PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte tackled the government’s drug war as well as the ongoing security and humanitarian crisis in Marawi in the southern Philippines, among other issues, during his second State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, amid anti-government protests across the country.
At around 4pm, Duterte arrived by a presidential chopper at the Batasan Pambansa complex where he delivered the address, themed A Comfortable Life for All.
Thousands of protesters camped out outside the heavily secured Batasan Complex, which houses the House of Representatives or the Lower House, since morning to protest the extension of martial law in Mindanao and the drug-related killings in the country, among other issues.
As usual, the president delivered his speech, aired live by several national television stations, using expletives. In several instances, he deviated from his speech prepared in English to speak in Filipino.
Despite pressure on his controversial fight against illegal drugs, Duterte vowed to remain steadfast on his campaign promise to eradicate the drug menace in the country.
The death toll since Duterte launched an all-out war against drugs after assuming the presidency last year has topped 2,500, according to official figures, mostly suspected drug peddlers from poor families who died either during government operations or by vigilante-style killings.
“No matter how long it takes, the fight against drugs will continue. Despite international and local pressure, the fight will not stop,” he said.
“I ask you to join the fight against illegal drugs and all forms of criminality.”
The president said he was willing to spend the rest of his life in jail in line with the government’s fight against illegal drugs.
Meanwhile, he admitted government efforts to bring peace in Mindanao continued to be elusive, but said the state would still continue to pursue peace on the island.
The president – a Mindanao native – blamed the violent extremism espoused by the Islamic State (IS) for the elusive peace in all of Mindanao.
“The battle of Marawi dealt a terrible blow to peace (in Mindanao),” he said.
Duterte placed Mindanao under martial law on May 23 for 60 days after government forces clashed with the IS-inspired Maute Group in Marawi.
“I declare martial law in Mindanao because I believe that was the fastest way to quell the rebellion at least cost to lives and properties,” he said.
Duterte also vowed to help the people displaced by the conflict in Marawi.
“The people of Marawi need help, they have been through hell,” he said.
Over 400,000 civilians were displaced by the clashes that killed nearly 600 people as the crisis entered its third month.
Over 400 terrorists were killed and at least 105 from the government side. Forty-five civilians were killed in the clashes.
As Duterte delivered his SONA, the crisis in Marawi marked Day 62.
The president said the Marawi crisis was prolonged because he instructed the military to refrain from pounding the remaining terrorists since they were still holding 300 hostages in a mosque.
Last Saturday, the Philippine Congress extended the martial law in Mindanao until Dec 31, 2017.
In more than two hours of addressing the nation, Duterte also asked investors to put up factories in the country.
He noted the administration will put a stop to the exportation of the country’s mineral resources and will instead push for their processing locally.