Colleagues, guests, ladies and gentlemen:
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, was elected into office on the basis of a simple promise to the Filipino people. Genuine change. Those were refreshing words for a people tired and weary of rising criminality, proliferation of illegal drugs, traffic congestion, corruption, and plain incompetence. Those were the words that blew on the mainsail of his campaign and brought him to a new horizon – the horizon of national transformation.
But the President knows, as we all know, that genuine change is impossible if he acts alone. No one man or woman, not even a Superman, can forge genuine change without the cooperation of the other branches of government, and the cooperation of the people themselves. True and genuine change can only come if we, as a people and as a nation, join hands with the President in achieving it.
That is why we in the legislative branch of government have our work cut out for us. We must give the President the necessary legislation which will be his tools to effect meaningful and genuine change. In sum, we too must be instruments of change.
We must reimpose the death penalty for heinous crimes. Among ASEAN nations, only Cambodia and the Philippines have no capital punishment; all the other eight countries impose death penalty in various forms and for various crimes. As the President has said, it is a simple universal law of karma: if you borrow from me a thousand pesos, then you must pay back the same amount plus interest. If you take a human life, especially if you do it deliberately and with premeditation, you must pay with your life. If, by being a drug lord, you destroy the lives and futures of a thousand people, then you must pay accordingly.
The same philosophy is behind the move to revert the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 15 years to 9 years old. This is not, as critics say, a throwback to a barbarian age. The age of exemption from criminal responsibility in Singapore is 7, the same age as in most states in the USA. The Pangilinan law was, admittedly, motivated by noble intentions. But it has been a failure on the ground. We must teach our young that there are consequences for everything we say and do. Coddling teenagers by making them immune from crimes they commit will only breed a culture of impunity. We should, instead, build a culture of responsibility at an early age.
As all commuters know, and that includes all of us here, the traffic in Metro Manila and Metro Cebu is simply terrible. We waste so many hours sitting in cars or buses or riding in jampacked and rickety MRT and PNR trains, instead of spending time at work or being with our families at home. PhP 2.4-billion a day is lost to traffic alone. The situation is, in most certain terms, a true crisis which needs emergency powers to enable the President to act.
In this vein, we should revisit and revise the Government Procurement Act. Since its passage into law, many government agencies as well as those in the private sector have felt discomfited with R.A. 9184, as amended. Unlike a free-size shirt, the Procurement Law should not be a one-size-fits-all kind of law. We should put in enough flexibility to address all foreseeable possibilities that may arise in the course of government procurement.
The President has started the ball rolling in the direction of greater transparency in government with an executive order on freedom of information. We should do our part and enact a meaningful Freedom of Information Law applicable to all branches of government. The greatest crimes are committed in dark secrecy. A Freedom of Information Law will bring the light of truth and transparency into government transactions.
The law on income taxation should be simplified into one imposed on gross income progressively. Tax laws have become so complicated that they are exploited by corrupt BIR officials in order to extort money from the taxpayers. Ordinary individuals, for their part, choose not to pay taxes precisely because they do not understand tax laws. A simplified law on taxation would encourage people to pay taxes and contribute to a society that they know will take care of them.
As for mining, we would like to see mining companies securing a legislative franchise before they are allowed to operate. That way, their activities would be subject to legislative oversight and their franchises can be revoked by the oversight body instead of a probably bribable bureaucrat in an obscure DENR office if they violate the terms and conditions thereof. Also, we would like to ensure that these companies do not export the ores they mine. Processing or semi-processing of these ores should be done within the Philippines. This is one way to give jobs to our people, instead of enriching only the stockholders of mining companies.
The labor laws need revision. We should increase the penalties presently in our statutes for the non-payment of minimum wage, and the National Wages and Productivity Commission and DOLE should have an arm that will make sure violators are prosecuted. The practice of Endo should be looked into. Manpower supply agencies should be mandated, upon pain of criminal liability, to comply with all labor standards on wages and benefits, and the employer be made solidarily liable.
As for social security, it is only right and just that the pensions of our retirees should be adjusted upwards so they can buy their groceries and their medicines at today’s prices. If we need to increase contributions so we can fund the increase in pension benefits, then we must. We must adjust not only to meet present needs but also to anticipate future needs.
During elections, our senior citizens and PWDs or differentlyabled citizens should have the option to avail of the procedures for absentee voting. The fact that you are elderly or in a wheelchair should not disenfranchise you from participating in the most sacred exercise of a democratic nation – electing your leaders into office.
And, of course, the most holy grail of all: the revision of the 1987 Constitution and the transformation of our system of government from a unitary presidential form to a federal parliamentary one. The unitary and highly centralized form of government was imposed on us by the colonizing power of Spain and the United States of America, and for one reason – total control over the country. The results have been stunted growth in about 80% of our country, and the over-dependence of local government units upon the national government. The power of imperial Manila over the rest of our nation has to end. Our LGUs need to be allowed to stand on their own feet and to develop and grow as they see fit, subject only to standards that the national government may set. This, among others, should be done by a Constitutional Convention within a time limit set by Congress.
If this legislative agenda seem overly ambitious to some, it is only because of inertia. A body at rest tends to rest indefinitely and will resist movement. But we should not be like the admiral who, because he feared the big waves of the Pacific and the journey into the unknown, dropped anchor in a harbor and held office there.
Let us not fear change. The only thing we should fear is the fear of change itself.
Instead, let us embrace change. Let us be instruments of change and apply the other side of the law of inertia – a body on the move tends to move indefinitely. Starting today, then, let us roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Our mission, in this 17th Congress, is clear: to enact laws that will deliver to our nation and our peoples a future better than yesterday’s and brighter than today’s. Tinuod nga kausaban.