message to our people because it's his first state of the nation address."

Award-winning Filipino film director Brillante Mendoza will direct the event, including how Mr Duterte is greeted and escorted by congressional leaders to the podium. There won't be any dramatisations and testimonials during his speech that could run for 30 minutes, Communications Assistant Secretary Ramon Cualoping told ABS-CBN News. He is due to speak around 4 pm local time.

WOOING CONGRESS

Mr Duterte, 71, took office on June 30, inheriting an economy that grew faster than China in the first quarter and won its first investment-grade credit rating under former President Benigno Aquino. 

Growth will probably reach 6 per cent to 7 per cent this year, Budget Secretary Ben Diokno has said, a little higher than last year. The country though faces its fair share of headwinds, with one in four Filipinos living in poverty.

The new leader plans to pursue policies that will create jobs, boost growth and lead to higher credit ratings, Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said last month. To do so, he'll need the backing of congress, where his party has only a handful of lower house seats out of 297. He will have to rely on party coalitions to get legislation through.

"The president can only propose economic and political programs but it's congress that appropriates the funds," said political science professor Benito Lim from Ateneo de Manila University. "Without the money, his vision for the country will be useless."

Mr Duterte, who received a 91 per cent trust rating in a Pulse Asia Research Inc. July poll, is expected to report his anti- crime achievements while defending a recent spate of drug- related killings by police. His speech is also likely to focus on these points:

* Details of his push for a shift to a federal system to give regions outside Manila a greater share of national resources

* Emergency powers to resolve Manila's traffic woes

* Review of foreign ownership limits imposed by the constitution on certain industries to make the country more attractive to investors

* Changes that will adjust tax brackets, cutpersonal and corporate income tax rates and broaden the collection base

* Re-imposition of the death penalty for crimes including rape, serious kidnapping, murder and drug dealing

* Addressing bottlenecks in public-private partnership projects and boosting infrastructure spending

* Improve transparency and accountability by giving greater public access to state documents.

Mr Duterte will probably keep the rhetoric about tensions with China over the disputed South China Sea to a minimum, his spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

"He does say we will proceed from the fact that the ruling has been in our favour but we will proceed diplomatically and examine all routes," he said, referring to a recent decision by a tribunal in The Hague that dismissed China's claim to exclusive rights to a large part of the waterway.