President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday asked Congress to pass a unified system of retirement and pension for military uniformed personnel and to give them free legal assistance if they are sued in connection with their official acts, among 11 priority measures he expressed in his State of the Nation Address.
In his sixth and last SONA, Duterte said a unified system for the separation, retirement, and pension for MUPs will promote the government's ability to maintain flexibility and provide service members with benefits.
He said, however, that the new system of retirement and pension be applied only to new entrants in the military, because a big part of the budget has been allocated to retirement benefits, and funds would not be available to cover all MUPs.
Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda of Albay, chairman of the House of Representatives ad hoc committee tasked to look into the military pension and benefits system, said his committee had proposed the removal of the automatic indexation of the MUP pensions to the salaries of those still in active service. However, there will be no cuts in the pensions.
In the same speech, Duterte—who ordered the campaign against illegal drugs —called for Congress to provide free legal assistance to both the military and the police force.
“It is also high time for us to pass the law providing free legal assistance to AFP and PNP both enlisted and officers to help them from charges arising from incidents related to the performance of official duty,” he said.
Later in his speech, Duterte also asked Congress to prioritize the passage of the following measures:
• Foreign Investments Act
• Public Service Act
• Retail and Trade Liberalization Act
• A law creating a Department of Overseas Filipino Workers
• e-Governance Act
• A law creating the Philippine Center for Disease Control (CDC)
• A law creating a Virology Research Institute
• Disaster Resilience Act
• Bureau of Fire Protection Modernization Act
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, however, said senators would focus on exposing corruption in public service when they resume the 3rd Regular Session of the 18th Congress.
Earlier, Senator Manny Pacquiao, who is seeking the presidency next year, insisted that corruption under President Rodrigo Duterte was three times more than the previous administration.
Pacquiao is in the United States in preparation for a boxing bout with American boxer Errol Spence.
Sotto said the Senate would not only focus on legislative measures but expose corruption in the government.
He said they would shine a line “towards the dark corners of our bureaucracy where corruption and injustice thrive unnoticed.”
Also on Monday, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco on Monday hailed the President for his “no-nonsense campaign against criminality and corruption” and for leading the country’s fight against COVID-19.
In his speech at the opening of the third regular session of the 18th Congress, Velasco paid tribute to President Duterte in time for his SONA.
Velasco started his speech by going back to 2016 when, he said, Filipinos “dared to choose an unconventional local chief executive as the leader of our country.”
Five years after, Velasco said people continue to put their trust and confidence in President Duterte, as recent surveys show.
“Only President Duterte among his predecessors, has kept his approval ratings above 75 percent for most of his term, according to Pulse Asia,” he added.
Velasco also cited the strong partnership between the President and Congress, which led to the passage of vital legislative measures.
“We in the House of Representatives fully supported the legislative agenda of this administration, passing laws that promoted economic development, strengthened the administration of justice and the rule of law, enhanced the protection of labor and social welfare, improved the quality of and increased access to education and information, enhanced our health and emergency response system, and strengthened our political and governmental institutions,” Velasco said.
In his SONA, the President asked Congress to pass a number of economic bills that would bankroll the remaining flagship programs of the Duterte administration.
These include the Foreign Investments Act, Public Service Act, Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Comprehensive Tax Reform Program.
He also asked Congress to pass the e-Governance Act that would allow the use of information and communication technology (ICT) to improve government services.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the "deficiencies and weakness[es]" of the government in serving Filipinos using ICT, the President said.
"As such, I ask Congress to pass an e-governance act that will set a transition of government processes to the digital age," he said.
Also included in the priority bills of Duterte are the measures establishing Philippines’ Center for Disease Control and a Virology Institute, through which Filipinos can make their own vaccines.
“We hope to pursue the creation of public entities dedicated to managing emerging diseases. I fervently ask Congress to enact a law creating the Center for Disease, Prevention and Control, and the Virology and Vaccine Institute of the Philippines,” Duterte said.
Duterte also asked Congress to prioritize the bills creating a Department of Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino, which he described as a single agency that will focus on the needs and concerns of overseas Filipino workers.
"We need this because they are suffering... with so many inadequacies both in our government response and including the monetary assistance," said Duterte.
The bill has already passed the lower house but remains pending at the Senate.
The President also wants the passage of a law creating the Department of Disaster Management.