In a move seen to fast-track the peace process, President Duterte yesterday declared a unilateral ceasefire with communist rebels during his first State of the National Address (SONA).
“I am announcing a unilateral ceasefire with the CPP (Communist Party of the Philippines)/NPA (New People’s Army)/NDF (National Democratic Front) effective immediately,” Duterte said, adding that he expects a positive response.
“I expect and call on our fellow Filipinos in the National Democratic Front and its forces to respond accordingly,” Duterte said, as he vowed to work for a “permanent and lasting peace” in the country.
“That is my goal, that is my dream,” he added.
In a wide-ranging speech, Duterte spelled out his government’s programs and objectives, including his goal to change the form of government into federal-parliamentary.
Duterte said he is willing to relinquish his post once a federal-parliamentary form of government is established in the country.
The President asked Congress to pursue a bill paving way for the shift to new federal-parliamentary system with a president as head of state.
“I can commit today to the Republic of the Philippines and its people that if you will hurry up the federal system of government and you can submit it to the Filipino people by the fourth or fifth year, you call for a referendum, and after that call for a presidential election,” Duterte said in his impromptu remarks.
“Then I will go. Sibat na ako. But you must have a president,” said Duterte who has vigorously espoused federalism as key to bringing peace and development in conflict-torn Mindanao.
The President said the lawmakers could “copy” the federal-parliamentary government system in France. He said under the federal-parliamentary government, the president can be given “ceremonial powers” except in times of need “when you demand action.”
And once the new system of government is approved in a referendum, Duterte said: “Even if there is still two, three years, I will go. okay na ako. Do not worry about it.”
This early, the President has asked the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) to start an information campaign on federalism. Saying it was the key to bringing peace and development in Mindanao.
The federalism bill was among the several priority bills presented by the President during his first SONA at the Batasan Complex.
The President also asked Congress to grant the government “emergency powers” to effectively address the worsening traffic condition in Metro Manila.
“Many in government and I would have to agree that the worsening traffic situation could be logistically addressed if Congress would also accord emergency powers to agencies concerned,” he said.
Pending such powers, he said the government plans to revive the Pasig River ferry system, exhaust the use of secondary roads, build railway systems, dismantle illegal transport terminals, among others, to ease the congestion in Metro Manila roads.
Duterte also pushed for the passage of bill seeking to lower personal and corporate taxes as well as “relax” the country’s bank secrecy law.
“My administration will pursue tax reforms towards a simpler, more equitable and more efficient tax system that can foster investment and job creation. We will lower personal and corporate tax rates,” he said.
”At the household level, there must be sufficient income for all Filipinos to meet the basic food and non-food needs for their families and we will continue to attract investments that will generate thousands of jobs a year, jobs that are suitable for the poor and less skilled members of the workforce,” he added.
Duterte also endorsed the amendment to the country’s passport law to extend the validity of the document to 10 years.
If Congress approves a 30-year extension, the President said he has no problem with it.
He asked Congress to enact the Whistleblower Protection Law while pushing for the strengthening of the present Witness Protection Program.
He also sought the approval of bill consolidating the services for the overseas Filipino workers.
The President also said the country’s reproductive health law must be put into full force and effect.
Meanwhile, the spokesman of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said the military fully supports Duterte’s pronouncement of declaring a unilateral cease fire with the Communist Party of the Philippine-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF).
In a statement, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP spokesman, said Duterte has initiated a very bold move and “we fully support him in his effort to bring sustainable and lasting peace to our whole country.”
Padilla said the AFP will abide by the Commander-in-Chief’s instruction but will remain alert, vigilant and ready to defend itself and pursue attackers if confronted by armed elements of the NPA. (With report from Francis Wakefield)
(GENALYN KABILING • ELENA ABEN)