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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures as he delivers his state of the nation address at Congress in Manila Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Filipinos in the UAE warmly welcomed many of the reforms and priority laws Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte unveiled on Monday during his fourth State of the Nation Address (SONA) that mainly centred on the reinstatement of the death penalty, eradication of corruption, and creation of more government bodies to address pressing issues, including those affecting overseas Filipino workers (OFWs).

The SONA is an annual event where the Philippine president addresses lawmakers on the state of the country and presents policy reforms and bills that he wants to be prioritised and enacted.

In his address midway through his six-year term, Duterte’s first appeal was for congress to reinstate the death penalty. Death penalty was abolished in the 1987, making the Philippines the first Asian country to do so. But it was reinstated in 1993 and abolished again in 2006.

“I respectfully request congress to reinstate the death penalty for heinous crimes related to illegal drugs as well as plunder,” Duterte said.

The chief executive believes only the highest punishment of death can combat the social menace caused by illegal drugs.

Milo Torres

Milo Torres, 54, a freelance media practitioner based in Dubai, hailed Duterte’s decisive call.

“I am in favour of the reinstatement of the death penalty. Illegal drugs is one of the root causes of many heinous crimes in the country,” Torres told Gulf News. “I also laud the president for pushing for the creation of the Department of OFWs as it will definitely help stem illegal recruitment not to mention enable OFWs to leave the country with ease.”

I am in favour of the reinstatement of the death penalty. Illegal drugs is one of the root causes of many heinous crimes in the country

- Milo Torres, 54
Attorney Barney Almazar

Attorney Barney Almazar, from Gulf Law known in the Filipino community as the “people’s lawyer”, supports the creation of the new department.

“The creation of the Department of OFW is of particular significance to Filipinos working in the UAE and other parts of the world. Without doubt, we are happy to see our migrant workers being able to assert their rights to the fullest when treated unfairly,” he said.

“It is my hope that the Department of OFW will focus on intensifying support by providing professional and dedicated manpower who will ensure Filipinos have access to the court and judicial bodies in the host countries,” he added.

Aside from the Department of OFWs, Duterte also called on the creation of the Water Regulatory Commission following the recent water crisis in parts of Metro Manila, a Department of Disaster Resilience, and the National Academy for Sports.

During his 93-minute speech, Duterte emphasised on government agencies’ responsibility to streamline their services and introduce electronic services for the public’s convenience.

Ace Quijada

“I laud the current programmes and plans President Duterte mentioned for the welfare of Overseas Filipinos, including his emphasis on faster and more efficient access to government services, further development of hotline 8888, the Fire Protection Modernisation Programme and the empowerment of Filipinos in personally curbing corrupt practices of certain officials which have been somehow neglected for several years,” Ace Quijada, a Dubai-based financial adviser, said.

“On the other hand, I find lacking and narrow the way he addressed the maritime conflict with China, the status of infrastructure projects, improvement of the health care system ...”

Elmer Ocampo Casao

Duterte also pushed for the “development of renewable energy resources rather than the conventional”, a policy Engineer Elmer Ocampo Casao, chairman of the Filipino community organisation in Abu Dhabi, supports.

“It’s a good thing to know from President Duterte’s SONA that he is also asking the Department of Energy (DOE) and related agencies to really focus on enhancing the renewable energy resources in terms of producing electricity. As the economy grows, the demand in electricity grows as well. It’s just a matter of focusing on extensive research to really discover our renewable energy potential,” said Casao, who worked previously with DOE during the Arroyo administration.

Art Los Banos

Art Los Banos, PR professional and prominent socio-civic leader in the Filipino community, agreed with the president that a total overhaul of the country must begin from within.

“The words that struck me were these: ‘Our greatest tormentors are ourselves’. As Filipino citizens with universal human rights as well as political rights, we should be assertive in exhausting all available legal means to initiate meaningful change. Of course, we cannot do it alone. We need an advocacy movement led by people who will put the interest of the country first rather than their own personal agenda,” he said.