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Aquino to Duterte: Don’t talk about drugs, Cha-cha in SONA

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by Xave Gregorio

Opposition Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino wants President Rodrigo Duterte to talk about addressing the problems caused by the administration-backed tax reform program and not about drugs or Charter change (Cha-cha) in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday (July 23).

“Sana pag-usapan ang mga solusyon sa pagtaas presyo sa SONA ng Pangulo. Suspindihin na itong excise tax sa petrolyo para mabigyan ng ginhawa ang mga pamilyang nalulunod sa gastos,” Aquino said Friday (July 20) in a statement.

“Mula sa puso daw ang SONA ngayon. Sana mula sa isang pusong may malasakit sa mahihirap na Pilipinong nasasagasaan ng mga programa ng gobyerno,” he said further.

Aquino and his fellow re-electionist Senators Grace Poe, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and Nancy Binay are batting for the suspension of the excise tax on fuel imposed by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) Law, which has been blamed for the rising prices of goods.

TRAIN, which became effective on New Year’s Day 2018, cut personal income taxes but hiked excise taxes on certain services and goods, including fuel.

It imposed a P2.50 per liter tax on diesel and bunker fuel this year and would be hiked by P2 to P4.50 in 2019, and a further P2.50 to P6 in 2020.

The excise tax on fuel would only be suspended when Dubai crude oil averages at least $80 per barrel over three months based on the Mean of Platts Singapore.

Liberal Party President Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan is also hoping that Duterte would also offer solutions to the rising prices of goods and other issues.

“Sana masasabi niya sa taumbayan paano niya masosolusyonan ang problema ng pagtaas ng presyo ng mga bilihin, paano madadagdagan ang kita ng mamamayan, paano mabibigyan ng trabaho ang taumbayan,” Pangilinan said in a text message.

Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara differs. He said in a text message that he expects Duterte to talk about his “favourite topics” – peace and order and the anti-drug drive.

Angara also said the President would be talking about the laws he had signed, including the free tuition law, school feeding, the strengthened anti-hazing act, free irrigation and the Bangsamoro Organic Act.

Duterte is set to sign the organic act, which hurdled through the bicameral conference committee Wednesday (July 19), shortly before his SONA, after both houses of Congress ratifies the bicam report in the morning.

Meanwhile, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, among the fiercest critics of Duterte, gave a bleaker forecast for the President’s third SONA.

“I expect Duterte to rant and lie to the Filipino people like he always does,” Trillanes said in a statement. “Particularly, he would likely create a false bleak scenario for our country to justify the need for Cha-cha and shift to federalism as soon as possible.”

He added that Duterte would rant about illegal drugs, but would not “utter a single word” about the P6.4 billion shabu shipment case, where his son, former Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, and son-in-law, abogado Mans Carpio, were implicated in.

Even with Duterte’s consultative committee turning over copies of their proposed new constitution to Congress leaders last week, the Cha-cha train is far from moving as the Senate continues to pose a block to amending the Constitution.

Senators would be meeting in an all-members caucus a day after Duterte’s SONA to finalize their stance on the latest move to change the charter, this time to shift to a federal form of government.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III assured Thursday (July 19) during the weekly Kapihan sa Senado that if Duterte requests that Cha-cha be fast-tracked, the chamber would only consider it as a “presidential request” and would not ensure its passage.

For his part, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel Jr., Duterte’s partymate, told Senate reporters through messaging app Viber that the President would be delivering “an accurate report on the state or condition of our country.”

Pimentel also said he expects Duterte to share his “overall vision/philosophy” and other things he wants to achieve for the country.

According to the Malacañang, Duterte’s speech would not last more than 35 minutes and would come straight from the President’s “heart.”

Award-winning director Bb. Joyce Bernal would be directing the event which would be graced by hundreds of politikos.

Protesters from the militant Left, moderate and liberal opposition forces would band together in front of St. Peter’s Church along Commonwealth Avenue at around 3 p.m. for the “United People’s SONA” to slam extrajudicial killings, misogyny, contractualization, skyrocketing cost of living, religious persecution, and rising inflation due to the TRAIN law.