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A different SoNA, a new House leadership

THE nation saw and heard a different “State of the Nation” affair last Monday.

As in the past, President Duterte, like all previous presidents, reported on the outstanding developments of his administration in the previous year, notably the continuing war on drugs and other crimes and the relentless drive on corruption.

He now called on Congress to enact a number of measures, including an ease of doing business act, creation of a Department of Disaster Management, a rice tarrification bill for freer rice importation, a ban on contractualization, universal health care, a coco levy fund, a second tax reform law, and, of course, the drafting of a new federal constitution by Congress sitting as a Constituent Assembly.

It was a short 35-minute speech, with the President adhering strictly to his prepared speech, devoid of his usual informal comments. The session had been delayed by an hour and a half and it proceeded, it seemed, without the usual flourishes. No one, it seemed, paid much attention to the gowns worn by some lady senators and congresswomen as in the past.

The difference, of course, was due to what happened in the House earlier in the day. In a surprise – but long expected – move, the House voted to elect a new speaker in the person of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. In the first vote, 162 voted for Arroyo, much greater than the majority of 147 out of 292 House members.

Support came from the wide range of parties in the House – the National Unity Party, the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, and the United Nationalist Alliance, along with 40 members of PDP-Laban, the administration party. Twelve Liberal Party members welcomed the move but opted to abstain so they would be part of the minority.

Prior to the vote, several lawmakers had signed a manifesto explaining their support for Speaker Arroyo. They were forming the coalition, they said, in the interest of “providing a more dynamic legislature attuned with the times and the needs of the people.” There is need, they said, for “a pro-active legislature, that would safeguard economic growth, secure the safety of the people, and provide a credible and competent House leadership to steer debate on pressing national issues.”

The new House leadership indeed raises the nation’s hopes for a more active Congress working with President Duterte as he faces the third year of his administration. He spelled out his program for this year in his SoNA which many described as truly presidential and with a definite emphasis on programs for the common ordinary people of this country.

Congress has been mired in so many investigations and inquiries in the past, while the new administration faced a host of problems led by the widespread menace of drugs in the country. That campaign will continue but we now look forward to a new and concentrated effort of the government to focus on improving the lives of the Filipino people through economic and other people-oriented programs specified by President Duterte in his State of the Nation report last Monday.